Chromium is an essential mineral that plays a role in how insulin helps the body regulate blood sugar levels. Insulin is a hormone that your body uses to change sugar, starches, and other food into energy needed for daily life.
There is some evidence that chromium supplements may help people with diabetes lower blood sugar levels. People with diabetes either do not make enough insulin or cannot properly use the insulin that their bodies make. As a result, glucose or sugar builds up in the bloodstream.
As many as 90% of American diets are low in chromium, but it' s rare to be truly deficient in chromium. The elderly, people who do a lot of strenuous exercise, those who eat a lot 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 supplements may be helpful for the following conditions:
Researchers have studied the effects of chromium supplements for type 2 diabetes for many years. While some clinical studies have found no benefit, other clinical studies have reported that chromium supplements may reduce blood sugar levels as well as the amount of insulin people with diabetes need.
In one double-blind, placebo-controlled study, people with type 2 diabetes who took chromium picolinate had better HbA1c values -- used to measure long-term control of blood sugar levels -- than those who took placebo. The group taking chromium also had better fasting blood glucose levels, a measure of short-term control of blood sugar levels.
Another double-blind, placebo-controlled study looked at a combination of chromium and biotin. Half the people in the study took chromium picolinate and biotin, and the other half took placebo. Those who took chromium and biotin had better fasting glucose levels as well as HbA1c values.
One study found that women who have diabetes as a result of being pregnant improved their blood sugar control when they took chromium.
But not all studies agree, and if chromium does help reduce blood glucose, it' s not clear how big the benefit might be. More research is needed.
Weight loss and obesity
Chromium is often advertised as a weight-loss aid and a way to improve lean muscle and reduce body fat. Studies have been mixed, with some finding that chromium may help people lose weight and build muscle, and others finding that it had no effect. If chromium does work for weight loss, it seems that 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 some sports nutrition supplements. But there is not much evidence that chromium helps people gain strength or build muscle mass. Most studies have been negative.
Animal studies suggest that chromium may help lower blood pressure. But so far it has not been tested in people, so researchers don' t know if it would work.
Clinical studies about whether chromium can lower cholesterol have been mixed. Some suggest that chromium may lower LDL or bad cholesterol, including one study that combined chromium with grape seed extract. In another study, people who were taking beta-blockers found that taking chromium raised their HDL or good cholesterol levels.
One small study found that chromium picolinate improved symptoms of depression in people with atypical depression. But a larger study found that chromium didn' t help. More research is needed.
Food 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, have low amounts of chromium.
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.
Amounts of chromium are based on the Dietary Reference Intakes from the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine.
Researchers don' t know what the safe and tolerable upper limits are for chromium. The recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) of chromium are as follows:
Chromium supplements: Most studies have used 200 mcg chromium, 1 - 3 times a day. Some studies of people with diabetes have used much higher doses, but scientists don' t know whether those amounts are safe to use long term. If you have diabetes, talk to your doctor to see if chromium is right for you, and to determine the best dose. Don' t give chromium supplements to a child.
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.
Chromium from foods is generally considered safe. As a supplement, very high doses of this mineral can reduce how effective insulin is at controlling blood sugar and cause stomach irritation, itching, and flushing. There have also been rare reports of fast, irregular heart rhythms and liver problems from too much chromium. Two cases of kidney damage have been reported from the use of chromium picolinate supplements.
There are some reports that chromium may make depression and anxiety or schizophrenia worse, although other reports suggest it helps depression. Ask your health care provider before taking chromium if you have either of these conditions.
People with chromate or leather contact allergies may be allergic to chromium.
People with liver or kidney problems, or people with anemia, should not take chromium without first talking to their health care providers.
The chromium you get from foods is not the same as the industrial form of chromium that is absorbed by the lungs, digestive tract, mucous membranes, and skin. Industrial chromium is a toxic material. People are usually exposed to it either when it gets on their skin or when they breathe in the dust.
If you are 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 amount of chromium your body absorbs. Other antacids that may interfere with chromium absorption include esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), and omeprazole (Prilosec). Avoid taking chromium supplements at the same time as antacids.
Diabetes medications -- Because chromium may lower blood sugar levels, it may make these medications stronger, raising the risk of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. If you take diabetes medications, including insulin, metformin (Glucophage), glyburide (Diabeta), glipizide (Glucotrol), or chlorpropamide (Diabenese), talk to your health care provider before taking chromium. Your medication doses may need to be adjusted.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) -- These medications, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve), are used to relieve pain. Taking NSAIDs may raise chromium levels in the body.
Corticosteroids (prednisone) -- Taking steroids to reduce inflammation may lower chromium levels in the body.
Levothyroxine (Synthroid) -- Theoretically, chromium may decrease how much Synthroid the body absorbs.
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.
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.
Davì G, Santilli F, Patrono C. Nutraceuticals in diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Cardiovasc Ther. 2010 Aug;28(4):216-26. Review.
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.
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.
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.
Iqbal N, Cardillo S, Volger S, Bloedon LT, Anderson RA, Boston R, Szapary PO. Chromium picolinate does not improve key features of metabolic syndrome in obese nondiabetic adults. Metab Syndr Relat Disord. 2009 Apr;7(2):143-50.
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.
Król E, Krejpcio Z, Byks H, Bogdanski P, Pupek-Musialik D. Effects of Chromium Brewer's Yeast Supplementation on Body Mass, Blood Carbohydrates, and Lipids and Minerals in Type 2 Diabetic Patients. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2010 Dec 18. [Epub ahead of print]
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.
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.
Wang ZQ, Cefalu WT. Current concepts about chromium supplementation in type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. Curr Diab Rep. 2010 Apr;10(2):145-51. Review.
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.
Yazaki Y, Faridi Z, Ma Y, Ali A, Northrup V, Njike VY, Liberti L, Katz DL. A pilot study of chromium picolinate for weight loss. J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Mar;16(3):291-9.
© 2011 University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). All rights reserved.
UMMC is a member of the University of Maryland Medical System,
22 S. Greene Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. TDD: 1-800-735-2258 or 1.866.408.6885