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Table of Contents > Supplements > Chromium
Chromium
Overview
Uses
Dietary Sources
Available Forms
How to Take It
Precautions
Possible Interactions
Supporting Research

Overview

Chromium is an essential mineral found in very low concentrations in the human body. In 1957, researchers discovered that a compound extracted from pork kidney called "glucose tolerance factor (GTF)" helped diabetic rats use insulin more efficiently. (People with diabetes either do not produce enough insulin—a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life—or cannot properly use the insulin that their bodies produce. As a result, glucose or sugar builds up in the bloodstream.) Chromium was later identified as the active component of GTF. Today, it is believed that chromium helps insulin bring glucose from the blood into the cells for energy.

As many as 90% of American diets are low in chromium, but few people are deficient in this important mineral. The elderly, people who indulge in strenuous exercise, those who consume excessive amounts of sugary foods, and pregnant women are most likely to be deficient in chromium. Low chromium levels can increase blood sugar, triglycerides (a type of fat) and cholesterol levels and increase the risk for a number of conditions, including diabetes and heart disease.


Uses

Studies suggest that chromium supplementation may be helpful for the following conditions:

Diabetes

The benefit of chromium supplements for diabetes has been studied and debated for a number of years. While some studies have shown no beneficial effects of chromium use for people with diabetes, other studies have shown that chromium supplements may reduce blood sugar levels as well as the amount of insulin needed by people with diabetes. Pregnancy-induced and steroid-induced diabetes are thought to benefit from chromium as well. To address the ongoing debate, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently called upon researchers to address the safety and effectiveness of chromium for diabetes more fully.

High Cholesterol

Although not all studies agree, chromium has demonstrated the ability to lower total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels and raise HDL ("good") cholesterol levels in the blood, particularly in people with high cholesterol.

Obesity

Despite the popularity of chromium for weight loss and even though some studies suggest that chromium may improve lean body mass (namely, muscle) and reduce body fat, its effects are small compared to those of exercise and a well-balanced diet.

Strength Training

Chromium is popular with some body builders and can be found in certain sports nutrition supplements. Despite this popularity, there is little scientific evidence that chromium supplementation changes body composition or helps people gain strength. This topic has been studied in lots of different groups of people, including athletic and nonathletic men and women as well as elderly men.

High Blood Pressure

Animal studies suggest that chromium may help improve blood pressure. This has yet to be tested on people. Until more information is available, use of chromium for this purpose is not currently recommended.


Dietary Sources

Dietary sources of chromium include brewer's yeast, lean meats (especially processed meats), cheeses, pork kidney, whole-grain breads and cereals, molasses, spices, and some bran cereals.

Brewer's yeast (particularly yeast grown in chromium-rich soil) is a rich dietary source of chromium, as are organ meats, mushroom, oatmeal, prunes, nuts, asparagus, and whole grains and cereals. Vegetables, fruits, and most refined and processed foods (except for processed meats) contain low amounts of chromium.


Available Forms

Chromium is commercially available in several forms including chromium nicotinate, chromium picolinate, chromium-enriched yeast, and chromium chloride. Chromium is available as part of many multivitamins or alone in tablet and capsule forms. Preparation doses are typically between 15 and 200 micrograms (mcg) of chromium per day.


How to Take It

The adequate daily intakes (AI) of dietary chromium are listed below:

Pediatric

  • Infants birth to 6 months: 0.2 mcg
  • Infants 7 to 12 months: 5.5 mcg
  • Children 1 to 3 years: 11 mcg
  • Children 4 to 8 years: 15 mcg
  • Boys 9 to 13 years: 25 mcg
  • Teenage boys 14 to 18 years: 35 mcg
  • Girls 9 to 13 years: 21 mcg
  • Teenage girls 14 to 18 years: 24 mcg
  • Pregnant teenagers 14 to 18 years: 29 mcg
  • Breastfeeding teenagers 14 to 18 years: 44 mcg

Adult

  • Men 19 to 50 years: 35 mcg
  • Men 51 years and older: 30 mcg
  • Women 19 to 50 years: 25 mcg
  • Women 51 years and older: 20 mcg
  • Pregnant women 19 years and older: 30 mcg
  • Breastfeeding women 19 years and older: 30 mcg

Dosage for disease prevention and treatment in adults is typically 200 mcg chromium 1 to 3 times a day. Type 2 diabetics may benefit from doses as high as 1,000 mcg /day, but long term safety with such high doses is not known.


