What Is It
Chromium is a trace mineral that comes in several chemical forms. Supplements usually contain chromium picolinate or chromium polynicotinate. Another type of chromium called chromium dinicotinic acid glutathione is found in brewer's yeast. Supplements may be worthwhile because many people today don't get enough chromium in their diet.
What Does It Do
Chromium helps the body use insulin, a hormone that transfers blood sugar (glucose) to the cells, where it is burned as fuel. With enough chromium, the body uses insulin efficiently and maintains normal blood sugar levels. Chromium also aids the body in breaking down protein and fat.
- Essential for the breakdown of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
- May enhance weight-loss efforts.
- Helps the body maintain normal blood sugar (glucose) levels.
- May lower total blood cholesterol, LDL ("bad") cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.
Getting sufficient chromium may prevent diabetes in people with insulin resistance. This disorder makes the body less sensitive to the effects of insulin, so the pancreas has to produce more and more of it to keep blood sugar (glucose) levels in check. When the pancreas can no longer keep up with the body's demand for extra insulin, type 2 diabetes develops. Chromium may help avert this progression by helping the body use insulin more effectively in the first place. Chromium also helps break down fats, so it may reduce LDL ("bad") and increase HDL ("good") cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of heart disease.
Chromium may relieve headaches, irritability, and other symptoms of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) by keeping blood sugar levels from dropping below normal. In people with diabetes, it may help control blood sugar levels. The mineral's most controversial claims relate to weight loss and muscle building. Though some studies indicate that large doses of chromium picolinate can aid in weight reduction or increase muscle mass, others have found no benefit. At best, the mineral may give you a slight edge in weight loss when combined with a sensible diet and regular exercise. But more research is needed to determine chromium's role in this regard.
How Much You Need
No RDA has been established for chromium, but scientists believe that 50 to 200 mcg a day can prevent a deficiency.(But even on a healthy, varied diet, getting the high end of this recommendations would be difficult.)
If You Get Too Little:
A chromium deficiency can lead to inefficient use of glucose. In itself, a lack of chromium is probably not a cause of diabetes, but it can help precipitate the disease in those who are prone to it. In addition, anxiety, poor metabolism of amino acids, and high triglyceride and cholesterol levels may occur in individuals who don't get enough chromium.
If You Get Too Much:
Chromium does not seem to have any adverse effects even at high doses, although there is some concern that mega-doses can impair the absorption of iron and zinc. This can usually be corrected by getting extra iron or zinc through diet or supplements.
How To Take It
Chromium supplements are generally available in 200 mcg doses. For general good health: Take 200 mcg a day. As an aid to a weight-loss program: Take 200 mcg twice a day. To improve the effectiveness of insulin: Use 200 mcg three times a day.
Guidelines For Use:
Take chromium in 200 mcg doses with food or a full glass of water to decrease stomach irritation. Chromium is better absorbed when combined with foods high in vitamin C (or taken with a vitamin C supplement). Calcium carbonate supplements or antacids can reduce chromium absorption.
Don't be confused by labels suggesting that one type of chromium - whether picolinate or polynicotinate - is absorbed better than any other. No reliable research supports these claims.
Chromium is found in whole grains, whole grain breads and cereals, potatoes, prunes, peanut butter, nuts, seafood, and brewer's yeast. Low-fat diets tend to be higher in chromium than high-fat ones.
People with diabetes should consult their doctor before taking chromium. This mineral may alter the dosage for insulin or other diabetes medications.