Vanadium is toxic, but may help regulate blood sugar levels

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Vanadium in a nutshell:
Vanadium is thought to help regulate blood sugar levels, and is therefore of potential interest to diabetics, but it can be toxic and vanadium supplements are banned in the EU because of the possible side effects.

Best source of Vanadium for Juicers
Because of it’s toxicity, we don’t recommend any type of vanadium supplement.

Vanadium is an ultra-trace element that may be relevant to blood sugar regulation. Scientists know that is essential for life in algae, fungi, rats, and chickens, but they believe it is not absolutely essential in human nutrition.

Alternative names: Vanadium; vanadium sulfate.

Most vanadium compounds are highly toxic, so it's important never to use vanadium compounds off the laboratory shelf as supplements.

What Is Vanadium?

In its pure form, when it has been smelted from ore, vanadium is a hard but malleable bluish gray metal. It combines with oxygen in the air to form a outer layer that protects the metal inside from erosion.

amanita-xsChemically, vanadium is known as a transition metal. It has the unusual ability to form bonds with two, three, four, or five atoms. It's essential for life in certain kinds of algae that use it to fix bromine. (Most living organisms use iodine rather than bromine.) It regulates pH in certain sea creatures known as tunicates, recognizable on the sea floor by their beautiful blue glow. Amanita death cap mushrooms use vanadium to make their poison, and chickens and rats need tiny amounts of vanadium for growth and reproduction.

What Does Vanadium Do in the Human Body?

Human beings get small amounts of vanadium from their diets and from drinking water. Somewhere between 90 and 99% of the vanadium in food and drink is never absorbed. The tiny amount of vanadium that gets into circulation accumulates in the tissues that use the most insulin, that is, in body fat and in the liver.

In the late 1800's and early 1900's, before insulin was discovered, French scientists helped improve the condition of diabetics by giving them a vanadium compound known as sodium metavanadate. Since diabetes was then regarded as an invariably fatal disease, this vanadium compound was considered to be a wonder drug. It did not actually reverse diabetes, but it did slow down the progression of the disease. English doctors started recommending sodium metavanadate for another scourge of that era, syphilis, and American doctors started recommending vanadium mouthwashes to prevent cavities and tooth decay.

Treatment with sodium metavanadate sometimes caused severe gastrointestinal problems, so researchers conducted small-scale clinical trials with a less toxic form of vanadium called vanadyl sulfate. Clinical testing found that it could help type 2 diabetics with blood sugar control, but it didn't help everyone who used it, and the best results were at smaller (100 mg per day) rather than larger (300 mg per day) doses. The beneficial effects of taking this form of vanadium last about 2 weeks after the last dose is taken, which is about how long the body takes to eliminate vanadium from fat, liver tissue, and bloodstream circulation.

As this article is being written, Chinese scientists are about to publish their findings of how vanadium acts as an “insulin mimetic,” a compound that imitates insulin. In January 2012 a journal article will report that vanadium compounds create an electrical charge around an enzyme that accelerates a reaction that carries glucose into a cell.  In 2013, scientists will report the findings of clinical studies of two new vanadium compounds, bis(ethylmaltolato)oxovanadium(IV), which is also known as BEOV, and bis(maltolato)oxovanadium(IV), which is also known as BMOV. These compounds seem to be helpful to diabetics without any of the toxicity associated with other kinds of vanadium. However, if the next round of clinical testing is successful, they are likely to be released as prescription drugs rather than as nutritional supplements.

Vanadium supplements are often used by bodybuilders, but they cannot do anything that timing the consumption of carbohydrates after workouts could also do.

Should Diabetics Use Vanadium to Help Control Their Blood Sugar Levels?

Vanadyl sulfate actually can be helpful for type 2 diabetics, but the change in blood sugar levels is usually small. Diabetics who have to take insulin usually do not benefit from taking vanadium. Non-diabetics should avoid vanadium supplements because they interfere with the action of a hormone called cholecystikinin, the hormone the stomach releases when we eat “comfort foods.” Vanadium supplements may interfere with the pleasure of eating comfort foods but will not reduce the appetite for them.

Taking too much of any kind of vanadium product can cause abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and a reversible condition known as “green tongue.” Vanadium supplements have been banned in the European Union since 2008 because of these frequent side effects.

Diabetics may get the equivalent of about 10 mg/dl (0.5 mmol/L) reduction in their blood sugar levels if they take vanadium supplements. This is not enough of a change that taking vanadium is likely to cause dangerous bouts of hypoglycemia, but neither is it a substitute for diet, exercise, and medication.

About Andy Williams

In a processed food culture, simply eating may not be enough. Dr. Andy Williams is a scientist with a strong interest in Juicing and how it can supply the body with the nutrients it needs to thrive in modern society. You can subscribe to his free daily paper called Juicing The Rainbow and follow him on Facebook orTwitter.

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