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The Facts About Chromium Supplements

Chromium is an essential trace element that is important to our health. It can help with blood sugar levels, high cholesterol and the heart. But do you need supplements?

Chromium is an essential trace element that is important to our health. It can help with blood sugar levels, high cholesterol and the heart. In 2002, the sales of chromium supplements were 5.6% of the total mineral supplement sales. Do these supplements work like you think they are.

In 1957 a US research scientist and doctor, Walter Mertz, discovered that certain natural substances in brewer’s yeast lowered blood glucose levels. Dr. Mertz called this substance “glucose tolerance factor” or GTF. He believed that this substance was important for insulin to function properly and the metabolism of carbohydrates. The two main types of chromium are trivalent (chromium III), which is what we get in food and supplements; and the kind used in industry, hexavalent (chromium VI), which is toxic to us. The chemical symbol for chromium is Cr.

Good and Bad Chromium

There are many contradicting studies and conclusions. A 1995 study at Dartmouth College used three types of chromium to determine safety of usage, chromium chloride, chromium nicotinate and chromium picolinate. The study found that only chromium picolinate caused damage to the DNA and oxidative stress in the cells tested. The conclusion of the tests was that chromium picolinate is mutagenic and further studies are needed to verify the safety for human consumption [1]. Critics dismissed these results, stating that the tests used unrealistically high doses. Still, most of the concerns with Chromium picolinate are the damage to cell DNA [2].

Chromium and Diabetes

In 1959 Dr. Mertz wrote, “Type II diabetes is not a disease. It is the lack of a natural ingredient, known as GTF Chromium” [3].

Chromium is important for glucose (carbohydrate) metabolism by regulating insulin. Insulin has an effect on the metabolism of fats and protein. A study in China that involved 180 people with type II diabetes were tested with 100 mcg (micrograms), 500 mcg and 1,000 mcg of chromium picolinate [4]. It was found that those who took the 500 mcg and especially the 1,000-mcg doses did show improvement in fasting and two-hour glucose readings. Some scientist disagreed with this test because the incidence of obesity in China is lower than people in the US with type II diabetes.

In 12 of 15 controlled studies, it was found that chromium supplementation did improve glucose utilization or had a beneficial effect of the blood lipid profiles [5].

Chromium and Heart Disease

Recent studies using rats have linked high cholesterol levels to a deficiency of chromium and researchers at John Hopkins have found that a deficiency of chromium in the body could lead to a higher risk of heart attack. The study used 684 males from hospitals that had had a heart attack. Their chromium levels were compared with a control group of men who had never had a heart attack. It was found that the men who had heart attacks had a 15% lower level of chromium in their bodies than men who hadn’t had a heart attack. It was also found that the men with the highest levels of chromium were 35% less likely to have a heart attack when compared to those with the lowest levels of chromium.

Chromium and Weight Loss

Many people take chromium supplements for weight loss. It is thought that since insulin affects fat metabolism and insulin, than it must be good for weight loss. The studies don’t show this to be true. In a study using 233 people who either received 200 mcg, 400 mcg of chromium picolinate or a placebo for 72 days, it was found that at best the people who took the 200 mcg lost 2.7 pounds. Those who took 400 mcg didn’t see any additional benefits. A meta-analysis of ten different studies using chromium picolinate found a 2.4-pound weight loss, which is so small that it could be called clinically irrelevant [6]. In 1997, The US Federal Trade commission (FTC) ruled that, “there is no basis for claims that chromium picolinate promotes weight or fat loss in humans”.

Chromium and Building Muscles

There have been no benefits found using chromium supplements with bodybuilding. At least 12 placebo controlled studies have been conducted using anywhere from 200 mcg to 1,200 mcg of chromium picolinate with no beneficial effect on body composition [7].

Who Needs More Chromium

It is now believed that deficiency in chromium is widespread due to the processing of our foods. By processing our foods, nutrients are lost. Numerous conditions affect how much chromium we use or eliminate. The more refined sugar a person consumes, the more chromium is eliminated. Stress, infection, high sugar diet, pregnancy, breast-feeding, high endurance exercise and physical trauma can use up chromium causing a deficiency. Several studies of male runners found that chromium loss through urine was increased [8].

Chromium Supplements and Dose

It does appear that chromium can help in preventing or helping people with heart disease, high cholesterol and type II diabetes. Studies show that chromium does not benefit anyone with weight loss, fat loss or bodybuilding. In some samples of supplements, the toxic industrial chromium (chromium 6) has been found in some supplements.

