By Summer Banks on Nov 02, 2017

What is Chromium?

Chromium is a trace mineral that we require in small amounts, and it comes in two forms: 1) trivalent, or chromium III, the bioactive form found in trace amounts in food, wine and water; and 2) hexavalent, or chromium VI, a toxic byproduct of industrial manufacturing.

Known to enhance the actions of insulin, chromium is believed to directly influence the metabolism and storage of carbohydrate, fat, and protein. [1] [2]

It was found in 1957 that brewer’s yeast prevented age-related degeneration, and maintained glucose levels in rats.

The compound in the brewer’s yeast was termed “glucose-tolerance factor” (GTF), and two years later, researchers identified chromium as the active component in the GTF.

In the following decade, it was found that chromium in doses of up to 250 mcg/day, reversed signs of diabetes (e.g., weight loss, neuropathy, insulin resistance) in a patient who was fed intravenously. [3] [3] [4]

Today, chromium is routinely added to parenteral solutions.

Chromium comes in several derivatives, including Chromium Picolinate, which was reviewed by Diet Spotlight at this link. Chromium is frequently paired with a fat blocker called Chitosan.

Bottom Line: Chromium is an essential mineral that is involved in metabolism of insulin, glucose and fat.

 

What is Chromium

Chromium, Fat Loss, and the Supplement Industry

Greater than 1 in 3 children/adolescents and 2 in 3 adults in the United States are either overweight or obese. [5] [2]

As excessive weight gain and obesity reach epidemic proportions, many people will try almost anything to lose the pounds.

Although health experts agree that lifestyle changes- including healthy eating, reducing calories, and exercising- are the best and only sustainable ways for long-term and healthy weight loss, making these changes can be difficult. [6] [7] [8]

Americans spend $2 billion a year on these weight loss supplements, and of this, Chromium sales generate more than $100 million annually. [9]

Chromium supplementation is not new in the fitness and health industry, but it is currently a trend. Many people, Americans in particular, are very undernourished despite heavy calorie intakes, and deficient in trace minerals. These trace minerals, such as Chromium, are vitals in many metabolic actions including fat metabolism.

             Bottom Line: Insuring your body has enough trace minerals to function optimally, including Chromium, can be a major factor in whether a                                 person burns fat or stores it.

Chromium Benefits

How Does Chromium Work?

Insulin is a hormone made by the beta cells of the pancreas that carries glucose into muscle cells where it’s used for energy production.

When insulin binds to the receptors on the surface of insulin-sensitive cells, like the skeletal muscle cells, it allows Chromium to rush in from the bloodstream. [10] [11]

Once inside the cell, Chromium binds to and forms a complex with a small protein called chromodulin. [12]

The chromium-chromodulin complex activates the enzyme insulin receptor tyrosine kinase, which enhances glucose (blood sugar) absorption by the cells and promotes fat metabolism.

In a chromium-deficient state, cells appear to be desensitized or resistant to the effects of insulin. This means, glucose won’t enter the cells for energy production but is instead stored as fat. Thus, for fat loss and optimal function, it is crucial that a person has sufficient Chromium available to help prevent fat storage.

Furthermore, Insulin resistant muscle cells also can’t absorb enough amino acids to be used for protein synthesis, resulting in reduced muscle mass. [13] A person who is deficient in Chromium will simultaneously store fat while burning off muscle. This is the opposite of what someone wants.

Chromium supplementation claims to reverse insulin sensitivity, resulting in weight loss, increased muscle mass, and burning of unwanted fat, but research has been largely inconsistent. [14] [15]

Bottom Line: Chromium mediates its action by binding with chromodulin to enhance the actions of insulin on blood sugar. Improved blood sugar and insulin sensitivity in the muscle and fat cells directly leads to improved body composition.

Sources of Chromium

Food Sources of Chromium

Chromium is distributed widely in agricultural products, but most foods give only 2 mcg per serving, and if you consider that less than 2 percent of it may be absorbed, you’d think that supplementation can actually be a really good source. [16]

Meat, whole grain products, fruits, vegetables, as well as some spices are relatively good sources of chromium. [17]

Sugary foods, in contrast, are low in the mineral. Grains and foods containing gluten have been shown to prevent minerals such as Chromium from being properly absorbed by the body.

