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Germanium is available as a dietary supplement in several forms, and has been reported to be an effective anti-cancer agent in humans and animals. In this article I will describe the risks of this supplement, and in the next one I will describe the benefits reported in the medical literature.
Germanium is an ultra-trace element in the human diet. The herbal products ginseng, garlic, chlorella, and others are reported to contain significant amounts. Organic germanium compounds have an excellent safety record, but inorganic forms are highly toxic. The organic forms include germanium sesquioxide, spirogermanium, and germanium lactate citrate. A report on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website cautions that dietary supplements that are supposed to be 100 percent organic germanium may be contaminated with inorganic germanium dioxide.
A 1997 article from the FDA reported 31 human cases of renal failure linked to prolonged intake of germanium products. The symptoms included:
1. Kidney dysfunction
2. Kidney tubular degeneration
3. Germanium accumulation
5. Muscle weakness
6. Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage)
The total dose was 15 to 300 grams over a period of two to 36 months. The article lists germanium dioxide (inorganic), germanium sesquioxide, germanium lactate citrate, and unspecified forms as ingredients, but does not specify how much of the total was inorganic germanium.
A 2004 article describes a method for analyzing organic germanium products for contamination by inorganic germanium and other hazards. The website http://www.germaniumsesquioxide.com offers a history of the dietary supplement, with warnings about imported products that have been flagged by the FDA for possible inorganic contamination.
Two other 2004 articles describe germanium sesquioxide as safe, and effective against cancer in animal models. There is a clinical trial currently recruiting participants to test an organic germanium dietary supplement against placebo to prevent fatigue in cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy. The protocol calls for five pills per day.