The Food and Nutrition Board has set an adequate intake (AI) level for chromium at 35 mcg per day for adult men and 25 mcg per day for adult women. See this for a complete list of AI for each age group. Most supplements range from 50 to 200 mcg. There are several reports of kidney failure in people taking 600 mcg and more of chromium picolinate.

Foods High In Chromium

The amount of chromium in our food can be dependant on the soil it is grown in. Unfortunately some farming practices have reduced the chromium in the soil. The foods that have good amounts of chromium include brewers yeast, liver, grape juice, nuts, whole-grains, mushrooms, barely, chickpeas, lentils, prunes, asparagus, broccoli, potatoes, turkey and green beans.

Bottom Line

Hopefully there will be more studies concerning diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease, but until then there is a lot of contradiction in the studies. The best way to get chromium is by eating a diet in whole foods and to eliminate processed, junk and fast foods from your diet. Eating a varied diet in whole foods will give you the minerals you need. Do not fool yourself into thinking that a supplement can help you while you still eat an unhealthy diet of processed foods. To properly utilize nutrients like chromium, other nutrients have to be present, that is why it is important to eat a varied whole food diet. Also take a multivitamin to ensure you are getting all nutrients.

Warning

Since chromium has an affect on blood sugar levels, anyone who has to monitor their blood sugar should talk with their doctor before taking any chromium supplements. If you are taking any medication, talk to your doctor before taking chromium supplements.

© 2009 Sam Montana

Guide to Supplements and Vitamins

Guide to Healthy Foods and Nutrition

Resources:

[1] Mutat Res. 2006 Nov 7; 610(1-2):114-23. Epub 2006 Jul 31.Molecular analysis of hprt mutations induced by chromium picolinate in CHO AA8 cells.Coryell VH, Stearns DM.

[2] Blasiak J, Kowalik J. A comparison of the in vitro genotoxicity of tri- and hexavalent chromium. Mutat Res. 2000;469(1):135-145. (PubMed)

[2] Speetjens JK, Collins RA, Vincent JB, Woski SA. The nutritional supplement chromium(III) tris(picolinate) cleaves DNA. Chem Res Toxicol. 1999;12(6):483-487. (PubMed)

[2] Stearns DM, Wise JP, Sr., Patierno SR, Wetterhahn KE. Chromium(III) picolinate produces chromosome damage in Chinese hamster ovary cells. Faseb J. 1995;9(15):1643-1648. (PubMed)

[3] Chromium (III) and the glucose tolerance factor Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Volume 85, Issue 1, November 1959, Pages 292-295 Klaus Schwarz and Walter Mertz

[4] Anderson RA, et al. Elevated intakes of supplemental chromium improve glucose and insulin variables with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes 1997;46:1786-91

[5] Mertz W. Chromium in human nutrition: a review. J Nutr. 1993;123(4):626-633. (PubMed)

[6] Pittler MH, Stevinson C, Ernst E. Chromium picolinate for reducing body weight: meta-analysis of randomized trials. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2003;27(4):522-529. (PubMed)

[7] Kobla HV, Volpe SL. Chromium, exercise, and body composition. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2000;40(4):291-308. (PubMed)

[8] Lukaski HC. Magnesium, zinc, and chromium nutriture and physical activity. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;72(2 Suppl):585S-593S. (PubMed)

Linus Pauling Institute-Oregon State Univ. Infocenter

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Comments (5)

Claire, you can buy chromium picolinate supplements all over and from big supplement companies like NOW and TwinLabs. There are regulations and the FDA has filed against some companies for the claims they put in their ads. They cannot put any claim that their supplement cures or mitigates a disease like diabetes. I do notice many ads for chromium picolinate for weight loss and bodybuilding/lean body though. And just now I read an ad from NOW that says, “Helps the body maintain normal blood sugar levels”.

That is what has become so frustrating. You can read study after study by supposedly very smart scientist, and come up with two entirely different results. It is just as important to find out who is really funding the studies and who is behind the studies. So many studies are selling points and not real medical facts it seems like to me. Something I had in the article, but I decided to cut it out because it seemed to conspiracy like and I couldn’t actually verify it to my satisfaction. The USDA owns the patent on chromium picolinate. So they are the salesman and the governing body. It is US Patent # 4315927.

It is exactly this type of thing that causes people to mistrust the government pushing the swine flu vaccine. Is it an ad or actual medical advice. I think the USDA and FDA are sometimes between a rock and a hard place, but there is more of this conflict of interest going on than we realize.

Informative and well-written.

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