Natural Sources of Chromium

  • Chromium content (mcg)
  • Broccoli 1/2 cup 11 mcg
  • Grape juice 1 cup 8 mcg
  • Mashed Potatoes 1/2 cup 3 mcg
  • Dried garlic 1 tsp 3 mcg
  • Beef cubes 3 oz 2 mcg
  • Red wine 5 oz 1-13 mcg

The Institute of Medicine recommends recommends that adults who are not pregnant or lactating get at least 20 mcg (micrograms) of Chromium per day, which you can easily get from a cup of broccoli. [18]

While absorption of Chromium from the intestines is low, you can enhance it by consuming foods rich in vitamin C (fruits and vegetables) and Niacin (meats, fish and grains), and avoiding highly-refined grains and simple sugars, which are known to increase excretion of Chromium in urine.

Interestingly enough, the high Chromium content of Red Wine might explain the “French Paradox” in which wine drinkers tend to showcase low body-fat percentages and Body Mass Indexes (BMIs) despite consuming decent amounts of sugary, calorie-dense wine. Dedicated Red Wine drinkers could easily be consuming 200-400% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for Chromium.

Bottom Line: Chromium is found in many foods,. Although only 2 percent of Chromium in foods is absorbed, you can take steps to increase the amount you get. You can also eliminate or limit toxic foods such as processed sugar and gluten to improve absorption.

Diabetes and Weight Loss

Chromium and Insulin Resistance

In type-2 diabetes, excess fat prevents the cells from responding to insulin even though the pancreas is producing enough of it. Diet Spotlight has a full overview on type-2 diabetes available at this link.

A diet high in processed foods and sugars, which constantly elevates blood sugar and insulin, can eventually lead to Insulin Resistance and eventually type-2 diabetes, if left uncontrolled. Chromium has shown a lot of promise in terms of helping people with blood sugar issues and insulin resistance get their bodies under control.

Since Chromium enjoys direct influence over the insulin receptor and glucose metabolism, it would make sense for Chromium to be considered to replace or be given with anti-diabetic medications.

A study conducted in China involving 155 subjects with diabetes found that Chromium supplementation produced significant improvements in several markers of diabetes.

In other studies, chromium treatment slightly reduced the required doses of anti-diabetic medicines (specifically for glibenclamide), and significantly increased insulin sensitivity as well as reduced insulin dosages in patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. [19]

A 10-month treatment with Chromium significantly improved diabetes markers and reduced diabetes symptoms, including fatigue, thirst and frequent trips to the bathroom in 833 patients with type 2 diabetes.

Moreover, Chromium supplementation for 24 weeks slightly reduced excess fats in the muscles, suggesting that chromium may improve insulin resistance.

Similarly, some studies have shown that Chromium may be beneficial for lowering blood sugar and improving insulin metabolism in women with gestational diabetes. [20]

People with steroid-induced diabetes may also find relief from Chromium supplementation, as shown in a study by Cefalu, which found that Chromium significantly improved insulin sensitivity.

So, a number of studies have positively correlated Chromium supplementation with improved health, particular in those with diabetic or pre-diabetic issues.

But a meta-analysis that reviewed data from 15 trials with a total of 618 subjects found that Chromium did not lower blood sugar levels in either healthy or diabetic subjects. [21]

Another meta-analysis of seven trials failed to show improvements in even one diabetes marker.

So, the American Diabetes Association says “No.” [22] However, many scientists and fitness and health professionals believe Chromium supplementation can have a very positive effect on those with blood sugar issues who are looking to manage their insulin, weight, or looking to lose body fat.

Bottom Line: Even though Chromium has been demonstrated to enhance insulin binding, increase receptor number and beta cell sensitivity, human studies are just too variable and limited to be conclusive.

Diabetes and Exercise

Chromium and Weight Loss

Chromium supplements are often times marketed to burn body fat and increase muscle, but type 2 diabetics who were given chromium supplements for 3 months did not lose weight.

