- Chromium is used by our bodies for carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism, and is essential for maintaining normal blood sugar.
- Chromium supplementation may be beneficial in improving blood sugar control in people with diabetes and possibly in preventing type 2 diabetes, but further research is needed to support these findings.
- There is emerging evidence suggesting a link between chromium supplementation, cardiovascular health, and weight loss, but more research is needed in these areas.
- Chromium is present in small amounts in a wide variety of foods, so a varied and balanced diet is the best way to ensure adequate intake.
The Basics of Chromium
Chromium (pronounced KROH-mee-um) is a trace mineral that is essential for our bodies to maintain healthy carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism. Chromium exists in multiple forms, one of which enters our bodies via food and dietary supplements. Another form of chromium is more commonly found in the environment from industrial sources. Our bodies cannot produce chromium, so it is essential that we consume it through our diet.
The mechanisms by which chromium functions in the body are not fully understood, and there is still a fair amount of speculation regarding the full extent of chromium’s functions. Current research has not yet been able to define the full spectrum of chromium’s role in and importance to the human body.
Chromium and Health
The most common association between chromium intake and health benefits is the effect of chromium in helping the body break down sugars and carbohydrates. In the metabolism of foods, chromium is crucial for proper insulin function. Insulin is a hormone that moves glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells, where it can be processed for energy or storage. Chromium enhances this function of insulin by acting as a signal to the cells, allowing insulin to transport the glucose inside more easily. Without adequate chromium intake, the body has a difficult time managing the transportation of glucose into the cells, and a chromium deficiency can result in high blood glucose levels.
The discovery of chromium’s role in blood glucose control has led to the theory that chromium supplementation may help prevent or treat diabetes; however, mixed results have emerged from research. One study found an association between people who took chromium-containing supplements and a lower risk of the onset of type 2 diabetes. Another study found that chromium supplementation produced positive effects on blood sugar control for those with diabetes, in addition to improving levels of triglycerides and HDL-Cholesterol (the “good” form of cholesterol). On the other hand, a separate study found limited evidence to support the use of chromium supplementation for glycemic control in those with type 2 diabetes. More research is needed on the effect of chromium supplementation on glycemic control for those with diabetes.
As of now, the mechanism for how chromium may affect blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels is unclear. However, research results have led to the hypothesis that chromium may support cardiovascular health, although existing studies are limited and further exploration is needed.
Additionally, there are hypothesized benefits of chromium supplementation for weight loss, but existing results may not be clinically significant and more research is required to determine a connection.
The Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine have set Adequate Intake (AIs) for chromium:
Adequate Intakes (AIs) for Chromium (micrograms (mcg)/day)
Birth to 6 months
The general population appears to be meeting the AIs recommended for chromium, and very few cases of serious deficiency have been reported. Chromium deficiency has been seen primarily in those individuals who are on parenteral nutrition (TPN) and being given solutions that do not contain chromium, resulting in improper blood glucose control and poor carbohydrate metabolism. There are also groups who are at risk for increased chromium losses through urinary excretion, including athletes and individuals who consume diets high in simple sugars like those found in soda, baked goods, packaged treats and fruit juices. Chromium is also more quickly depleted during pregnancy and lactation, putting women in those categories at higher risk for chromium deficiency.
No Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (ULs) have been set for chromium, as there have been few serious adverse effects recorded in relation to an excess intake of chromium. However, it is important to keep in mind that dietary chromium is only one form; there are other forms of chromium that can be associated with negative outcomes on health. Industrial sources can transmit a different form of chromium that has been established as a carcinogen when exposure is chronic or long-term.
Food Sources of Chromium
Chromium is widely available in our food supply; however, analysis of specific chromium levels in specific foods has not proven to be reliable. There are a large number of factors that affect chromium levels, including agricultural practices, location and soil quality, and manufacturing processes. These can contribute to large differences in chromium content within the same food product depending on where it was grown and how it was processed. Currently, no dietary analysis tools specify levels of chromium in food items, including the USDA’s Food Composition Database. When dietary intake is inadequate, chromium may also be taken in supplemental form, with chromium picolinate being the most effective.
Food Sources of Chromium (mcg/serving)
Turkey ham (processed)
8 fluid ounces
8 fluid ounces
Meats, poultry, fish, and various fruits, vegetables and whole grains tend to provide higher levels of chromium. Vitamin C helps enhance the absorption of chromium in the digestive tract, so consuming foods high in vitamin C may positively influence the body’s uptake of chromium as well. With that being said, the best way to ensure adequate intake of chromium is to consume a diet that includes a wide variety of foods across all food groups.
This blog post was written by Madeline Radigan, dietetic intern with the IFIC Foundation, with contributions by Ali Webster, PhD, RD.