Precautions

Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications, dietary supplements should be taken only under the supervision of a knowledgeable healthcare provider.

Although the type of chromium found in foods is generally considered safe, extremely high doses of this mineral can inhibit the effectiveness of insulin and cause stomach irritation, itching, and flushing. There have also been rare reports of fast, irregular heart rhythms and liver dysfunction from too much chromium. Two cases of kidney damage have been reported from the use of chromium picolinate supplements.

Dietary chromium, which is considered safe, is often confused with an unsafe industrial form of chromium (hexavalent chromium or chromium VI) that is readily absorbed by the lungs, digestive tract, mucous membranes, and skin. Chromium VI is a toxic industrial compound that is primarily encountered through occupational exposure by either direct contact or through inhalation of dust or aerosols.


Possible Interactions

If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use chromium without first talking to your healthcare provider.

Antacids
Animal studies suggest that antacids, particularly those containing calcium carbonate, may reduce the body's ability to absorb chromium. Although it is unclear how this research relates to people, it may be advisable to avoid taking chromium supplements at the same time as antacids.

Diabetes Medications
Chromium supplements may actually enhance the effectiveness of certain diabetes medications. Clinical studies have demonstrated that people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes who take chromium supplements may require lower doses of insulin, metformin, or sulfonylureas (a group of medications used to treat type 2 diabetes including glimepiride, glyburide, glipizide, and chlorpropamide).


Supporting Research

Anderson R. Chromium, glucose intolerance and diabetes. J Amer Coll Nutr. 1998;17:548-555.

Anderson RA. Chromium in the prevention and control of diabetes. Diabetes and Metabolism. 2000;26(1)22-27.

Anderson RA. Effects of chromium on body composition and weight loss. Nutr Rev. 1998;56(9):266-270.

Anderson R. Elevated intake of supplemental chromium improved glucose and insulin variables in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes. 1997;46:1786-1791.

Anderson RA. Nutritional factors influencing the glucose/insulin system: chromium. J Am Coll Nutr. 1997;16(5):404-410.

Anderson RA, Cheng N, Bryden NA, et al. Elevated intakes of supplemental chromium improve glucose and insulin variables in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes. 1997;46:1,786-1,791.

Anderson RA, Roussell AM, Zouari N, Mahjoub S, Matheau JM, Kerkeni A. Potential antioxidant effects of zinc and chromium supplementation in people with type 2 diabetes mellitus. J Am Coll Nutr. 2001;20(3):212-218.

Bahadori B, Wallner S, Schneider H, Wascher TC, Toplak H. Effect of chromium yeast and chromium picolinate on body composition of obese, non-diabetic patients during and after a formula diet. Acta Med Austria Ca. 1997;24:185-187.

Blank HM, Khan LK, Serdula MK. Use of nonprescription weight loss products, results from a multistate survey. JAMA. 2001;286(8):930-935.

Campbell WW, Joseph LJ, Davey SL, Cyr-Campbell D, Anderson RA, Evans WJ. Effects of resistance training and chromium picolinate on body composition and skeletal muscle in older men. J Appl Physiol. 1999;86(1):29-39.

Davis ML, Seaborn CD, Stoecker BJ. Effects of over-the-counter drugs on 51chromium retention and urinary excretion in rats. Nutr Res. 1995;15:201-210.

Fujimoto S. Studies on the relationships between blood trace metal concentrations and the clinical status of patients with cerebrovascular disease, gastric cancer, and diabetes mellitus. Hokkaido Igaku Zasshi. 1987;62:913-932.

Gordon JB. An easy and inexpensive way to lower cholesterol? West J Med. 1991 Mar;154(3):352.

Hermann J, Arquitt A, Stoecker B. Effects of chromium supplementation on plasma lipids, apolipoproteins, and glucose in elderly subjects. Nutr Res. 1994;14(5):671.674.

Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for vitamin A, vitamin K, arsenic, boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, vanadium, and zinc. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2001.

