- <strong>Inorganic:</strong> Germanium dioxide
- germanium-lactate-citrate (Ge-lac-cit) <strong>Organic:</strong> Spirogermanium
- Bis-2-Carboxyethyl Germanium Sesquioxide (Ge-132
- Germanium sesquioxide
For Patients & Caregivers
Bottom Line: Germanium shows anticancer properties but it has caused severe side effects and death.
Germanium is a naturally occurring element that can be found in foods such as shiitake mushrooms, garlic, tuna, and tomato juice. It is not an essential nutrient for human health. Germanium acts as an antioxidant, neutralizing free radicals that can damage DNA and cells. In laboratory experiments, a derivative of germanium called spirogermanium has been shown to inhibit replication in certain cancer cells, but human studies show it has adverse effects and is not suitable as an anticancer treatment.
- To treat arthritis
No scientific evidence supports this use.
- To treat cancer
Clinical trials do not support this use.
- To reduce side effects of cancer therapy
There is an ongoing study on germanium’s effect in reducing radiation-induced fatigue in cancer patients
- To treat HIV and AIDS
No scientific evidence supports this use.
- Weight loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle weakness
- Abnormal sensations such as numbness, burning, tingling, or prickling
- Sensory ataxia (failure of muscle coordination)
- Less frequent side effects of germanium include chronic kidney failure, elevated liver enzymes, fatty degeneration of the liver, peripheral nerve problems, cerebellar ataxia, and slowed growth of the bone marrow.
For Healthcare Professionals
Germanium is a naturally occurring mineral that is used in the manufacturing of electronics and optical equipments. Whereas trace amounts can be found in some foods, it is not thought to be essential for normal body functions. But inorganic and organic germanium products, which have different biological activities, have been promoted to treat wide range of diseases, including cancer and AIDS.
Germanium compounds have immunomodulating and antioxidant activities (9)(10)(11)(12)(13)(14). Spirogermanium, an azaspiran compound, was investigated as an anticancer drug. Severe renal, hepatic, myelogenous, and neurologic toxicities have been reported (2)(3)(6)(7)(15). Germanium sesquioxide (Ge-132), an organic compound that is supposed to have lower toxicities, has been marketed as a dietary supplement to help fight cancers. In a single case study, tumor remission was reported following oral supplementation (17). However, there is no conclusive evidence showing this compound is an effective cancer treatment. A phase II clinical trial of germanium in reducing radiation-induced fatigue in cancer patients is underway (18).
There are concerns of contamination of germanium products by the toxic inorganic germanium dioxide. The FDA has issued warning letters to marketers of germanium about unsubstantiated claims. Importation of germanium for human consumption is not allowed (19)(20)(21).
The atomic structure of germanium allows it to act as a free-radical scavenger (1). Spirogermanium has been shown to inhibit DNA and RNA synthesis in HeLa cells (2). Germanium sesquioxide enhances the activities of macrophage and T-cells (22) and stimulates the production of gamma interferon (23). Inorganic germanium dioxide enhances cellular radiosensitivity (24).
Oral administration of germanium dioxide (GeO2) to rats demonstrates approximately 95% bioavailability. Organic radiolabeled germanium (Ge-132) has repeatedly been shown to have 30% bioavailability in humans and animal models.
Extensive throughout body, but detectable levels in tissue vary based on dose and frequency of administration. Also detected in blood, lung, and spleen with preferential accumulation in liver and kidneys.
Excreted primarily by the kidneys.
Germanium supplements should not be consumed because they can cause renal, hepatic, and neurotoxicities. Although studies in animals revealed low potential for toxicity (25), low-dose chronic toxicity has been demonstrated repeatedly. Renal toxicity is characterized by vacuolar degeneration in renal tubular epithelial cells, without proteinuria or hematuria, in the absence of glomerular changes (2)(7).