Vitamins & Minerals: Focus on Chromium
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Vitamins & Minerals: Focus on Chromium

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Chromium is a trace mineral that works with insulin to help regulate and maintain normal blood glucose (sugar) levels. Chromium can be found naturally in foods and also comes in a variety of supplemental forms: chromium picolinate, chromium polynicotinate, chromium chloride, and high-chromium brewer’s yeast.

Recommended Intake

Age GroupAdequate Intake (micrograms/dL)
FemaleMale
0-6 months0.20.2
7-12 months5.55.5
1-3 years1111
4-8 years1515
9-13 years2125
14-18 years2435
19-50 years2535
50+ years2030
Pregnancy less than or equal to 1829n/a
Pregnancy 18+30n/a
Lactation less than or equal to 1844n/a
Lactation 18+45n/a

Chromium Deficiency

Chromium is often removed from grains when they are refined. Because of this, eating a diet high in processed carbohydrates may predispose some individuals to a chromium deficiency. As chromium works closely with insulin, a deficiency of this mineral can produce symptoms similar to those seen in people with diabetes and can worsen glycemic control in people with pre-existing diabetes.

Clinical symptoms of a chromium deficiency include the following:

  • Impaired glucose tolerance (high blood glucose levels after eating)
  • Elevated blood cholesterol levels
  • Elevated blood triglyceride levels

Chromium Toxicity

It is difficult to consume toxic amounts of chromium from dietary sources alone, but harmful levels of the mineral can be ingested in the form of supplements. A daily intake of over 1,200 micrograms has been reported to cause kidney, liver, and bone marrow damage—though the risk of chromium toxicity is believed to be higher in people who already have liver or kidney disease.

One form of supplemental chromium, chromium picolinate, appears to alter levels of neurotransmitters when taken in high doses—a possible concern for people with depression, bipolar disease, or schizophrenia. Some doctors have proposed that high chromium picolinate intake is associated with DNA damage within the brain, though no research to date has confirmed this possibility.

Major Food Sources

There is little data regarding the chromium levels in foods. In general, whole grain breads and cereals, brewer’s yeast, meats, egg yolks, and cheeses are all good sources. Chromium is also found in drinking water, especially hard water. Cooking acidic foods (tomatoes, citrus fruits, etc.) in stainless steel cookware causes chromium to leech into the food. Fruits, vegetables, seafood, highly processed foods, and drinking water are generally poor sources of this mineral.

FoodServing Size Chromium content
(micrograms)
Shredded wheat cereal2 ounces65
Peas, cooked1 cup60
Cheese, American1 ounce48
Liver, braised3 ounces42
Egg, cooked1 large26

Health Implications

Populations at Risk for Chromium Deficiency

Chromium deficiencies are seen in malnourished children and people receiving total parenteral nutrition (TPN) not supplemented with chromium. The condition can also be seen in elderly people with type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes

A growing body of research suggests that chromium supplementation may be useful for patients with diabetes. One study found that diabetics who took 1,000 micrograms of chromium daily experienced significant decreases in their blood sugar levels. A number of other studies have shown improved glycemic control with even lower levels of chromium supplementation. The research also suggests that chromium could be helpful in treating gestational diabetes and diabetes caused by corticosteroid treatment.

Cardiovascular Disease

A number of studies show that insulin resistance and glucose intolerance increase the risk of heart disease. Chromium supplementation may help by normalizing blood sugar and improving insulin responsiveness. Some preliminary research has even suggested that people with a higher chromium intake have a lower risk of heart attack.

Weight Loss

Studies have revealed mixed results for chromium’s effectiveness as a weight loss aid. One study found that patients taking 200 or 400 micrograms of chromium picolinate daily for 72 days lost significantly more weight than those who were taking a placebo (inactive) pill. However, a repeat study done by the same researchers failed to duplicate this finding. The most current hypothesis is that chromium has a weak weight-loss effect in obese individuals.

Chromium Supplementation

  • Always talk to your doctor before taking a chromium supplement.
  • Make sure the amount of chromium in your multivitamin does not exceed 100 micrograms.
  • Try to eat two serving of chromium-rich foods every day

Tips for Increasing Your Dietary Chromium Intake

  • Have a bowl of shredded wheat or whole grain cereal for breakfast or as a snack
  • Add a hard boiled egg or some shredded American cheese to your salad
  • Try the following recipe for Greek Peas and Artichokes with Dill:

Over medium heat cook 8 sliced scallions, 6 chopped garlic cloves, and ¼ cup olive oil in a large pot until soft. Add 2 pounds of green peas (fresh/frozen), 1 pound of artichoke hearts (fresh/frozen), quatered, 1 cup tomato sauce, 2 cups water, and salt and pepper to taste. Chop 2 ounces of fresh dill into 1-inch lengths and add to peas and artichokes. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about an hour.

Resources:

American Dietetic Association
http://www.eatright.org

Food and Nutrition Information Center
http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic

Canadian Resources:

Canadian Diabetes Association
http://www.diabetes.ca/

Dietitians of Canada
http://www.dietitians.ca/

References:

Balk E, Tatsioni A, Lichtenstein A, Lau J, Pittas AG. Effect of chromium supplementation on glucose metabolism and lipids: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Diabetes Care. 2007 May 22. [Epub ahead of print]

Chromium. Health Library website.

Duyff RL. The American Dietetic Association’s Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. Minneapolis, MN: Chronimed Publishing; 1998.

Garrison R, Somer E. The Nutrition Desk Reference. New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing; 1995.

Pennington J. Bowes & Church’s Food Values of Portions Commonly Used. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 1998.



Last reviewed June 2007 by Marcin Chwistek, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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