Note: There are serious safety concerns regarding vanadium use.
Vanadium, a mineral, is named after the Scandinavian goddess of beauty, youth, and luster. Taking vanadium will not make you beautiful, youthful, and lustrous, but evidence from animal studies suggests it may be an essential micronutrient. That is, your body may need it, but in very low doses.
Based on promising animal studies, high doses of vanadium have been tested as an aid to controlling blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Like chromium, another trace mineral used in diabetes, vanadium has also been recommended as an aid in bodybuilding. However, animal studies suggest that taking high doses of vanadium can be harmful.
We don't know exactly how much vanadium people require, but estimates range from 10 to 30 mcg daily. (To realize how tiny this amount is, consider that it's about one millionth of the amount of calcium you need.) Human deficiencies have not been reported, but goats fed a low-vanadium diet have developed birth defects.1
Vanadium is found in very small amounts in a wide variety of foods, including: breakfast cereals, canned fruit juices, wine, beer, buckwheat, parsley, soy, oats, olive oil, sunflower seeds, corn, green beans, peanut oil, carrots, cabbage, and garlic. The average daily American diet provides between 10 and 60 mcg of vanadium.2
In various studies, vanadium has been used at doses thousands of times higher than is present in the diet, as high as 125 mg per day. However, there are serious safety concerns about taking vanadium at such high doses. We do not recommend exceeding the dose given in Safety Issues.
Because studies in mice have found that vanadium is deposited in bone,6 some practitioners of nutritional medicine have suggested that it may be helpful for osteoporosis. However, since many toxic metals also accumulate in the bones without strengthening them, this doesn't prove that vanadium is good for bones.
Studies in rats with and without diabetes suggest that vanadium may have an insulin-like effect, reducing blood sugar levels.7-17 Based on these findings, preliminary studies involving humans have been conducted, with some promising results.18-23 However, of 151 studies recently reviewed, none were of sufficient quality to judge whether or not vanadium is at all beneficial in type 2 diabetes.31 The researchers did find that vanadium was often associated with gastrointestinal side effects. At present, it is not possible to say whether vanadium is helpful (or, for that matter, safe) for people with diabetes.
Vanadium has been promoted as a body-building sports supplement. However, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study involving 31 weight-trained athletes failed to find any benefit at a dosage more than 1,000 times the nutritional dose.24
Studies in humans and animals suggest that vanadium can cause toxic effects and might accumulate in the body if taken to excess.25-29 The safe upper intake level for adults has been set at 1.8 mg.30 Maximum safe doses for children have not yet been determined.
Another potential risk with vanadium involves its purported benefits. If vanadium does, in fact, improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes, the net result could be a potentially dangerous fall in blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia). For this reason, medical supervision is recommended before adding vanadium to a regimen of standard diabetes medications.
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18. Boden G, Chen X, Ruiz J, et al. Effects of vanadyl sulfate on carbohydrate and lipid metabolism in patients with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Metabolism. 1996;45:1130-1135.
19. Cohen N, Halberstam M, Shlimovich P, et al. Oral vanadyl sulfate improves hepatic and peripheral insulin sensitivity in patients with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. J Clin Invest. 1995;95:2501-2509.
20. Goldfine AB, Folli F, Patti ME, et al. Effects of sodium vanadate and in vitro insulin action in diabetes [abstract]. Clin Res. 1994;42:116A.
21. Halberstam M, Cohen N, Shlimovich P, et al. Oral vanadyl sulfate improves insulin sensitivity in NIDDM but not in obese nondiabetic subjects. Diabetes. 1996;45:659-666.
22. Goldfine AB, Patti ME, Zuberi L, et al. Metabolic effects of vanadyl sulfate in humans with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus: in vivo and in vitro studies. Metabolism. 2000;49:400-410.
23. Srivastava AK. Anti-diabetic and toxic effects of vanadium compounds. Mol Cell Biochem. 2000;206:177-182.
24. Fawcett JP, Farquhar SJ, Walker RJ, et al. The effect of oral vanadyl sulfate on body composition and performance in weight-training athletes. Int J Sport Nutr. 1996;6:382-390.
25. Domingo JL, Gomez M, Llobet JM, et al. Oral vanadium administration to streptozotocin-diabetic rats has marked negative side-effects which are independent of the form of vanadium used. Toxicology. 1991;66:279-287.
26. Srivastava AK. Anti-diabetic and toxic effects of vanadium compounds. Mol Cell Biochem. 2000;206:177-182.
27. Sanchez DJ, Colomina MT, Domingo JL. Effects of vanadium on activity and learning in rats. Physiol Behav. 1998;63:345-350.
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30. Dietary reference intakes for vitamin A, vitamin K, arsenic, boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, vanadium, and zinc (2001). National Academies Press website. Available at: http://www.nap.edu. Accessed October 4, 2001.
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Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board Last Updated: 12/15/2015