Chromium

Nonessential Micronutrient

OVERVIEW

Summary

Regardless of its history as a highly touted “fat-loss agent,” chromium’s recently been favored by the scientific community for its impressive role in proper carbohydrate metabolism and its potential to help keep blood sugar levels “in check.” Nearly one-quarter of Americans experience the effects of chromium deficiency, which result in low blood sugar or insulin resistance, and have experienced the unwanted feelings of anxiety, physical fatigue, and mental lethargy that come with it. Deficiencies of this vital mineral have become the center of attention for contributing factors to such epidemics as insulin resistance (diabetes), obesity, and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

Other names for Chromium

trivalent chromium

Where to find Chromium

Brewer’s yeast has the highest concentration of all foods. Chromium can also be found in whole-wheat grains, apples, bananas, spinach (although vegetables provide little, if any, chromium), mushrooms, and most meats.

PERFORMANCE BENEFITS

Why athletes use Chromium

Body processes and basically life itself rely on our ability to supply energy to our cells. Chromium helps us perform this complex process, called metabolism, much more efficiently. This popular nutrient may not be the miracle fat-loss nutrient some proclaim; nonetheless, it is critical to the proper functioning of insulin in our bodies and may benefit anyone who wants to keep their blood sugar and hormone levels “in check” — which does aid in helping to maintain and/or improve bodyweight.

Ways that Chromium can enhance Energy & Endurance:
  • As an “insulin potentiator,” assist the body in efficiently metabolizing carbohydrates
  • Improve glucose regulation and tolerance, helping maintain “normal,” healthy blood sugar levels
  • Indirectly help produce energy, in the form of ATP, by helping insulin “shuttle” glucose (blood sugar) into muscle cells

HEALTH BENEFITS

Signs of Chromium deficiency

Although daily dietary intake requirements are approximately 50 to 200 mcg, rarely (if ever) can our foods provide us with this amount. Because of this, it is reported that nearly all of the U.S. population is at least marginally chromium deficient and should therefore be supplementing with additional chromium.

Deficiency of Chromium has been linked to:

  • Herpes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • High blood sugar
  • Hypoglycemia
Potential uses for Chromium

Research indicates that Chromium may also be useful in the treatment of:

  • Diabetes
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Herpes
  • Insulin resistance

DISCUSSION

More about Chromium

Chromium is an essential trace mineral that plays an important role in our bodies’ normal carbohydrate metabolism — a process of converting the foods we eat into sugars. Chromium aids insulin, a natural hormone that’s released in response to eating carbohydrates, in properly “shuttling” these sugars into cells to be stored as energy.

In the past year, it’s been noted that nearly 25 million Americans may be marginally deficient in chromium, which could be a leading contributor to the recent development of the insulin-resistance (diabetes), obesity, and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) epidemic that’s plaguing the U.S.

A healthy metabolism

A properly working metabolism is essential for active, healthy living and peak performance. The foods we eat — carbohydrates, proteins, and fats — are the raw materials for the energy we need to stay active. When we eat, our bodies quickly convert carbohydrates into a simple sugar called glucose. This sugar is the essential energy source for all our cells. Once glucose enters a cell, it’s instantly converted into a “power-packed” source of stored energy.

But, when this metabolic process slows down or becomes less efficient, or our cells become resistant to insulin, a myriad of complications can begin to develop, such as diabetes, obesity, hypoglycemia, and various heart conditions, to name only a few. If too many sugars are left “floating” in our bloodstreams, along with insulin, our bodies respond with hormone irregularly, fatigue, anxiety (symptoms of hypoglycemia), and even increased fat storage. For these reasons, it’s imperative to avoid a chromium deficiency.

Optimal health

The mere fact that the U.S. leads the world in low chromium levels clearly indicates our inadequate diet — in part due to highly refined foods, saturated fats, and the depleted soil for growing — results in low levels of chromium. In addition, strenuous exercise also appears to deplete chromium reserves in our bodies.

The good news is numerous studies demonstrate that non-insulin-dependant diabetics and/or hypoglycemics who supplement with chromium may see significant reductions in fasting glucose levels, improved glucose tolerance, and lowered overall insulin levels. These effects appear to be the result of chromium’s potential to enhance insulin’s ability to lower blood sugar levels.

How it works

Although it’s not clear exactly “how” chromium helps regulate blood sugar, a few theories are worth exploring.

One suggests chromium binds both to insulin and the cell to use or attract blood sugar more efficiently. In other words, chromium possibly helps insulin “do its job,” sort of as an insulin-potentiator, and helps it properly store these sugars as “reserved energy.”

Another theory suggests chromium may decrease the rate of extraction of insulin and improve glucose tolerance. Which means it helps allow insulin and glucose to work together more efficiently. It was found in studies that glucose tolerance could be restored in chromium-deficient patients once they were given a diet rich in chromium.

In addition, proper control of blood sugar may help prevent hardening of the arteries and the detriments associated with this condition. Some studies have even demonstrated chromium’s potential ability to increase HDL (the good cholesterol), while lowering overall cholesterol levels.

