Professor Developing Safer Alternative to Popular Dietary Supplement

  • July 11th, 2001

A synthetic compound developed by a University of Alabama chemistry professor may prove not only a safe alternative to a possibly problematic, yet popular, dietary supplement, but it also has potential as an alternative treatment for diabetes.

Dr. John Vincent, professor of chemistry, has developed a synthetic chromium compound as a possible safe alternative to chromium picolinate, a dietary supplement touted as a fat reducer and muscle builder. The University of Alabama has been granted two patents related to the development of the synthetic compound and a third patent is pending.

The researcher’s earlier work, in collaboration with Dr. Stephen Woski, a UA associate professor of chemistry, published in a scholarly journal in June 1999, indicated that chromium picolinate could potentially cause oxidative damage in cells, including DNA breakage. In some cases, DNA damage is known to cause genetic mutations and cancer in humans. Sales of products containing chromium picolinate have reached onehalf billion dollars annually, Vincent said.

While chromium, alone, is needed in trace amounts for normal carbohydrate and fat metabolism, it’s the combination of chromium and the picolinate that it binds with to comprise the dietary supplement that poses the potential problems, Vincent said.

Following two years of additional research, Vincent recently presented an update to the National Academy of Science’s Food and Nutrition Board. As a result, the council reduced the recommended daily adequate intake of chromium from 200 micrograms to 30 micrograms.

In laboratory tests, the synthetic compound developed by the researchers has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol by over 60 percent in model diabetic rats and has positive implications in the treatment of diabetes. “The synthetic compound increases the sensitivity to insulin,” Vincent said. “The rats have lower LDL, or bad cholesterol. They have lower triglycerides, and they use less insulin to maintain their normal blood sugar levels.”

Discussions for licensing are ongoing with private companies and investment groups.

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.