Weight loss with Chromium supplementation is possible, but can be very modest, at best, a Cochrane review found. [21]

The 2013 Cochrane review analyzed the data from 9 trials that used Chromium picolinate supplements with a total of 622 overweight or obese subjects. [15]

Chromium reduced body weight by a modest 1.1 kg, which was not associated with the dose Chromium given. [23]

Chromium may also modestly reduce body fat by 0.46% and body weight by 0.5 kg when taken at doses of up to 1, 000 mcg for 26 weeks.

Diabetics on sulfonylurea therapy may avoid putting on weight if they supplement with 1, 000 mcg of chromium. [24]

But these results may only be experienced by those on sulfonylurea therapy.

As you can see chromium supplementation has inconsistent effects on body weight in people with or without diabetes.

Chromium supplementation did not reduce the body weight or BMI of diabetic patients in one study , but significantly reduced BMI in elderly subjects with insulin resistance in another study.

In the same study by Cefalu, Chromium improved insulin resistance but had no effect on body weight, BMI and abdominal fat.

Of the eight placebo-controlled studies on people without diabetes, Chromium supplementation decreased weight and abdominal fat in only three studies.

Another promising potential for Chromium is the prevention of weight gain in people who are trying to quit smoking.

Bottom Line: The effects of Chromium supplementation are limited in people with or without diabetes. At best, Chromium supplementation has modest effects on body weight and composition, but these results are only slightly better than placebo.

Weight Loss and Diabetes

Chromium and Appetite

It comes as a big surprise that Chromium may have a role in depression, binge eating, emotional eating, and food craving.
In theory, Chromium sensitizes the hypothalamus to insulin, which results in increased usage of glucose and also the production of serotonin.

Serotonin production is vital for appetite control and overall well-being. The National Library of Medicine did a study on the relationship between insulin and serotonin, and came to these conclusions [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9406987]:

Insulin plays a key role in the control of glucose homeostasis in mammals. Insulin secretion is regulated by a coordinated interplay of several factors. The role of the indoleamines in the control of insulin secretion has not been fully elucidated yet. The present study was addressed to investigate the function of melatonin and serotonin in the direct control of insulin secretion from the pancreatic islets.

…Since the effect of the non-specific stimulation (with KCl) was also altered, melatonin and serotonin seem to alter not only the release but also the synthesis of the insulin. Our data show that melatonin and serotonin have a direct effect on the insulin secretion from the pancreatic islets.

In healthy people, higher levels of serotonin may increase insulin sensitivity. In order to control blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity, optimizing seratonin levels either naturally or via supplementation (5-HTP or GABA) may be in order.

Also, increased activity of serotonin in the hypothalamus, which is the hunger command center of the brain, is associated with decreased hunger.

Drugs that increase serotonin levels, like the infamous Fen-phen, have helped many people lose weight, although some patients developed cardiac complications.

In animal studies, chromium injections increased tryptophan levels in the blood by 61.9 percent, and serotonin in the brain by 38.5 percent. [25]

In overweight or obese adults with atypical depression, Chromium supplementation decreased appetite, carbohydrate craving and diurnal mood variation.

Carbohydrate craving, particularly, was significantly improved, which suggests that Chromium has a role in appetite regulation. [26]

Chromium supplementation also reduced hunger levels, fat cravings, food intake (by 25%), and body weight in overweight, but otherwise healthy adult women.

When administered centrally in rats, Chromium decreased food intake through a direct effect on the brain.

Bottom Line: Chromium may have a stunning potential to work effectively as an appetite suppressant to decrease cravings for foods and deserts that are high in saturated fats and simple sugars. Craving for unhealthy food is often detrimental to even the strongest and faddiest diets, and chromium supplementation may help diets become more successful, but further studies are needed to evaluate the effectiveness of Chromium in larger populations. Chromium supplementation may indirectly promote higher levels of serotonin, which has a number of positive effects on insulin, general well-being, and fat loss.

Chromium Health Benefits

Chromium and Heart Health

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of illness in the world, and high cholesterol levels and insulin resistance are major factors.

Today, we’re not any closer to finding a cure for heart disease, but early studies have shown that Chromium might help lower cholesterol because it helps improve insulin function.

