Chromium is a trace mineral. This means it is needed in very small amounts. Chromium supplements may be useful in a number of health conditions.
Good sources of chromium include: whole grainslean meatspoultrysome cereallivereggscheesebrewer's yeast
The process of refining removes chromium from grains. As a result, foods like white flour and white rice are low in chromium. Most Americans get only 50 to 100 micrograms (mcg) of chromium per day through diet.
Chromium combines with niacin to form Glucose Tolerance Factor, also known as GTF.
GTF works with insulin to help the body use glucose. Insulin is the hormone that takes glucose from blood and puts it into cells where it is used for energy. Chromium helps reduce the amount of insulin needed to maintain blood sugar.
Some studies report that people who have diabetes can get better blood glucose control by taking chromium supplements. Getting the right amount of chromium each day may also help protect against heart attacks in people that are at high risk, such as those who have diabetes. Chromium seems to improve levels of blood fats such as cholesterol. However, some experts speculate that these benefits are seen primarily in patients with poor nutritional status or low chromium levels (as is the case in diabetics).
There are many chromium supplements available. Chromium is available in supplements under the names chromium picolinate, chromium polynicotinate, chromium chloride and others.
These supplements have gained a great deal of attention as a means to lose weight. More research is needed to confirm any results to date. The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database concluded that there is "insufficient evidence" to use chromium for weight loss, athletic conditioning, pre-diabetes, or diabetes.
The chromium in supplements is found to be mostly safe and consuming harmful amounts from food is very unlikely. However, excess intake can hurt, rather than help, the use of insulin.
The greatest benefits of increasing intake of chromium are seen in people who are severely deficient in the mineral. In these cases, it has been shown to improve glucose and insulin function. People who eat a diet high in sugar and refined foods are more at risk for not getting enough chromium. Sugar increases chromium loss and refined foods are very low in chromium.
Athletes may also have increased chromium loss through exercise. Chromium deficiency can resemble diabetes. There is no Recommended Daily Allowance, called RDA, for chromium. For adults, a safe and healthy amount is between 50 to 200 mcg per day. A mcg is a very small amount equal to a thousandth of a milligram.
Even though chromium is needed in only small amounts, it is a key mineral in the body.
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Murray, M., ND. (1996). Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements. California: Prima Publishing.