Chromium Overview, Health Benefits, Source Food, Deficiency, Side effects
Chromium is a mineral our bodies use in small amounts for normal body functions, such as digesting food. Chromium is an essential mineral that plays a role in how insulin helps the body regulate blood sugar levels. Insulin is a hormone that your body uses to change sugar, starches, and other food into energy needed for daily life.
There is some evidence that chromium supplements may help people with diabetes lower blood sugar levels. People with diabetes either do not make enough insulin or cannot properly use the insulin that their bodies make. As a result, glucose or sugar builds up in the bloodstream.
As many as 90% of American diets are low in chromium, but it’s rare to be truly deficient in chromium. The elderly, people who do a lot of strenuous exercise, those who eat a lot of sugary foods, and pregnant women are most likely to be deficient in chromium. Low chromium levels can increase blood sugar, triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood), cholesterol levels, and increase the risk for a number of conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Because the human body needs very little chromium, most people get enough in their regular diet and do not require dietary supplements. Those at risk for chromium deficiency include people with diabetes and the elderly.
Chromium was discovered in France in the late 1790s, but it took until the 1960s before it was recognized as being an important trace element.
Health benefits of Chromium
The rate of sugar metabolism in the body is medicated by the hormone insulin. This regulation of blood sugar levels is not carried out by insulin alone - the mineral chromium is also involved in the process. The ability of insulin to mediate in the regulation of blood sugar cannot occur in the absence of chromium. The mineral chromium also plays vital roles in the metabolism of other bimolecular like fats, proteins and nucleic acids - DNA and RNA, aside from its main role as a co-factor in the regulation of blood sugar levels.
Health benefits of Chromium for Diabetes
Researchers have studied the effects of chromium supplements for type 2 diabetes for many years. While some clinical studies have found no benefit, other clinical studies have reported that chromium supplements may reduce blood sugar levels as well as the amount of insulin people with diabetes need.
In one double-blind, placebo-controlled study, people with type 2 diabetes who took chromium picolinate had better HbA1c values -- used to measure long-term control of blood sugar levels -- than those who took placebo. The group taking chromium also had better fasting blood glucose levels, a measure of short-term control of blood sugar levels.
Another double-blind, placebo-controlled study looked at a combination of chromium and biotin. Half the people in the study took chromium picolinate and biotin, and the other half took placebo. Those who took chromium and biotin had better fasting glucose levels as well as HbA1c values.
One study found that women who have diabetes as a result of being pregnant improved their blood sugar control when they took chromium.
But not all studies agree, and if chromium does help reduce blood glucose, it’s not clear how big the benefit might be. More research is needed.
Health benefits of Chromium for Weight loss and obesity
Chromium is often advertised as a weight-loss aid and a way to improve lean muscle and reduce body fat. Studies have been mixed, with some finding that chromium may help people lose weight and build muscle, and others finding that it had no effect. If chromium does work for weight loss, it seems that the effects are small compared to those of exercise and a well-balanced diet.
Health benefits of Chromium for Strength training
Chromium is popular with some body builders and can be found in some sports nutrition supplements. But there is not much evidence that chromium helps people gain strength or build muscle mass. Most studies have been negative.
Some people try chromium for body conditioning including weight loss, increasing muscle, and decreasing body fat. Chromium is also used to improve athletic performance and to increase energy.
Health benefits of Chromium for Heart health
Animal studies suggest that chromium may help lower blood pressure. But so far it has not been tested in people, so researchers don’t know if it would work.
Clinical studies about whether chromium can lower cholesterol have been mixed. Some suggest that chromium may lower LDL or bad cholesterol, including one study that combined chromium with grape seed extract. In another study, people who were taking beta-blockers found that taking chromium raised their HDL or good cholesterol levels.
Other Uses of Chromium
Chromium supports immune function by reducing cortisol levels and increasing immunoglobulin levels – a good thing when fighting infection and dealing with physical and emotional stress.
Chromium may affect the eyes. There is a link between low chromium levels and increased risk of glaucoma.
Chromium slows the loss of calcium, so it may help prevent bone loss in women during menopause.
Good food sources of Chromium
Food sources of chromium include brewer's yeast, lean meats (especially processed meats), cheeses, pork kidney, whole-grain breads and cereals, molasses, spices, and some bran cereals.
True brewer's yeast is the best source of chromium and must be preferred over all other supplemental forms of the mineral. Chromium is not found in any significant amount in nutritional yeast and torula yeast and these are not to be considered substitutes for true brewer's yeast. Brewer's yeast, particularly yeast grown in chromium-rich soil, is a rich dietary source of chromium, as are organ meats, mushroom, oatmeal, prunes, nuts, asparagus, and whole grains and cereals. Green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, fruits such as apples and bananas, and most refined and processed foods, except for processed meats, have low amounts of chromium.
The typical North American diet with its emphasis on processed and fast foods, especially those made with refined grains, is a ticket to chromium deficiency. A 1993 survey of the USDA confirms this indicated that the average US diet is low in chromium. While the situation has improved becuase many have embraced better diets in the name of health; subsets of the population remain at risk for missing the benefits of chromium.
Factors that help chromium absorption
Another piece of the chromium pie is that the gut doesn’t absorb chromium well. Scientists estimate that you absorb only between .4% and 2.5% of the chromium you ingest. The rest is excreted in feces.
Ensuring absorption of the chromium you consume is important to enjoy the benefits of chromium.
The following improve chromium absorption:
Adequate stomach acid – You need sufficient hydrochloric acid in your tum to absorb the chromium you get via food or supplements. Stomach acid levels can decrease with use of antacids or with age. Getting enough is key to enjoying the benefits of chromium.
