Chromium is an essential mineral found in very low concentrations in the human body. In 1957, researchers discovered a compound extracted from pork kidney called glucose tolerance factor (GTF). Administration of GTF helped diabetic rats use insulin more efficiently. People with diabetes either do not produce enough insulin or cannot properly use the insulin that their bodies produce. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. As a result, glucose or sugar builds up in the bloodstream. Chromium was later identified as the active component of GTF. Today, scientists believe that chromium helps insulin bring glucose from the blood into the cells for energy.
As many as 90% of American diets are low in chromium, but few people are deficient in this important mineral. The elderly, people who indulge in strenuous exercise, those who consume excessive amounts of sugary foods, and pregnant women are most likely to be deficient in chromium. Low chromium levels can increase blood sugar, triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood), cholesterol levels, and increase the risk for a number of conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Good chromium food sources include whole grain breads and cereals, lean meats, cheeses, and some spices, such as black pepper and thyme. Brewer’s yeast is also rich in chromium.
Clinical studies suggest that chromium supplementation may be helpful for the following conditions:
The benefit of chromium supplements for diabetes has been studied and debated for a number of years. While some clinical studies have reported no beneficial effects of chromium use for people with diabetes, other clinical studies have reported that chromium supplements may reduce blood sugar levels as well as the amount of insulin needed by people with diabetes. Pregnancy-induced and steroid-induced diabetes may benefit from chromium as well. Chromium was found to decrease the insulin resistance problems seen in individuals who smoke cigarettes. Chromium is an antioxidant, which helps protect the body against free radical damage (oxidation).
Because of the popularity of taking chromium supplements for blood sugar regulation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewed the clinical evidence and concluded that the relationship between chromium picolinate intake and insulin resistance is highly uncertain. More research is needed.
Some studies suggest that chromium may improve lean body mass (namely, muscle) and reduce body fat. However, despite the popularity of chromium (especially chromium picolinate) for weight loss, the effects are small compared to those of exercise and a well-balanced diet.
Chromium is popular with some body builders and can be found in certain sports nutrition supplements. Despite this popularity, there is little clinical evidence that chromium supplementation changes body composition or helps people gain strength. This topic has been studied in several different groups of people, including athletic and nonathletic men and women as well as elderly men.
Animal studies suggest that chromium may help improve blood pressure. This has yet to be tested on people. Until more information is available, use of chromium for this purpose is not recommended.
Although not all clinical studies agree, chromium has demonstrated the ability to lower total and low density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol levels and raise high density lipoprotein (HDL or "good") cholesterol levels in the blood, particularly in people with high cholesterol.
Animal studies show that chromium bound to niacin, or vitamin B3 protects the heart and increases energy levels.
Preliminary clinical studies show that chromium picolinate improves symptoms of depression in people with atypical depression. More research is needed.
Chromium is commercially available in several forms including chromium nicotinate, chromium histidinate, chromium picolinate, chromium-enriched yeast, chromium chloride, and glucose tolerance factor chromium (GTF). Chromium is available as part of many multivitamins or alone in tablet and capsule forms.
How to Take It
Dosages of chromium are based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. The recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) of chromium are as follows:
For infants birth - 6 months: The RDA for chromium is 0.2 mcg (micrograms) daily.
For infants 7 - 12 months: The RDA for chromium is 5.5 mcg daily.
For children 1 - 3 years: The RDA for chromium is 11 mcg daily.
For children 4 - 8 years: The RDA for chromium is 15 mcg daily.
For male children 9 - 13 years: The RDA for chromium is 25 mcg daily.
For female children 9 - 13 years: The RDA for chromium is 21 mcg daily.
For male children 14 - 18 years: The RDA for chromium is 35 mcg daily.
For female children 14 - 18 years: The RDA for chromium is 24 mcg daily.
For pregnant females 14 - 18 years: The RDA for chromium is 29 mcg daily.
For breast-feeding females 14 - 18 years: The RDA for chromium is 44 mcg daily.
For adult males 19 - 50 years: The RDA for chromium is 35 mcg daily.
For adult males 51 years and older: The RDA for chromium is 30 mcg daily.
For adult females 19 - 50 years: The RDA for chromium is 25 mcg daily.
