Friday, January 30, 2015

What are the health benefits of chromium?

Chromium is an essential trace mineral required in the diet for proper protein, carbohydrate and lipid metabolism as well as enhancing insulin sensitivity.
Chromium was not acknowledged as a required nutrient until 1977, when patients exclusively receiving long-term intravenous nutrition without chromium, were experiencing abnormal glucose metabolism which was easily reversed with chromium supplementation. 

This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular vitamins and minerals. It provides an in-depth look at recommended intake of chromium, its possible health benefits, foods high in chromium and any potential health risks of consuming chromium.

Recommended intake

The Adequate Intake (AI) for ages 9 and older for chromium ranges from 21-25 micrograms per day for females and 25-35 micrograms per day for men.
Chromium deficiency in humans is rare, but can cause insulin resistance and metabolic abnormalities.

Possible health benefits of consuming chromium

Chromium picolinate is a popular supplement often marketed to those wanting to build muscle or lose weight. Bodybuilders and athletes have been known to take chromium picolinate to enhance performance and increase energy.
chromium periodic table
Chromium is an essential trace mineral required in the diet for proper protein, carbohydrate and lipid metabolism as well as enhancing insulin sensitivity.
Early studies conducted on women taking supplemental chromium were able to show an increase in muscle mass, however these results have not been replicated and no further studies have been able to show improved muscle growth or a decrease in fat mass.2
Supplement companies also claim that chromium supplements can help with blood sugar control and weight loss by altering carbohydrate metabolism. A review of 20 previous studies and trials showed an average of an additional 1.1-pound (0.5 kg) loss in individuals taking a chromium supplement versus a placebo. 

Not only is this small amount of weight loss insufficient to warrant supplementation, but also those taking the chromium experienced multiple side effects, including watery stool, vertigo, headaches and hives. 

Research has also been inconclusive regarding the use of supplemental chromium to treat impaired glucose tolerance and type 2 diabetes. To date, research has been inconclusive or unreliable, and no large, randomized, controlled clinical trials have been conducted. 

Since chromium deficiency is rare and supplementation studies have shown inconclusive results, it is best to obtain chromium through food. It is not the individual vitamin or mineral alone that make certain foods an important part of our diet, but the synergy of that foods nutrients working together.
It has been proven time and again that isolating certain nutrients in supplement form will not provide the same health benefits as consuming the nutrient from a whole food.

Foods high in chromium

broccoli in a pan
Broccoli is one of the best sources of chromium.
Some of the best sources of chromium are broccoli, liver and brewer's yeast.
Potatoes, whole grains, seafood and meats also contain chromium.
Most dairy products are low in chromium.
  • Broccoli, 1 cup: 22 micrograms
  • Turkey, leg, 3 oz: 10.4 micrograms
  • English muffin, whole wheat: 4.0 micrograms
  • Potatoes, mashed, 1 cup: 2.7 micrograms
  • Green beans, 1 cup: 1.1 micrograms.

Potential health risks of consuming chromium

There have been no reported cases of chromium toxicity resulting from food intake. Large doses of chromium in supplement form can cause skin lesions, hypoglycemia and kidney, liver or nerve damage.1,4
Chromium picolinate interferes with the absorption of thyroid medications and should be taken at least 3-4 hours apart.1 Chromium supplements can also interact with antacids, corticosteroids, H2 blockers, proton pump inhibitors, beta-blockers, insulin, nicotinic acid, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and prostaglandin inhibitors.4
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with a variety than to concentrate on individual nutrients as the key to good health.

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