Kirschmann GJ, Kirschmann JD. Nutrition Almanac. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill; 1996:108-109.

Lee NA, Reasner CA. Beneficial effect of chromium supplementation on serum triglyceride levels in NIDDM. Diabetes Care. 1994;17:1449-1452.

Livolsi JM, Adams GM, Laguna PL. The effect of chromium picolinate on muscular strength an body composition in women athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2001;15(2):161-166.

Lukasi HC, Bolonchuk WW, Siders, WA, Milne DB. Chromium supplementation and resistance training: effects on body composition, strength, and trace element status of men. Am J Clin Nut. 1996;663:954-965.

McCarty MF. Complementary measures for promoting insulin sensitivity in skeletal muscle. Med Hypotheses. 1998;51(6):451-464.

McCarty MF. Anabolic effects of insulin on bone suggests a role for chromium picolinate in preservation of bone density. Med Hypotheses. 1995;45:241-246.

National Institutes of Health. NIH Program Announcement. Chromium as adjuvant therapy for type 2 diabetes and impaired glucose tolerence. NIH Guide. 2001. Accessed at http://www.nccam.nih.gov/nccam/fi/concepts/pa/pa-01-114.html on March 5, 2002.

Porter DJ, Raymond LW, Anastasio GD. Chromium: friend or foe? Arch Family Med. 1999;8(5):386-390.

Press RI, Geller J, Evans GW. The effect of chromium picolinate on serum cholesterol and apolipoprotein fractions in human subjects. Western J Med. 1993;152:41-45.

Preuss HG, Jarrell ST, Scheckenbach R, Lieberman S, Anderson RA. Comparative effects of chromium, vanadium and gymnema sylfestre on sugar-induced blood pressure elevations in SHR. J Am Coll Nutr. 1998;17(2):116-123.

Ravina A, Slezack L. Chromium in the treatment of clinical diabetes mellitus. Harefuah. 1993;125(5-6):142-145,191.

Ravina A, Slezak L, Mirsky N, Bryden NA, Anderson RA. Reversal of corticosteroid-induced diabetes mellitus with supplemental chromium. Diabetic Med. 1999;169(2):164-167.

Seaborn CD, Stoecker BJ. Effects of antacid or ascorbic acid on tissue accumulation and urinary excretion of chromium-51. Nutr Res. 1990;10:1401-1408.

Shannon M. Alternative medicines toxicology: a review of selected agents. Clin Tox. 1999;37(6):709-713.

Shils ME, Olsen JA, Shike M, eds. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. 9th ed. Media, Pa: Williams and Wilkins Co; 1999:277-282.

Trow LG, Lewis J, Greenwood RH, Sampson MJ, Self KA, Crews HM, et al. Lack of effect of dietary chromium supplementation on glucose tolerance, plasma insulin, and lipoprotein levels in patients with type 2 diabetes. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2000;70(1):14-18.

Volpe SL, Huang HW, Larpadisorn K, Lesser II. Effect of chromium supplementation and exercise on body composition, resting metabolic rate and selected biochemical parameters in moderately obese women following an exercise program. J Am Coll Nutr. 2001;20(4):293-296.

Vincent JB. The biochemistry of chromium. J Nutr. 2000;130:715-718.

Wang MM. Serum cholesterol of adults supplemented with brewer's yeast or chromium chloride. Nutr Res. 1989;9:989-998.

Wilson BE, Gondy A. Effects of chromium supplementation on fasting insulin levels and lipid parameters in healthy, non-obese young subjects. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 1995;28:179-184.


Review Date: April 2002
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Ruth DeBusk, RD, PhD, Editor, Nutrition in Complementary Care, Tallahassee, FL; Jacqueline A. Hart, MD, Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard University and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Gary Kracoff, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick, Ma; Steven Ottariono, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Veteran's Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH. All interaction sections have also been reviewed by a team of experts including Joseph Lamb, MD (July 2000), The Integrative Medicine Works, Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh (August 2000), Vital Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in Pharmacy (March 2000), Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy; President, Your Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD; Ira Zunin, MD, MPH, MBA (July 2000), President and Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for Integrative Medicine, Honolulu, HI.

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

 
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