For adult females 50 years and older: The RDA for chromium is 20 mcg daily.
For pregnant females 19 years and older: The RDA for chromium is 30 mcg daily.
For breastfeeding females 19 years and older: The RDA for chromium is 30 mcg daily.
For disease prevention and treatment, dosage in adults is typically 200 mcg chromium, 1 - 3 times a day. Type 2 diabetics may benefit from doses as high as 1,000 mcg daily, but long term safety with such high doses is not known.
Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications, you should take dietary supplements only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider.
Although the type of chromium found in foods is generally considered safe, extremely high doses of this mineral can inhibit the effectiveness of insulin and cause stomach irritation, itching, and flushing. There have also been rare reports of fast, irregular heart rhythms and liver dysfunction from too much chromium. Two cases of kidney damage have been reported from the use of chromium picolinate supplements.
Dietary chromium, which is considered safe, is often confused with an unsafe industrial form of chromium (hexavalent chromium or chromium VI) that is readily absorbed by the lungs, digestive tract, mucous membranes, and skin. Chromium VI is a toxic industrial compound that is primarily encountered through occupational exposure by either direct contact or through inhalation of dust or aerosols.
If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use chromium without first talking to your health care provider:
Antacids -- Animal studies suggest that antacids, particularly those containing calcium carbonate (including Tums and Mylanta), may reduce the body's ability to absorb chromium. Although it is unclear how this research relates to people, it may be advisable to avoid taking chromium supplements at the same time as antacids.
Diabetes Medications -- Chromium supplements may actually enhance the effectiveness of certain diabetes medications. Clinical studies have demonstrated that people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes who take chromium supplements may require lower doses of insulin, metformin (Glucophage), or sulfonylureas (a group of medications used to treat type 2 diabetes including glyburide or Diabeta, glipizide or Glucotrol, and chlorpropamide or Diabenese).
Dietary sources of chromium include brewer's yeast, lean meats (especially processed meats), cheeses, pork kidney, whole-grain breads and cereals, molasses, spices, and some bran cereals.
Brewer's yeast (particularly yeast grown in chromium-rich soil) is a rich dietary source of chromium, as are organ meats, mushroom, oatmeal, prunes, nuts, asparagus, and whole grains and cereals. Vegetables, fruits, and most refined and processed foods (except for processed meats) contain low amounts of chromium.
Anderson R. Chromium, glucose intolerance and diabetes. J Amer Coll Nutr. 1998;17:548-555.
Anderson RA. Chromium in the prevention and control of diabetes. Diabetes and Metabolism. 2000;26(1)22-27.
Anderson RA. Effects of chromium on body composition and weight loss. Nutr Rev. 1998;56(9):266-270.
Anderson R. Elevated intake of supplemental chromium improved glucose and insulin variables in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes. 1997;46:1786-1791.
Anderson RA. Nutritional factors influencing the glucose/insulin system: chromium. J Am Coll Nutr. 1997;16(5):404-410.
Anderson RA, Cheng N, Bryden NA, et al. Elevated intakes of supplemental chromium improve glucose and insulin variables in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes. 1997;46:1,786–1,791.
Anderson RA, Roussell AM, Zouari N, Mahjoub S, Matheau JM, Kerkeni A. Potential antioxidant effects of zinc and chromium supplementation in people with type 2 diabetes mellitus. J Am Coll Nutr. 2001;20(3):212-218.
Bahadori B, Wallner S, Schneider H, Wascher TC, Toplak H. Effect of chromium yeast and chromium picolinate on body composition of obese, non-diabetic patients during and after a formula diet. Acta Med Austria Ca. 1997;24:185–187.
Balk EM, Tatsioni A, Lichenstein AH, Lau J, Pittas AG. Effect of chromium supplementation on glucose metabolism and lipids: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Diabetes Care. 2007;30(8):2154-63.
Blank HM, Khan LK, Serdula MK. Use of nonprescription weight loss products, results from a multistate survey. JAMA. 2001;286(8):930-935.
Broadhurst CL, Domenico P. Clinical studies on chromium picolinate supplementation in diabetes mellitus--a review. Diabetes Technol Ther. 2006;8(6):677-87.
