The Health Benefits of Chromium

The Health Benefits of Chromium

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Introduction & Biological Role

Chromium is a mineral that we require in trace amounts, but is not as common as some of the other minerals in our body. Because of that, how much we require each day and many of it’s biological effects are not as well defined or understood.

It’s biologically active form is trivalent (3+) which is found in food; the toxic form is hexavalent (6+) which is an industrial pollutant. I will of course focus on the dietary trivalent form that matters to us.

Known biological activity of chromium includes enhances the activity of insulin, a key regulator of blood sugar, which also controls the metabolism of carbs, fat and protein in our body. Research also suggests chromium acts directly on the metabolism of carbs, fat and protein as well, although we don’t really know how.

Health Benefits/ Uses

Diabetes Mellitus

Researchers have studied the effects of chromium on diabetes.  Some studies have suggested that chromium supplementation reduces blood sugar levels and the amount of insulin that diabetics require. Some studies have shown no benefit. In a study of pregnant women, supplementing chromium helped better control their blood sugar. Ultimately not all studies agree, and the magnitude of the benefits are not well established so more research is needed but the early studies are promising.

Weight Loss & Obesity

Chromium supplementation has been advertised to promote the following: weight-loss aid, improve lean muscle and reduce body fat. Studies are mixed to say the least; some have found a benefit while others have shown no effect at all. Chromium may help, and supplementing probably won’t hurt, but it is not a replacement for a balanced diet and exercise.

Strength Training & Athletic Performance

Chromium is a common addition to weight lifting supplements and popular among some athletes and weight lifters. There is no convincing evidence that supplementation provides any benefit. More research is needed to determine if there is a benefit.

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

Animal studies demonstrate that chromium supplementation can lower blood pressure, although this has not be replicated in humans. More research is needed.

Hyperlipidemia (High Cholesterol)

Some studies suggest that chromium may lower cholesterol, especially LDL or low-density lipoprotein. One study showed benefit when combined with grape seed extract. Another study found it helped in folks taking beta blockers. Ultimately, the studies are mixed and more research is needed.

Depression

One study found that chromium supplementation improved symptoms of depression but a larger study found that it did not help. More research is needed to determine if there is any benefit in treating depression.

Glaucoma

Low chromium levels have been linked to glaucoma, but it has not been proven that supplementation of chromium reduces the risk of developing the disease. More research is needed.

Deficiency

Although as many as 90% of Americans may have diets low in chromium, actual reports of chromium deficiency are rare. Individuals most likely to be deficient include elderly, super exercisers, consumption of sugary foods and pregnant women.

Low levels are associated with increased blood sugar, triglycerides and cholesterol, and increased risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.

Toxicity

Few serious adverse events have been linked to chromium intake and no tolerable upper limited has been established. Chromium intake from dietary sources is unlikely to lead to toxicity. Excessive supplementation can lead to stomach problems, low blood sugar, liver, kidney and nerve damage as well as irregular heart rate.

Sources

Chromium is found in a wide variety of foods, but most of them provide only a very small amount, roughly less than 2 mcg per serving.

The best dietary sources  of chromium are

  • Broccoli, ½ cup (11 mcg)
  • Grape juice, 1 cup (8 mcg)
  • English muffin, whole wheat, 1 (4 mcg)
  • Potatoes, mashed, 1 cup (3 mcg)
  • Garlic, dried, 1 teaspoon (3 mcg)
  • Basil, dried, 1 tablespoon (2 mcg)
  • Beef cubes, 3 ounces (2 mcg)
  • Orange juice, 1 cup (2 mcg)
  • Turkey breast, 3 ounces (2 mcg)
  • Whole wheat bread, 2 slices (2 mcg)
  • Red wine, 5 ounces (1-13 mcg)
  • Apple, unpeeled, 1 medium (1 mcg)
  • Banana, 1 medium (1 mcg)
  • Green beans, ½ cup (1 mcg)

Both dietary chromium and supplements forms of chromium come in the following forms, although none are thought to be superior to others:

  • Chromium nicotinate
  • Chromium histidinate
  • Chromium picolinate
  • Chromium-enriched yeast
  • Chromium chloride
  • Glucose tolerance factor chromium (GTF)

If you’re looking to supplement chromium, make sure to ask your doctor.

Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA)

There is no recommended daily allowance due to insufficient research, so the national institute of health has established adequate intake of chromium. Although it will vary widely based on age, gender and pregnancy status in women, remember that adequate intake based on the national institute of health is roughly 20-30 mcg per day. 

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