What Is It?
Chromium is an essential trace mineral that the body needs to grow properly and remain healthy. It is necessary, among other things, for the breakdown of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
After calcium, chromium is the most popular mineral supplement on the American market today–and one of the most controversial. Not long ago, it was heavily promoted for a variety of unsubstantiated claims. Potential customers were told that chromium “burns fat” and “lowers blood sugar,” even though there was no evidence that it could do any of these things in healthy individuals. Advertisements also touted chromium for building muscle, lowering cholesterol, and reducing heart disease risk.
Because of conflicting evidence on the safety and effectiveness of these uses, the Federal Trade Commission in 1997 ordered the company with exclusive licensing rights to chromium picolinate to stop making unsubstantiated claims. (In addition to chromium picolinate, the mineral is also sold as chromium chloride and chromium polynicotinate.)
Most people don’t need extra chromium in the form of nutritional supplements because this mineral is readily accessible in any healthy diet. But there are important exceptions. Although unusual, some Americans develop a chromium deficiency because they only consume highly processed, nutrient- (and chromium-) poor foods. In such cases, chromium supplements, usually as part of a daily multiple vitamin/mineral pill, may be necessary.
According to a handful of clinical trials, chromium (picolinate and other forms) appears to have a mild cholesterol-lowering effect. Although more research is needed, it’s possible that chromium may be useful in lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels, at the same time it’s raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.
Specifically, chromium may help to:
Control diabetes and symptoms related to high blood sugar. In people with type 2 diabetes, the pancreas secretes plenty of insulin in an effort to regulate blood sugar levels, but the body’s cells don’t respond to it. Researchers have found that a molecule called ”glucose tolerance factor” (GTF) is critical for increasing the sensitivity of these cells to insulin. And GTF contains chromium. If GTF does indeed increase insulin sensitivity, chromium supplements may have a role to play in normalizing blood sugar levels. Several double-blind clinical trials have borne this out. Some studies have even found that chromium supplements enable certain people with diabetes to decrease their dosage of diabetes medications. Taking the chromium with vitamin B3 (niacin) may enhance the chromium’s effects.
And although not yet confirmed in clinical trials, chromium supplements may have a role to play in preventing excessive blood sugar drops in people without diabetes. Symptoms of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), including headaches, fatigue, and irritability, may be less likely to occur as a result.
Promote weight loss in people who are obese. As a result of the FTC ruling, the manufacturer of chromium picolinate is only allowed to state that their product can help a moderately obese person improve body composition by increasing muscle mass and reducing fat. Aside from this ruling, research on the ability of chromium picolinate to promote weight loss by burning fat has, indeed, produced mixed results. In a 1998 study, 122 healthy adults recruited from health clubs in Texas were given either 400 mcg of chromium picolinate or a placebo daily. At the end of three months, the individuals who took the chromium supplement lost six pounds in the form of body fat–not valuable muscle–while those on the placebo lost only three pounds.
Other studies, however, have failed to show that chromium supplements are any more effective than a placebo. Perhaps, in combination with a well-balanced diet and regular exercise program, chromium picolinate may give the dieter a slight advantage, but much more research is needed to determine whether the mineral actually aids weight loss. Claiming that chromium taken at bedtime will “burn fat while you sleep” are completely unsubstantiated.
Note: Chromium has also been found to be useful for a number of other disorders. For information on these additional ailments, see our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Chromium.
There is no Recommended Daily Allowance for chromium. Estimates indicate that 50 to 200 mcg a day is safe and adequate for adults. Most high-quality, basic vitamin/mineral combinations contain enough chromium to prevent a deficiency.
If You Get Too Little
While a deficiency of chromium may interfere with the body’s ability to maintain normal blood sugar levels, it will not actually cause diabetes.
If You Get Too Much
Although adverse reactions have not been widely documented, particularly when chromium is taken at dosages of 50 to 200 mcg daily, there may be some risk in taking 1,000 mcg or more a day over time. In one case, a woman who took 1,200 mcg or more daily for several months developed kidney failure.
Theoretically, zinc absorption could be impaired by taking excessive amounts of the mineral. This problem can be avoided by ingesting extra zinc, either through diet or supplements.
General Dosage Information
Special tips: –Don’t worry about which form of chromium to buy; the body appears to absorb all forms equally well.
–The various forms of supplemental chromium are usually sold in 200 mcg doses. Read the label carefully and you may well find that a number of products billed for weight reduction or cholesterol control include chromium.
For general good health: Most nutritionally oriented physicians believe that 50 to 200 mcg a day is sufficient. This amount is easily obtained through a healthy, balanced diet and a daily high-potency multivitamin.
For diabetes blood sugar control: Take 200 mcg three times a day.
For overweight, or obesity: Take 200 mcg chromium picolinate three times a day. However, it’s unlikely that chromium taken alone, without calorie restriction and an exercise program, will do much good for fat loss. Be sure to check out our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Chromium, which lists therapeutic dosages for specific ailments at a glance.
Guidelines for Use
For optimal absorption, try to combine chromium with a food rich in vitamin C or with a vitamin C supplement.
To lessen the chance of stomach irritation, take chromium in 200 mcg doses either with food or a glass of water.
If you have diabetes, check with your doctor before using a chromium supplement because it may alter insulin requirements or the dosage needed for various diabetes medications.
Don’t take calcium carbonate supplements or antacids at the same time as chromium; they will impair absorption of this trace mineral.
There is a risk that the absorption of zinc will be impaired by taking excessive amounts of chromium (more than commonly recommended). This problem can be resolved by taking extra zinc, either through your diet or supplements. Note: For information on interactions with specific generic drugs, see our WholeHealth Chicago Drug/Nutrient Interactions Chart.
The safety of long-term and high-dose supplementation with chromium remains to be determined.
In a laboratory study, chromium picolinate caused chromosomal damage in hamster cells, a precursor of cancer. This may have been due to the picolinate and not the chromium, and it remains to be determined whether this type of damage occurs in humans. Still, caution with chromium picolinate is warranted. Other forms of chromium did not cause the same damage.
If you suffer from any type of behavioral disorder, consult your doctor before taking chromium picolinate because compounds similar to picolinic acid have been shown to cause changes in certain brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin.
Don’t take supplemental chromium if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
Alcoholism 200 mcg twice a day
Diabetes 200 mcg 3 times a day
Weight Loss 200 mcg chromium picolinate 3 times a day
David Edelberg, MD