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Chromium (Cr), Blood

Chromium (Cr) is a trace element found naturally in the body. Chromium is present in the carcinogenic form (hexavalent, Cr6+) and the non-carcinogenic form (trivalent, Cr3+). The carcinogenic form results from industrial exposure to chromium in tanners, paint, steel and metal industries, photography, and explosives. It can cause toxicity, resulting in respiratory and lung diseases, liver and kidney dysfunction, dermatitis, convulsions, and coma. The non-carcinogenic form of chromium is found naturally in soil, water, air, plants, animals, and almost all food sources. Chromium intake by food helps transport amino acids, especially to the liver and heart. It can also enhance insulin activity and glucose utilization.

Possible Interpretations of Pathological Values
  • Increase: Chromium intoxication, hypercholesterolemia, patients with metallic or very high molecular weight polyethylene total hip arthroplasty, tannery workers, and other industries.
  • Decrease: Aging, diabetes mellitus.
Chromium Applications

Stainless Steel Production: The primary use of chromium is in producing stainless steel. Chromium imparts corrosion resistance, hardness, and durability to stainless steel, making it suitable for various applications, including kitchen appliances, cutlery, and construction materials.

Alloy Production: Chromium is an alloying element to produce various alloys, such as nickel-chromium. These alloys are used in aerospace applications, electrical heating elements, and other high-temperature environments.

Chrome Plating: Chromium is widely used for chrome plating, a process in which a thin layer of chromium is electroplated onto a metal surface. Chrome-plated surfaces resist corrosion and wear and give a shiny, decorative finish. They are used in automotive parts, bathroom fixtures, and household items.

Refractory Industry: Chromium compounds are used in the refractory industry to produce refractory bricks, which are resistant to high temperatures and used in kilns, furnaces, and industrial processes.

Chemical Catalysts: Chromium compounds serve as catalysts in various chemical reactions, including those that produce synthetic rubbers and plastics.

Chromium in the Environment

Natural Occurrence: Chromium is naturally present in the Earth's crust and can be found in rocks, soil, and minerals. The most common oxidation states in the environment are trivalent chromium (Cr3+) and hexavalent chromium (Cr6+).

Industrial Discharges: Industrial activities, such as metal processing, leather tanning, and chromate production, can release chromium compounds into the environment. Improper disposal of industrial waste may contribute to environmental contamination.

Water Contamination: Chromium can enter water sources through natural processes or industrial discharges. Hexavalent chromium is of particular concern as it can be more mobile and toxic than trivalent chromium. It may contaminate drinking water sources and affect aquatic ecosystems.

Soil Contamination: Industrial activities and improper waste disposal can lead to chromium contamination in soil. This can impact plant growth and may threaten human health throughout the food chain.

Chromium Health Effects

Chromium is an essential trace element that plays a role in various physiological processes in the human body. Trivalent chromium is essential for human health, while hexavalent chromium can be toxic.

Trivalent Chromium (Cr3+)

  • Essential Nutrient: Trivalent chromium is an essential trace element that plays a role in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. It is involved in insulin action and helps regulate blood sugar levels.
  • Dietary Sources: Chromium is naturally present in many foods, including whole grains, nuts, broccoli, green beans, and meat.

Hexavalent Chromium (Cr6+)

  • Toxic Form: Hexavalent chromium is considered toxic and poses health risks. Prolonged exposure to high levels of hexavalent chromium, often through inhalation or ingestion, can lead to adverse health effects.
  • Occupational Exposure: Workers in industries such as stainless-steel production, chrome plating, and leather tanning may risk exposure to hexavalent chromium. Occupational exposure can occur through inhalation of airborne particles or skin contact.
Health Effects of Hexavalent Chromium Exposure
  • Carcinogenicity: Prolonged exposure to high levels of hexavalent chromium is associated with an increased risk of lung cancer, especially among workers in industries where hexavalent chromium is used.
  • Respiratory Issues: Inhalation of hexavalent chromium compounds can irritate the respiratory tract and lead to respiratory issues such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
  • Skin Irritation: Hexavalent chromium can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions upon contact. Skin contact with certain hexavalent chromium compounds may result in dermatitis.
  • Gastrointestinal Issues: Ingestion of high levels of hexavalent chromium may cause gastrointestinal issues, including nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

It's important to note that the health effects of chromium depend on its form and the level of exposure. Trivalent chromium is generally safe when consumed in dietary amounts, while hexavalent chromium can be harmful, especially in higher concentrations.

How can one determine if one has been exposed to chromium?

We can measure chromium levels in blood and most biological materials.

Determination of metals is done by ICP-MS (Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry, Inductively Coupled Argon Plasma Mass Spectrometry), a method that enables the simultaneous detection of many metals. Its sensitivity and accuracy are significantly better than conventional atomic absorption, with the ability to measure metals at concentrations up to 1 in 1015 (1 in 1 quadrillion, ppq)!



Important Note

Laboratory test results are the most important parameter for diagnosing and monitoring all pathological conditions. Between 70% and 80% of diagnostic decisions are based on laboratory tests. The correct interpretation of laboratory results allows a doctor to distinguish "healthy" from "diseased."

Laboratory test results should not be interpreted solely based on the numerical result of a single analysis. They should be interpreted in relation to each individual case, family history, clinical findings, and the results of other laboratory tests and information. Your physician should explain the importance of your test results.

At Diagnostiki Athinon, we answer any questions you may have about the test you perform in our laboratory and contact your doctor to ensure you receive the best possible medical care.

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