Vitamins, Minerals and Dietary Supplements
What is chromium?
Chromium is an essential trace mineral. It is bluish-white in appearance and is found naturally only in combination with other elements. Since it is not manufactured by the body, it must be obtained from one's diet.
Why do we need it?
Chromium is important in the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates. It stimulates fatty acid and cholesterol synthesis and is an activator of several enzymes.
Preliminary research has found that chromium improves glucose tolerance in people with Turner's syndrome, a disease associated with an inability to metabolize glucose. Other studies have shown that chromium may increase blood levels of HDL cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol). Research using a form of chromium called chromium picolinate suggests that it may increase fat loss and promote the gain of lean muscle tissue.
How much chromium should I take?
There is currently no recommended daily allowance (RDA) for chromium. However, the National Academy of Sciences has deemed the following amounts to be safe and adequate in a normal diet:
- Adult men: between 50-200 micrograms/day
- Adult women: between 50-200 micrograms/day
- Children aged 7-10: between 50-200 micrograms/day
- Infants: between 50-200 micrograms/day
- Pregnant/lactating women: between 50-200 micrograms/day
What are some good sources of chromium?
The best source of chromium is true brewer's yeast; however, most people cannot tolerate brewer's yeast because it causes abdominal bloating and nausea. Other good sources of chromium include beef, liver, eggs, chicken, oysters, wheat germ, green peppers, apples, bananas, spinach, butter, black pepper and molasses. Some brands of beer also contain significant amounts.
What can happen if I don't get enough chromium?
Chromium deficiency has been linked to impaired glucose tolerance. It is often seen in older people with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus and in infants with protein-calorie malnutrition. Chromium supplementation helps manage these conditions, but it not considered a substitute for other diabetes treatments.
What can happen if I take too much?
Chromium has not been linked consistently with human toxicity. One study suggested that very high concentrations of chromium could cause chromosomal mutations in hamster cells, but that effect has yet to be demonstrated in humans.
Two single, unrelated cases of toxicity have been reported. A case of kidney failure appeared after taking 600 micrograms per day for six weeks. A case of anemia, liver dysfunction, and other problems appeared after approximately five months of taking between 1,200-24,000 micrograms of chromium picolinate per day. Whether these problems were caused by chromium picolinate, or whether other forms of chromium might have the same effects at these high amounts, remains unclear. Nevertheless, it is recommended that no one take more than 300 micrograms of chromium per day without consulting a nutritionally-oriented doctor.
- Recommended Dietary Allowances, 10th ed. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1989.
- Murray M. Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1996.
- Saner G, Yzbasiyan V, Neyzi O, et al. Alterations of chromium metabolism and effect of chromium supplementation in Turner's syndrome patients. Am J Clin Nutr 1983;38:574-78.
- Riales R, Albrink MJ. Effect of chromium chloride supplementation on glucose tolerance and serum lipids including high-density lipoprotein of adult men. Am J Clin Nutr 1981;34:2670-78.
- Wang MM, Fox EZ, Stoecker BJ, et al. Serum cholesterol of adults supplemented with brewer's yeast or chromium chloride. Nutr Res 1989;9:989-98.
- Kaats GR, Blum K, Pullin D, Keither SC, Wood R. A randomized, double-masked, placebo-controlled study of the effects of chromium picolinate supplementation on body composition: a replication and extension of a previous study. Curr Ther Res 1998;59:379-88.
- Wasser WG, Feldman NS. Chronic renal failure after ingestion of over-the-counter chromium picolinate. Ann Intern Med 1997;126:410 [letter].
- Cerulli J, Grabe DW, Gauthier I, et al. Chromium picolinate toxicity. Ann Pharmacother 1998;32:428-31.