Miracles are said to spring from waters of the grotto in Lourdes, France. In 1858, a young girl claimed that the Blessed Virgin Mary had visited her several times at the grotto. The girl said she was instructed to drink and bathe in the waters. Since then, more than 7,000 cures have been attributed to Lourdes.

Some say that the high germanium content of the water may have something to do with it. Germanium is a chemical element that can be found in trace amounts in some ores and carbon-based materials. Some people promote it as a treatment for HIV, AIDS, cancer, and other conditions.

But the purported health benefits of germanium haven’t been supported by research. Germanium can also cause serious side effects, including potentially life-threatening kidney damage.

Small amounts of germanium are found in certain minerals and plant products, including:

  • argyrodite
  • germanite
  • garlic
  • ginseng
  • aloe
  • comfrey

It’s also a byproduct of coal combustion and zinc ore processing.

Germanium comes in two forms: organic and inorganic. Both are sold as supplements. Organic germanium is a man-made blend of germanium, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Common names include germanium-132 (Ge-132) and germanium sesquioxide.

Inorganic germanium is generally considered toxic. It’s usually sold under the names germanium dioxide and germanium-lactate-citrate.

Some people believe that organic germanium stimulates your body’s immune system and protects healthy cells. It’s touted as a remedy for a range of conditions. For example, it’s promoted as an alternative health treatment for:

  • allergies
  • asthma
  • arthritis
  • HIV
  • AIDS
  • cancer

The health claims made for germanium aren’t well supported by research. According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, there’s no scientific evidence to support its use for treating arthritis, HIV, or AIDS. Human studies also suggest it’s not suitable for treating cancer. Scientists are studying germanium to learn if it can help reduce the side effects of certain cancer treatments. However, more research is needed.

Germanium has been associated with a variety of side effects, some of which are very serious.

Germanium can break down your kidney tissue, causing kidney damage. In some cases, germanium can even cause chronic kidney failure and death. Due to these risks, most doctors recommend avoiding supplements that contain it. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned the import of germanium-containing products that are promoted as drugs or dietary supplements.

Germanium can cause toxic side effects. For example, it can damage your liver and nerves. Taking products that contain germanium may cause:

  • fatigue
  • anemia
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • nausea and vomiting
  • muscle weakness
  • problems with your muscle coordination
  • problems with your peripheral nerves
  • elevated liver enzymes

Some people believe that germanium can help treat a variety of conditions. But germanium has been linked to serious side effects, including the risk of kidney damage and death.

Researchers are still looking into the benefits of germanium. Until they identify the active ingredients and develop a form of the chemical that’s safe to take, the risks probably outweigh the benefits. While you can still purchase some organic germanium products in the United States, evidence suggests that germanium may be more menace than miracle.

Always talk to your doctor before taking a new supplement or trying an alternative treatment. They can help you understand its potential benefits and risks.