Chromium - The Evidence

  • 11 Apr 2017
  • Reading time 8 mins
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Chromium is a non-toxic mineral, essential for carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism. Supplementation has been shown to help stabilise blood sugar and thus helps diabetes, control weight and appetite,  improve mood and binge eating. Despite being naturally present in foods such as beer, whole grains, cheese, liver, and meat, the typical intake in a western diet is much lower than the recommended daily requirement of 50-200µg/day (micrograms per day). The average intake is thought to be in the region of 28-35µg. In addition to the problem of low consumption due to eating refined and processed foods (white flour has 98% of its chromium removed), it has been shown that typical western diets high in refined food such as white bread, cakes, sweets and biscuits increase chromium losses because it is used up in processing sugar. While there is no RDA as such the US National Academoy of Sciences suggest we need an intake between 50 and 200µg.

What Chromium Does

Chromium’s role in insulin regulation was first proven in the 1970s. We now know that the essential mineral increases insulin binding, increases the number of insulin receptors and also increases insulin effectiveness; all of which lead to improved glucose transport into muscle, fat and liver tissue, and therefore better glucose control. Insulin, however, is also required to drive serotonin into the brain and it is though that chromium affects both serotonin and dopamine, which may explain its postiive effects on mood.[1]

Chromium for weight loss

There is a lack of good studies on chromium for weight loss. A double-blind placebo-controlled study in 2008 randomly assigned 42 overweight adult women with carbohydrate cravings to receive chromium or placebo for 8 weeks. Chromium, as compared to placebo, reduced food intake, hunger levels, and fat cravings and decreased body weight.(2) A review of six studies involving different doses from 200 to §000µg noted a modest effect on body weight of over 1kg, compared to placebo, over 12 to 16 weeks. (3)

Chromium for mood

One study of Chromium is also excellent for sufferers of ‘atypical’ depression. It’s a strange name for a type of depression associated with excessive  sleepiness, carb cravings and weight gain – and thought to account for up to 40% of depression cases. In a double-blind study published in Biological Psychiatry, ten patients suffering from atypical depression were given 600mcg of chromium daily, and five others a placebo, for eight weeks, with dramatic results.(4) Seven of the ten taking chromium showed a big improvement, as opposed to none on the placebo. A larger trial in 2005 at Cornell University in the US, involving 113 participants, mirrored these findings. After eight weeks, 65% of those taking chromium experienced a major improvement, compared to 33% on placebos.(5)

A study gave chromium to women with premenstrual mood disorders and found significant mood improvements. [6] A placebo controlled study reported those on chromium having ‘ greater reductions in bingeing, weight, and depression’.[7]

The Evidence for Chromium Reversing Diabetes

Studies have shown that low chromium status is associated with an increased prevalence of Type 2 (adult onset) diabetes, and subsequent research suggests that chromium may be able to restore blood-sugar balance in diabetics.

A 2007 review of over 40 randomized controlled trials found that giving Type 2 diabetics chromium improves their fasting blood sugar levels and also decreases glycosylated haemoglobin levels (another measure of poor sugar control). The study, published in Diabetes Care, found that the best effects were seen with chromium picolinate (which is much better absorbed than cheaper forms of inorganic chromium, such as chromium chloride) in doses of 400-1000mcg per day. (8) Despite being more than eight times the current recommended daily allowance, there are no known side effects at levels of up to 100 times greater than this.

A landmark study in 1997, looked at 120 Chinese patients with type 2 diabetes, 60 of whom were given 200ug chromium per day and 60 of whom were given 1000ug/day. After just 2 months, significant improvements were seen in glucose control, in both groups. After 4 months, there was almost a 30% reduction in glucose levels in the higher dosage group(9).

A larger study in 1999 followed over 800 diabetics who were taking insulin or anti-hyperglycemic drugs(10). The patients were given 500ug chromium per day for 9 months, and after just 1 month, fasting and post-meal glucose levels had significantly fallen. At the end of the 9 months, 90% of patients reported a decrease in fatigue, thirst and the need for frequent urination.

A double-blind placebo-controlled study in 2008 randomly assigned 42 overweight adult women with carbohydrate cravings to receive chromium or placebo for 8 weeks. Chromium, as compared to placebo, reduced food intake, hunger levels, and fat cravings and decreased body weight.(11)

The time taken for the effects of chromium supplementation to be seen is not so clear, although a study of elderly patients with T2D reported decreased fasting glucose levels after just three weeks(12).

Another point of consideration is the dosage of chromium required to see significant results. The majority of studies showing improvements in glucose control have used quantities of over 400ug/day, although improvements in insulin sensitivity were seen in patients taking just 200ug/day in two studies(8,13). Most available chromium supplements are 200µg, but in relation to diabetes, a daily intake of 400 to 600mcg may be more appropriate.

An example of the importance of an adequate dosage is shown in two recent studies. The first, in 2016, allocated 56 type-2 diabetes to placebo, 50mcg or 200mcg of chromium for 90 days. The study measured insulin resistance (HOMA-IR) and also fat percentage and body mass index. There was no change.(14)

However, another study in 2015 gave 71 type-2 diabetics 600mcg or placebo for 4 months. So, three times the dose for slightly longer. Fasting and post-prandial glucose reduced significantly in those on the supplement versus placebo (-31 vs -14mg/dl for fasting; and -37 vs -11.5mg/dl for post-prandial). Also, the follow up HbA1C was significantly lower (-1.9 vs -1). (15)

There is some debate about the best form of chromium. Is it chromium picolinate, or chromium polynicotinate (chromium polynicotinate contains vitamin B3 which is works in synergy with chromium) Both appear to be effective and better than another form, chromium chloride.

Chromium as an alternative to diabetic drugs

Conventional anti-diabetics drugs such as metformin and sulfonylurea frequently cause side-effects such as nausea, cramps and vomiting. They can also lead to weight gain and elevated blood pressure, leading to a need for weight loss drugs in addition to anti-hyperglycemic medication.

Of greater concern is the recent evidence linking metformin to vitamin B12 deficiency. This in turn elevates homocysteine levels, a major risk factor for stroke and cardiovascular disease.

Therefore, a natural substance such as chromium which has no known side effects below 10,000µg a day, according the the UK’s Committee on Toxicity(16) is more desirable as a way of helping to stabilize blood sugar, thus reducing the symptoms of diabetes.

In fact chromium has been shown to dramatically decrease the need for medication in many diabetics and in some cases eliminate the need for drugs completely. 


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