What Hinders Chromium Absorption
The following can prevent chromium absorption:
- Too much zinc : zinc is an antagonist to chromium so if you supplement too much zinc without any chromium, you may decrease chromium stores. Another reason to get your minerals from diet or via a mineral complex and not from single nutrient dosing.
- Antacids which lower stomach acid.
- Simple carbs or sugars
- Vitamin C deficiency
- H2 blockers and Proton pump inhibitors for acid reflux and other gastro-intestinal problems that diminish stomach acid.
So nix the junk food especially white bread and foods laden with added sucrose and fructose (usually junk or highly processed grub anyway) and check with your doctor about the effects of medication on chromium absorption. Instead, go heavy on the whole grains and fruit and veg and, if you eat meat, throw in the occasional bit of lean beef.
Symptoms of Chromium Deficiency
Chromium deficiencies have been studied in clinical experiments and a severe deficiency of the mineral was the cause for an impaired glucose tolerance - this symptom of deficiency could be as severe as a case of mild diabetes, in addition, the deficiency also induced corneal opacities in the eyes.
Physical symptom's like a raised blood level of the lipid cholesterol is also another direct effect of a chromium deficiency. Chromium deficiency also leads to a very high incidence of plaques forming along the aorta - this is the principal artery arising from the heart and supplying the rest of the body with fresh oxygenated blood. The transportation of proteins in the blood stream is also another bio-chemical process in which chromium functions as a cofactor - the metal is considered important in at least some phases of the process. Nucleic acids also interact with chromium during their bio-synthesis; this has led investigators to speculate that the metal chromium is an important co-factor in their synthesis, as well - though nucleic acids do not contain chromium as a component. The effects of very low chromium diets in animals induced problems like a depression in the growth rate, a shortening of the life span, and also produced a reduced ability to withstand physical stress. These effects could be reversed by the addition of extra chromium to the drinking water supplied to the test animals, and this addition of chromium resulted in higher growth rates and a great reduction in the death rates of the test animals. Laboratory rats and mice that were given chromium supplements actually set longitivity records by living an average of ninety nine days longer than similar animals that were not given these chromium supplements and functioned as the control group. The supplements of chromium had other benefits in that all the tested rats and mice were free of aortic plaques if they received the chromium supplement, but at least twenty percent of the rats and mice not given the chromium supplements had such lesions - even though, they were supposed to have been receiving "adequate" chromium in the normal diet.
Signs of chromium Deficiency
After the discussion of chromium’s effect on insulin sensitivity, it’s no surprise that two of the key signs of chromium deficiency are
- high insulin levels;
- high blood sugar levels.
In fact diabetes and other blood sugar conditions are known as the silent killers because many people can have the disease but not know it…… According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), while 18.5 million have been diagnosed with diabetes, 7 million have diabetes but don’t know it. 35% of the US population over age 20 and 50% of those over age 65 are estimated to have pre- diabetes, which is a blood glucose level that, while not at diabetic levels, are higher than they should be. With its effects on insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels, the benefits of chromium are obvious.
Who is at risk for chromium deficiency?
Looking at the AI levels, it’s not surprise who is routinely on the deficiency list when it comes to chromium.
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women especially those with many pregnancies.
- The elderly whose stomach acid levels and overall digestion may be impaired.
- Those who have a junk food diet or consume predominately refined grains including white bread.
- The ill or injured,
- The emotionally or physically stressed.
Chromium Side effects and cautions
Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications, you should take dietary supplements only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider.
Chromium from foods is generally considered safe. As a supplement, very high doses of this mineral can reduce how effective insulin is at controlling blood sugar and cause stomach irritation, itching, and flushing.
Some people experience side effects such as skin irritation, headaches, dizziness, nausea, mood changes and 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. There have also been rare reports of fast, irregular heart rhythms and liver problems from too much chromium. Two cases of kidney damage have been reported from the use of chromium picolinate supplements.
There are some reports that chromium may make depression and anxiety or schizophrenia worse, although other reports suggest it helps depression. Ask your health care provider before taking chromium if you have either of these conditions.
Chromium is possibly safety to use during pregnancy in amounts higher than the AI levels. However, pregnant women should not take chromium supplements during pregnancy or breast-feeding unless advised to do so by their healthcare provider.
People with chromate or leather contact allergies may be allergic to chromium.
People with liver or kidney problems, or people with anemia, should not take chromium without first talking to their health care providers.
There are at least three reports of liver damage in patients who took chromium picolinate. Don’t take chromium supplements, if you already have liver disease.
Chromium might lower blood sugar levels too much if taken along with diabetes medications. If you have diabetes, use chromium products cautiously and monitor blood glucose levels closely. Dose adjustments to diabetes medications might be necessary.
Toxicity from chromium supplementation has also been reported in two unrelated cases. In one person, the side effect was kidney failure, which came about following the supplemental use of 600 mcg chromium daily for a period of 6 weeks. The other person was affected by anemia, as well as liver dysfunction and other disorders that developed over 4 to 5 months of continually supplementing with 1,200 - 24,000 mcg of chromium picolinate daily. It remains unknown if these disorders were induced by supplementing with chromium picolinate, if that is so; the next question is whether the supplemental use of other forms of chromium will produce similar effects at high dosages. Unless supplementing under the supervision of a nutritionally oriented doctor, supplements of chromium exceeding 300 mcg per day must not be used by anyone - high dosage amounts must always be taken only after consulting with a doctor.
The chromium you get from foods is not the same as the industrial form of chromium that is absorbed by the lungs, digestive tract, mucous membranes, and skin.
Industrial chromium is a toxic material. People are usually exposed to it either when it gets on their skin or when they breathe in the dust.