Campbell WW, Joseph LJ, Davey SL, Cyr-Campbell D, Anderson RA, Evans WJ. Effects of resistance training and chromium picolinate on body composition and skeletal muscle in older men. J Appl Physiol. 1999;86(1):29-39.
Cheng HH, Lai MH, Hou WC, Huang CL. Antioxidant effects of chromium supplementation with type 2 diabetes mellitus and euglycemic subjects. J Agric Food Chem. 2004;52(5):1385-9.
Davis ML, Seaborn CD, Stoecker BJ. Effects of over-the-counter drugs on 51chromium retention and urinary excretion in rats. Nutr Res. 1995;15:201-210.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005. Rockville, MD: US Dept of Health and Human Services and US Dept of Agriculture; 2005.
Dong F, Yang X, Sreejayan N, Ren J. Chromium (D-phenylalanine)3 improves obesity-induced cardiac contractile defect in ob/ob mice. Obesity. 2007;15(11):2699-711.
Frauchiger MT, Wenk C, Colombani PC. Effects of acute chromium supplementation on postprandial metabolism in healthy young men. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004;23(4):351-7.
Fujimoto S. Studies on the relationships between blood trace metal concentrations and the clinical status of patients with cerebrovascular disease, gastric cancer, and diabetes mellitus. Hokkaido Igaku Zasshi. 1987;62:913–932.
Gordon JB. An easy and inexpensive way to lower cholesterol? West J Med. 1991 Mar;154(3):352.
Gunton JE, Cheung NW, Hitchman R, Hams G, O'Sullivan C, Foster-Powell K, McElduff A. Chromium supplementation does not improve glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity, or lipid profile: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial of supplementation in subjects with impaired glucose tolerance. Diabetes Care. 2005;28(3):712-3.
Hermann J, Arquitt A, Stoecker B. Effects of chromium supplementation on plasma lipids, apolipoproteins, and glucose in elderly subjects. Nutr Res. 1994;14(5):671.674.
Hummel M, Standl E, Schnell O. Chromium in metabolic and cardiovascular disease. Horm Metab Res. 2007;39(10):743-51.
Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for vitamin A, vitamin K, arsenic, boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, vanadium, and zinc. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2004.
Jain SK, Rains JL, Croad JL. Effect of chromium niacinate and chromium picolinate supplementation on lipid peroxidation, TNF-alpha, IL-6, CRP, glycated hemoglobin, triglycerides, and cholesterol levels in blood of streptozotocin-treated diabetic rats. Free Radic Bio Med. 2007;43(8):1124-31.
Lee NA, Reasner CA. Beneficial effect of chromium supplementation on serum triglyceride levels in NIDDM. Diabetes Care. 1994;17:1449-1452.
Livolsi JM, Adams GM, Laguna PL. The effect of chromium picolinate on muscular strength an body composition in women athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2001;15(2):161-166.
Lukasi HC, Bolonchuk WW, Siders, WA, Milne DB. Chromium supplementation and resistance training: effects on body composition, strength, and trace element status of men. Am J Clin Nut. 1996;663:954-965.
McCarty MF. Complementary measures for promoting insulin sensitivity in skeletal muscle. Med Hypotheses. 1998;51(6):451-464.
McCarty MF. Anabolic effects of insulin on bone suggests a role for chromium picolinate in preservation of bone density. Med Hypotheses. 1995;45:241–246.
McCarty MF. Chromium picolinate may favorably influence the vascular risk associated with smoking by combating cortisol-induced insulin resistance. Med Hypotheses. 2005;64(6):1220-4.
National Institutes of Health. NIH Program Announcement. Chromium as adjuvant therapy for type 2 diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance. NIH Guide. 2001. Accessed at http://www.nccam.nih.gov/nccam/fi/concepts/pa/pa-01-114.html on March 5, 2002.
Porter DJ, Raymond LW, Anastasio GD. Chromium: friend or foe? Arch Family Med. 1999;8(5):386-390.
Press RI, Geller J, Evans GW. The effect of chromium picolinate on serum cholesterol and apolipoprotein fractions in human subjects. Western J Med. 1993;152:41-45.
Preuss HG, Jarrell ST, Scheckenbach R, Lieberman S, Anderson RA. Comparative effects of chromium, vanadium and gymnema sylfestre on sugar-induced blood pressure elevations in SHR. J Am Coll Nutr. 1998;17(2):116-123.
