What chromium is: An essential trace mineral, chromium is important in processing carbohydrates and fats and it helps cells respond properly to insulin—the hormone produced in the pancreas that makes blood sugar available to the cells as our basic fuel. No one understands the exact role of chromium in all this. Chromium supplements come in several forms, never as pure chromium. You can purchase chromium picolinate, chromium chloride, chromium nicotinate and high-chromium yeast. Nicotinate and picolinate seem more easily absorbed than the other forms.
Claims, purported benefits: Builds muscle, prevents and treats diabetes, promotes weight loss.
Chromium: the latest research
The effect of chromium supplementation may be highly variable because of individual reactions to the mineral. Genetic and ethnic factors may play a role, along with degree of insulin resistance.
Weight loss. Chromium may have a potential role in weight control, but so far the most carefullyconducted studies have failed to find a benefit. For instance, in a study published in the journal Nutritionin 2007, women taking 200 micrograms of chromium a day for 12 weeks did not lose moreweight or body fat (or build more muscle) than the placebo group. A 2013 systemic review andmeta-analysis in Obesity Reviews, which included 20 trials lasting 8 to 26 weeks, found thatchromium supplements resulted in an average weight loss of one pound, which is not clinicallysignificant, and had no effect on body mass index or waist circumference.
Diabetes. Low levels of chromium are characteristic of diabetes, although there is no evidencethat a low chromium level causes diabetes. Some studies have reported that chromium picolinate supplementation in doses of 200 micrograms is beneficial; however, others have not. Onelarge clinical trial in China found that chromium helped people with diabetes—but the Chineseare less likely to be obese than Americans, and their chromium levels were not evaluated at thestart of the study. Clinical trials involving Americans with diabetes have produced inconsistentresults. A Dutch study in Diabetes Care found no improvement in blood sugar or any otherbenefits in people with type 2 diabetes who took chromium in the form of enriched yeast forsix months.
The most recent meta-analysis, published in the Journal of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences in 2013,found that while chromium supplements lower fasting blood sugar, they do not reduce HbA1c(glycated hemoglobin). HbA1c is a marker for average level of blood sugar concentrations overthe previous months and is the best measure of long-term diabetes control.
Heart disease. Studies of chromium supplements and cholesterol levels have shown no consistent benefit. If you are chromium deficient, you might be able to reduce your LDL (“bad”)cholesterol and raise your HDL (“good”) cholesterol somewhat with chromium supplements.But even that is a big “might.” And there are better ways to improve your cholesterol levels,including diet, exercise and cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Exercise.Chromium picolinate is promoted for building muscle and reducing body fat. Butstudies have yielded inconsistent results. A 2013 research review in the Journal of theInternational Society of Sports Nutrition concluded that chromium is apparently ineffective asa performance aid.
Side effects:Laboratory studies have found that chromium picolinate could damage geneticmaterial in animal cells, which suggests it might cause cancer. However, what happens in a testtube or in lab animals may not happen in people. There have been case reports of acute kidneyfailure, liver damage and anemia in people taking high doses of chromium picolinate. Takingchromium with pain relievers such as aspirin, Ibuprofen or naproxen may increase absorptionof chromium, with unpredictable consequences, according to a paper in the EPMA Journal in2013. Combining chromium with diabetes medication may cause blood sugar to dip too low.
Bottom line:Chromium is an essential mineral, but deficiency is rare in the UnitedStates. There’s no evidence that the supplements perform as claimed. People with diabetesshould take chromium only on medical advice.