Preliminary studies show that rats that are deficient in chromium developed high cholesterol levels and plaque buildup in the arteries, while the rats with normal chromium levels did not have these abnormalities. [27]

Chromium supplementation also reduced plaques by 50 percent in the arteries of rabbits who were fed a diet rich in cholesterol.

More strikingly, researchers found that the aortas of persons who died of heart disease had significantly less Chromium than that of healthy car accident victims, although we don’t know if low Chromium was the cause or effect.

Another surprising find was that persons with heart disease had Chromium blood levels of less than 0.006 mcg, and that men with high Chromium levels had lower chances of having a heart attack. [28]

However, effects of chromium supplementation on humans have been variable, contradictory and inconclusive.

Some studies found that up to 1, 000 mcg/day of Chromium decreased total LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides by 15 percent, and increased levels of HDL (good cholesterol).

Chromium may also act as a “cholesterol normalizer” according to a study by Kaats.

Aside from lowering cholesterol in subjects with high cholesterol, Chromium raised blood cholesterol by 8 mg/dl in subjects with below normal levels.

While high cholesterol can increase the risk for heart disease, studies have shown that Cholesterol levels below 150 mg/dl are associated with stroke, depression, violence and Alzheimer’s.

Chromium supplementation has not shown any favorable outcomes in other studies.

Bottom Line: With such contradictory scientific evidence, it’s much too soon to recommend Chromium supplementation to those looking for natural ways to lower their cholesterol. But if your goal is to increase your cholesterol levels, particularly HDL, then you might be in luck!

Chromium Supplements

Chromium and Testosterone

Dr. Gary Evans, author of Chromium Picolinate: Everything You Need to Know, had the following to say on the relationship between Chromium intake and testosterone:

…muscles don’t simply make protein, they need a signal from a hormone to properly utilize it. The amount of insulin in the bloodstream is largely regulated by the amount of Chromium in the bloodstream. Once Free Testosterone levels are tapped, the body can continue to produce an anabolic hormone called DHEA as long as Chromium levels in the blood are adequate, and anabolism goes hand-in-hand with increased levels of testosterone.

In tandem with this idea, Dr. Evans points out that sugar and simple carbohydrate supplementation radically strips the body of Chromium, stimulating Chromium excretion of up to 300%. This is terrible for anyone concerned with testosterone levels, physique goals, sports performance, or general health.

Chromium for Athletes

Dr. Evans also concluded that athletes and fitness enthusiasts need greater amounts of Chromium in the bloodstream in order to optimize performance. His recommendation is 600-800 mcg.

Because of the low quality of soil in the United States, the Chromium content of most natural foods is largely diminished. While Chromium is naturally found in abundance in broccoli, potatoes, organ meats, etc., the soil that vegetables are grown in and the grass that is fed to livestock often lacks adequate chromium. For this reason, Dr. Evans recommends Chromium supplementation as needed.

Different Types of Chromium Supplements

Chromium supplements usually contain 1,000 mcg of chromium picolinate, which is Chromium bound to picolinic acid. [2]

Other forms of chromium include:

  • Nicotinate
  • Yeast
  • GTF

1,000 mcg of supplemental Chromium should more than meet most people’s needs, assuming the Chromium is absorbed properly.

Bottom Line on Chromium

Chromium is an essential mineral we can get from food, but absorption is not as efficient as we’d like it to be.

It has important functions in glucose and fat metabolism, and for this, Chromium is advertised as an effective weight loss supplement.

But investigations into the effect of Chromium supplements on weight and diabetes are far from conclusive.

Early studies have also shown that Chromium has a potential to be an effective appetite suppressant, but more studies are needed.

So, do you need Chromium?

Indeed.

If you are otherwise healthy, getting chromium from your diet would be enough.

If you need to lose weight, lifestyle changes are more important.

And if these don’t work well enough, then you can consider taking Chromium supplements in combination with a healthy lifestyle.


Article Sources
About the Author:

Summer Banks, Director of Content at Dietspotlight, has researched over 5000 weight-loss programs, pills, shakes and diet plans. Previously, she managed 15 supplement brands, worked with doctors specializing in weight loss and completed coursework in nutrition at Stanford University. full bio.