The second best-selling mineral supplement after calcium, chromium has been hyped as a fat burner, a muscle builder, a treatment for diabetes and a weapon against heart disease. Though this mineral is essential for growth and health, its more spectacular claims remain controversial.
What it is?
Chromium is a trace mineral that comes in several chemical forms. Supplements usually contain chromium picolinate or chromium GTF (glucose tolerance factor). Another type, 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 it does?
Chromium helps the body to 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 helps the body to break down protein and fat.
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 to use insulin more effectively in the first place. Chromium also helps to 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 to 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 weight loss or increase muscle mass, others have found no benefit. At best, the mineral may give you a slight edge in losing weight when combined with a sensible diet and regular exercise. But more research is needed to determine chromium's role in this regard.
- Essential for the breakdown of protein, fat and carbohydrates.
- Helps the body maintain normal blood sugar (glucose) levels.
- May lower total blood cholesterol, LDL ('bad') cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- May aid weight loss.
- Soft gel.
- People with diabetes should consult their doctor before taking chromium. This mineral may alter the dosage for insulin or other diabetes medications.
- Reminder: If you have a medical condition, talk to your doctor before taking supplements.
How much you need?
No RDI has yet been established for chromium, but scientists believe that 50-200 mcg a day can prevent a deficiency. (Even with a healthy, varied diet, getting chromium at the high end of this recommendation 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 to precipitate the disease in those who are prone to it. In addition, people who don't get enough chromium may suffer from anxiety, poor metabolism of amino acids, and high triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
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 before exercising.
To improve the effectiveness of insulin: Take 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.
Chromium is found in whole grains, wholegrain breads and cereals, potatoes, prunes, peanut butter, nuts, seafood and brewer's yeast. Low-fat diets tend to be higher in chromium than those that are high in fats.
Chromium to the rescue
A decade after being diagnosed with diabetes, Sarah P was facing the prospect of insulin injections because her pills were not regulating her blood sugar effectively. 'I felt that if I had to take insulin, I would', she recalls. 'But when I read about chromium, I thought: why not try it first?' Her doctor was concerned, and a bit skeptical, but he agreed to let her try.
The results didn't occur overnight. 'It may seem silly', Sarah says, 'but I wanted the chromium to work so much so that I also began paying extra attention to my diet and forcing myself to take brisk walks twice a day'.
Was it the chromium that finally reduced Sarah's blood sugar to healthier levels? Nobody knows for sure. Sarah's doctor, who read the chromium material Sarah regularly left on his desk, admits that he may have dismissed it too soon, and would like to see more research done.
Sarah herself is convinced of chromium’s benefits. 'Sure, I've lost a little weight, but I'm still the same person. My blood sugar hasn't been out of control for months. That's the chromium'.
Did you know?
Wholegrain breads and cereals are a good source of chromium. The refined grains sometimes added to white bread contain negligible amounts of this essential mineral.