Chromium – Uses, Health Benefits, And Effects

Chromium is a mineral. It is called an “essential trace element” because very small amounts of chromium are necessary for human health. There are two forms of chromium: trivalent chromium (chromium 3+) and hexavalent chromium (chromium 6+). The first is found in foods and supplements and is safe for humans. The second is a known toxin that can cause skin problems and lung cancer.

Chromium is taken by mouth for improving blood sugar control in people with prediabetes, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and high blood sugar due to taking steroids and HIV treatments.

Good sources of chromium include:

  • meat
  • wholegrains – such as wholemeal bread and whole oats
  • lentils
  • broccoli
  • potatoes
  • spices

Uses of Chromium –

Chromium is used for improving blood sugar control in people with pre-diabetes, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and high blood sugar due to taking steroids and HIV treatments. It is also taken by mouth for depression, Turner syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), lowering “bad” cholesterol, raising “good” cholesterol in people taking heart medications called beta-blockers, obesity, metabolic syndrome, heart attack, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, binge eating disorder, and a disease called reactive hypoglycemia.

Some people take chromium by mouth for body conditioning including weight loss, increasing muscle, and decreasing body fat. Chromium is also taken by mouth to improve athletic performance, to increase energy, and to treat a decline in memory and thinking skills in older people that is more than what is normal for their age.

Chromium is used intravenously (by IV) as a supplement in nutritional IV drips.

Around 25 micrograms of chromium a day should be enough for adults. A microgram is 1,000 times smaller than a milligram (mg). The word microgram is sometimes written with the Greek symbol μ followed by the letter g (μg). People should be able to get all the chromium they need by eating a varied and balanced diet.

Health Benefits of Chromium –

Chromium supplements are often used as a weight-loss aid and to control blood sugar. Chromium works by aiding the action of insulin in the body. Insulin is essential for metabolism and storage of carbs, fats, and proteins in the body. How it functions in the body as a supplement is not well known. It is found in a variety of foods but the amount in each type of food is not always easy to determine.

It is also difficult to determine if a person is deficient in chromium and whether or not supplements are useful in those cases. Many studies on chromium supplements have been inconclusive but also vary widely on which type of chromium is studied and the doses that are used.

Type 2 Diabetes – Reviews of multiple studies show that chromium supplements significantly decreased blood sugar and triglyceride levels in people with type 2 diabetes. A systematic review of 25 studies found that supplementation with 200 micrograms (mcg) of chromium picolinate improved glycemic control without increased side effects compared to placebo.

Weight Loss – Although the benefits of using chromium for weight loss are inconclusive, the theory that it could help with weight loss is based on the idea that regulated blood sugar will result in reduced cravings. Claims that it helps to reduce body fat and increase lean muscle mass have not been supported by scientific studies.

High levels of cholesterol or other blood fats. Some research shows that taking 15-200 mcg of chromium daily for 6-12 weeks lowers low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol and total cholesterol levels in people with slightly high or high cholesterol levels. Other research suggests that taking chromium for 7-16 months lowers triglycerides and LDL, and increases high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol. Also, taking chromium alone or along with other supplements seems to reduce levels of blood fats in people with high blood fat levels. However, there is some evidence that taking chromium daily for 10 weeks does not improve cholesterol levels in postmenopausal women.

Early research suggests that taking chromium nicotinate or chromium picolinate daily for 8-16 weeks might help reduce insulin resistance in HIV patients receiving antiretroviral therapy. Research also suggests that chromium picolinate might improve the remission rate in people with atypical depression. However, other evidence suggests that taking chromium picolinate does not improve most symptoms of this type of depression.

Side Effects of Chromium –

Chromium has been used safely in a small number of studies using doses of 200-1000 mcg daily for up to 2 years. Some people experience side effects such as skin irritation, headaches, dizziness, nausea, mood changes, impaired thinking, judgment, and coordination. High doses have been linked to more serious side effects including blood disorders, liver or kidney damage, and other problems. It is not known for sure if chromium is the actual cause of these side effects.

Obesity and Schizophrenia – There is some conflicting evidence about the effects of chromium on obesity. Some limited research suggests that chromium might improve weight loss in some people who are overweight or obese. But the amount of weight loss is probably not clinically significant. Furthermore, most research suggests that taking chromium by mouth does not improve weight loss. Research shows that taking 400 mcg of chromium daily for 3 months does not affect weight or mental health in people with schizophrenia.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding – Chromium does pass through the breast-milk but is typically not considered harmful in typical doses. It is a necessary element that is also included in baby formula. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your healthcare provider prior to taking any supplements or medications.

Medication Interactions – Certain medications may affect the absorption of chromium in the body or enhance excretion (meaning your body gets rid of more of it). These include:

  • Antacids
  • Corticosteroids
  • H2 blockers (cimetidine, famotidine, and nizatidine)
  • Protein pump inhibitors (omeprazole, lansoprazole, rabeprazole, pantoprazole, and esomeprazole)

Other medications may have their effects enhanced by taking chromium. These include:

  • Beta-blockers
  • Corticosteroids
  • Insulin
  • Nicotinic acid
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Prostaglandin inhibitors

Children – Chromium is Likely Safe when taken by mouth in amounts that do not exceed the “adequate intake” (AI) levels for children. For infants 0 to 6 months-old, the AI is 0.2 mcg daily; 7 to 12 months, 5.5 mcg. For children 1 to 3 years-old, the AI is 11 mcg; 4 to 8 years-old, 15 mcg. For boys 9 to 13 years-old, the AI is 25 mcg; 14 to 18 years-old, 35 mcg. For girls 9 to 13 years-old, the AI is 21 mcg; 14 to 18 years-old, 24 mcg. Taking chromium by mouth is Possibly Safe for children when used in amounts that exceed the AI levels.

Diabetes, Kidney, and Liver Disease – Chromium might lower blood sugar levels too much if taken along with diabetes medications. If anyone has diabetes, use chromium products cautiously and monitor blood glucose levels closely. Dose adjustments to diabetes medications might be necessary. There are at least three reports of kidney damage in patients who took chromium picolinate. Don’t take chromium supplements, if anyone already has kidney disease. There are at least three reports of liver damage in patients who took chromium picolinate. Don’t take chromium supplements, if any people already have liver disease.

Behavioral or psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia – Chromium might affect brain chemistry and might make behavioral or psychiatric conditions worse. If anyone has one of these conditions, be careful when using chromium supplements. Pay attention to any changes in how they feel.

Chromate/leather contact allergy – Chromium supplements can cause allergic reactions in people with chromate or leather contact allergy. Symptoms include redness, swelling, and scaling of the skin.

There’s not enough evidence to know what the effects might be of taking high doses of chromium each day. People should be able to get all the chromium they need by eating a varied and balanced diet. If they take chromium supplements, don’t take too much as this might be harmful. Having 10mg or less a day of chromium from food and supplements is unlikely to cause any harm.

 

Information Sources:

  1. rxlist.com
  2. verywellhealth.com
  3. webmd.com
  4. nhs.uk