Chromium - The Evidence

  • 1 Jan 2008
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Chromium is a non-toxic mineral, essential for carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism. 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.

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.

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. (1) 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(2).

A larger study in 1999 followed over 800 diabetics who were taking insulin or anti-hyperglycemic drugs(3). 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.(4)

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(5).

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(2,6). Most available chromium supplements are 200µg, but in relation to diabetes, a daily intake of 400 to 600mcg may be more appropriate.

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(7) 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(5). 

References

     
  1. Balk E et al. Effect of Chromium Supplementation on Glucose Metabolism and Lipids: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials, Diabetes Care 2007, Vol 30(8): pp. 2154-63
  2.  
  3. Anderson RA, Cheng N, Bryden NA, Polansky MM, Cheng N, Chi J, Feng J: Elevated intakes of supplemental chromium improve glucose and insulin variables in individuals with type 2 diabetes, Diabetes 1997, Vol 46: pp. 1786–1791
  4.  
  5. Cheng N, Zhu X, Hongli S, Wo W, Chi J, Cheng J, An- derson R: Follow-up survey of people in China with type 2 diabetes mellitus consuming supplemental chromium. J Trace Elem Med Biol 1999;12:55–60.54.
  6.  
  7. Rabinovitz H, Friedensohn A, Leibovitz A, Gabay G, Rocas C, Habot B: Effect of chromium supplementation on blood glucose and lipid levels in type 2 diabetes mellitus elderly patients. Int J Vitam Nutr Res 2004, Vol 74: pp. 178–182
  8.  
  9. Anton S et al. Effects of chromium picolinate on food intake and satiety. Diabetes Technol Ther, 2008 Oct, Vol 10(5): pp. 405-12
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