Racek J, Trefil L, Rajdl D, Mudrova V, Hunter D, Senft V. Influence of chromium-enriched yeast on blood glucose and insulin variables, blood lipids, and markers of oxidative stress in subjects with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2006;109(3):215-30.
Ravina A, Slezack L. Chromium in the treatment of clinical diabetes mellitus. Harefuah. 1993;125(5-6):142-145,191.
Ravina A, Slezak L, Mirsky N, Bryden NA, Anderson RA. Reversal of corticosteroid-induced diabetes mellitus with supplemental chromium. Diabetic Med. 1999;169(2):164-167.
Ryan GJ, Wanko NS, Redman AR, Cook CB. Chromium as adjunctive treatment for type 2 diabetes. Ann Pharmacother. 2003;37(6):876-85.
Seaborn CD, Stoecker BJ. Effects of antacid or ascorbic acid on tissue accumulation and urinary excretion of chromium-51. Nutr Res. 1990;10:1401-1408.
Shannon M. Alternative medicines toxicology: a review of selected agents. Clin Tox. 1999;37(6):709-713.
Townsend: Sabiston Textbook of Surgery, 18th ed. Philadelphia, PA; Elsevier Inc., 2008.
Trow LG, Lewis J, Greenwood RH, Sampson MJ, Self KA, Crews HM, et al. Lack of effect of dietary chromium supplementation on glucose tolerance, plasma insulin, and lipoprotein levels in patients with type 2 diabetes. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2000;70(1):14-18.
Trumbo PR, Ellwood KC. Chromium picolinate intake and risk of type 2 diabetes: an evidence-based review by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Nutr Rev. 2006;64(8):357-63.
Volpe SL, Huang HW, Larpadisorn K, Lesser II. Effect of chromium supplementation and exercise on body composition, resting metabolic rate and selected biochemical parameters in moderately obese women following an exercise program. J Am Coll Nutr. 2001;20(4):293-296.
Vincent JB. The biochemistry of chromium. J Nutr. 2000;130:715-718.
Wang MM. Serum cholesterol of adults supplemented with brewer's yeast or chromium chloride. Nutr Res. 1989;9:989-998.
Wilson BE, Gondy A. Effects of chromium supplementation on fasting insulin levels and lipid parameters in healthy, non-obese young subjects. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 1995;28:179–184.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. ©1997-2013 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Sign Up for Free Newsletters
Ask Your Doctor the RIGHT Questions!
the most from your doctor visit.
Emailed right to you!
The Ask Your Doctor email series
may contain sponsored content.
18+, US residents only please.
Get the MOST from QualityHealth
- Top Searches
- 1. Arthritis Management: Nature Heals
- 2. 5 Digestive To-Dos
- 3. Men: Should You Shave It or Leave It?
- 4. Today's Top Fitness Trends
- 5. Sugar and Osteoarthritis : The Link
- 6. Can't Afford Your Hospital Bills?
- 7. Stay Energized All Day Long
- 8. Phobias: Who Has Them and Why?
- 9. What If Your EpiPen Fails?
- 10. 5 Costly Medical Billing Mistakes
- 1. Ice Falls Can Cause Serious Injuries
- 2. Can Inactivity Act Like a Disease?
- 3. Kale Snack Recipe for Diabetics
- 4. How Running Affects Arthritis
- 5. Sugar and Your Immunity System
- 6. Do Weight Loss Supplements Work?
- 7. 5 Super Foods for Spring
- 8. The Hazards of Reusable Bags
- 9. How to Avoid Ingrown Hairs
- 10. Health Tip: Constantly Change Shoes
- 1. 4 Common Treatments for Epilepsy
- 2. What Does a Urogynecologist Do?
- 3. GERD Without Heartburn? It's Possible
- 4. Graston Technique: Can It Work on You?
- 5. Music Therapy Can Help Autism
- 6. 8 Ways to Fight MS-Related Fatigue
- 7. Can You Still Bleed After Menopause?
- 8. Be Your Own Health Care Advocate
- 9. Why Is Syphillis on the Rise?
- 10. Ideal Weight vs. Happy Weight
The material on the QualityHealth Web site is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment provided by a physician or other qualified health provider. See additional information.