Body composition

Chromium’s somewhat anecdotal reputation to help alter bodyfat and increase lean mass leaves many skeptics and controversy. Two original studies have in fact confirmed chomium’s potential to have significant effects on body composition, while other studies that followed showed no effect whatsoever on either loss of bodyfat or gains of lean mass. But, this doesn’t mean it doesn’t work altogether — it’s merely a case of “when the scientists can’t agree.”

As theory has it in this area, and marketers would have you believe, because chromium helps improve the use of insulin, it in turn may lead to decreased fat storage, as well as helping increase the amount of amino acids and glucose entering muscle cells. And this may encourage the body to favor fat loss in the end. Although this theory has yet to be concretely documented, it is still palatable.

Claims that it directly builds muscle or promotes fat loss have little, if any, credible support to date. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has publicly declared such claims as unsubstantiated and deceptive.

In conclusion

Body processes and basically life itself rely on our ability to supply energy to our cells. Chromium appears to help us perform this complex process, called metabolism, much more efficiently. This popular nutrient may not be the fat-loss nutrient some proclaim. Nonetheless, it is critical to the proper functioning of insulin in the body and may benefit anyone who wants to keep their blood sugar and hormone levels “in check.” Thus, it’s important to ensure adequate amounts of chromium are supplemented to avoid deficiencies and the repercussions that accompanying this syndrome, which nearly one-quarter of Americans already face.

Caveat

Please note: any insulin-dependent diabetics should discuss any chromium supplementation with their doctors as it can change the amounts of insulin needed.

NOTES ON USAGE

Amount

Daily amounts of chromium range between 50 and 200 mcg, depending on the needs of the user.

  • For instance, a sedentary person might use only 50 mcg per day to meet “basic” daily dietary intake requirements.
  • Whereas generally active individuals may require anywhere from 100 to 200 mcg per day.
  • And hard-training athletes may require upwards of 200 to 300 mcg per day to combat any losses and deficiencies of chromium that may result from intense physical activity.
  • Recommended use, as suggested by most nutritional doctors, is 200 mcg. This is the amount usually found in any high-quality multivitamin/mineral formula and is a generally safe and adequate daily dietary intake.
Timing

To obtain the full benefits, chromium should be taken with meals (such as at breakfast and/or dinner), especially with carbohydrate-containing foods.

Synergists of Chromium

Niacin, glycine, cysteine, glutamic acid, and Vitamin C may enhance the absorption of chromium.

Safety of Chromium

Chromium should not be used by insulin-dependent diabetics without the care of a physician.


Toxicity of Chromium

Since absorption rates of chromium are so low, toxicity is very uncommon. Although chromium is not necessarily toxic, it can cause adverse reactions at levels above 600 mcg per day in extremely rare cases.

Bans and restrictions

None reported.

RELATED RESEARCH

  • Anderson, R.A., et al., “Exercise Effects on Chromium Excretion of Trained and Untrained Men Consuming a Constant Diet,” J Appl Physiol 64.1 (1988) : 249-52.
  • Hallmark, M.A., et al., “Effects of Chromium and Resistive Training on Muscle Strength and Body Composition,” Med Sci Sports Exerc 28.1 (1996) : 139-44.
  • Kaats, G.R., et al., “Effects of Chromium Picolinate Supplementation on Body Composition: A Randomized, Double-Masked, Placebo-Controlled Study,” Curr Ther Res 57 (1996) : 747-56.
  • Kaats, G.R., et al., “A Randomized, Double-Masked, Placebo-Controlled Study of the Effects of Chromium Picolinate Supplementation on Body Composition: A Replication and Extension of a Previous Study,” Curr Ther Res 59 (1998) : 379-88.
  • Lefavi, R.G., et al., “Efficacy of Chromium Supplementation in Athletes: Emphasis on Anabolism,” Int J Sport Nutr 2.2 (1992) : 111-22.
  • McCarty, M.F., “The Case for Supplemental Chromium and a Survey of Clinical Studies with Chromium Picolinate,” J Appl Nutr 43 (1991) : 59-66.
  • Mertz, W., “Interaction of Chromium with Insulin: A Progress Report,” Nutr Rev 56.6 (1998) : 174-7.
  • Offenbacher, E.G., “Promotion of Chromium Absorption by Ascorbic Acid,” Trace Elements Electrolytes 11 (1994) : 178-81.
  • Preuss, H.G., and Anderson, R.A., “Chromium Update: Examining Recent Literature 1997-1998,” Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 1.6 (1998) 509-12.
  • Riales, R., and Albrink, M.J., “Effect of Chromium Chloride Supplementation on Glucose Tolerance and Serum Lipids Including High-Density Lipoprotein of Adult Men,” Am J Clin Nutr 34.12 (1981) : 2670-78.
  • Walker, L.S., et al., “Chromium Picolinate Effects on Body Composition and Muscular Performance in Wrestlers,” Med Sci Sports Exerc 30.12 (1998) : 1730-7.
  • Wang, M.M., et al., “Serum Cholesterol of Adults Supplemented with Brewer’s Yeast or Chromium Chloride,” Nutr Res 9 (1989) : 989-98.