What is Chromium?
Chromium is an essential trace mineral that we all need in our diets in very small quantities. Once absorbed, chromium is distributed widely in the body, with the highest levels being found in the kidney, liver, spleen, and bone . It is one of the most common elements in both the earth’s crust and seawater, and exists in several oxidation states: metallic (Cr0), trivalent (Cr+3), and hexavalent (Cr+6). Trivalent chromium is what you will find in supplements and as a naturally-occurring nutrient in many common foods. For example, broccoli, coffee, and egg yolks are all great sources of trivalent chromium. Because of this fact, a deficiency is rare in healthy humans.
Then Why Would I Need a Chromium Supplement?
As long as you have healthy glucose metabolism and normal insulin sensitivity, you might not. However, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences has established the Recommended Daily Allowances for chromium to be 50–200 μg per day for normal, healthy adults, while studies have shown Americans only ingest about half of that suggested minimum, on average .
Daily supplementation of chromium has been shown to reduce levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol, triglycerides, and total cholesterol levels, while increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol in people with above-normal cholesterol levels .
Even if you have normal insulin sensitivity and healthy cholesterol, some studies have indicated that chromium supplementation may help to increase muscle gain and fat loss associated with exercise, while also aiding in glucose metabolism and improving the serum lipid profile of people with or without diabetes [3,4].
Metabolic Maintenance offers a chromium niacinate supplement called Chromium Plus, that not only delivers a high but safe dose of chromium but also contains a synergistic mineral base to aid in the absorption and efficacy of supplemental chromium. As always, talk to your trusted healthcare professional about the potential cardiometabolic benefits of chromium supplementation before adding Chromium Plus to your nutritional regimen.
What Does Chromium Do in the Body?
It was hypothesized, as early as the 1950s, that the trivalent chromium in brewer’s yeast, at the time dubbed “glucose tolerance factor”, could prevent diabetes in experimental animals . By the late 1970s that nutrient had been better defined and studied extensively in relation to glucose metabolism in humans as well. Inpatient care has shown that when total nutrition is delivered intravenously, a lack of chromium can induce a diabetic state, while adding chromium back to the IV diet appears to ameliorate the signs and symptoms of diabetes, reducing or removing a patient’s needs for extraneous insulin . The results of these studies strongly implicated chromium as a critical cofactor in the action of insulin, but its exact mechanism of action is still being refined through experimentation. A likely hypothesis proposes that ingested chromium increases a chromium-containing oligopeptide present in insulin-sensitive cells. That oligopeptide then binds to the insulin receptor, thereby increasing the activity of the insulin-stimulated tyrosine kinase and phosphorylation of insulin receptor substrate-1 and glucose transporter GLUT4 . Essentially, chromium may help to increase the sensitivity of cells to insulin, thereby increasing the efficiency of glucose transporters to absorb more glucose from the circulation.
What Does Glucose Metabolism Have to Do With Cardiovascular Health?
Ninety percent of patients with diabetes suffer from type II diabetes, which is characterized by the development of insulin resistance and is often accompanied by obesity and dyslipidemia . Cardiovascular disease, vascular inflammation, and heart disease are the most common causes of death in people with diabetes.
One study showed that men with a body mass index over 25 presented a reduced risk of death by myocardial infarction when their chromium levels were in the highest percentiles among the study group . A similar study showed that tissue chromium levels are typically lower in diabetic patients than in non-diabetic patients, but the lowest chromium levels of all were associated with diabetic patients who also suffer from cardiovascular disease .
Aside from macrovascular disease such as myocardial infarction, the quality of life of people with diabetes often also suffers due to microvascular complications such as neuropathy, nephropathy, and retinopathy . Microvascular complications are also linked to oxidative
stress from hyperglycemia and proinflammatory cytokines TNFα and IL-6, which are elevated in diabetes and tend to cause a decrease in insulin sensitivity .
What Should I Look For in a Chromium Supplement?
Chromium supplements are available as chromium chloride, chromium niacinate (sometimes called nicotinate), chromium picolinate, high-chromium yeast, and chromium citrate. Chromium chloride, in particular, appears to have poor bioavailability . Chromium niacinate is the result of a chemical reaction that combines chromium chloride with nicotinic acid (niacin), for improved absorption. Chromium picolinate is widely available but is also the most controversial of the forms due to its potential toxicity . Conversely, chromium niacinate was not found to have any toxicity effects on rats in a year-long supplementation study, at a human-equivalent dose of 1000 μg/day .
- Cefalu, William T., and Frank B. Hu. “Role of chromium in human health and in diabetes.” Diabetes care 27.11 (2004): 2741-2751.
- WebMD. “Chromium”. WebMD Vitamins & Supplements Website. Accessed June 5, 2019. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-932/chromium
- Bahijri SM, Mufti AM: Beneficial effects of chromium in people with type 2 diabetes, and urinary chromium response to glucose load as a possible indicator of status. Biol Trace Elem Res 85:97–109, 2002.
- Crawford V, Scheckenbach R, Preuss HG: Effects of niacin-bound chromium supplementation on body composition in overweight African-American women. Diabetes Obes Metab 1:331–337,1999.
- Schwarz K, Mertz W: Chromium (III) and the glucose tolerance factor. Arch Biochem Biophys 85: 292–295, 1959.
- Jeejeebhoy KN, Chu RC, Marliss EB, Greenberg GR, Bruce-Robertson A: Chromium deficiency, glucose intolerance, and neuropathy reversed by chromium supplementation, in a patient receiving long-term total parental nutrition. Am J Clin Nutr 30:531–538, 1977.
- Jain, Sushil K., Justin L. Rains, and Jennifer L. Croad. “Effect of chromium niacinate and chromium picolinate supplementation on lipid peroxidation, TNF-α, IL-6, CRP, glycated hemoglobin, triglycerides, and cholesterol levels in blood of streptozotocin-treated diabetic rats.” Free Radical Biology and Medicine 43.8 (2007): 1124-1131.
- Vinson, Joe A. “So many choices, so what’s a consumer to do?: A commentary on” 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 radical biology & medicine 43.8 (2007): 1121.
- NIH. “Chromium”. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements Website. Accessed June 7, 2019. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Chromium-HealthProfessional/