Supplements: Chromium

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Chromium is an essential trace element for humans. In order for the body to use chromium, it must be converted to an active form. Glucose tolerance factor (GTF) is an active form of chromium that has been isolated from brewer's yeast. GTF chromium helps insulin pull glucose (blood sugar) from the bloodstream into the cells for energy. Insulin is very important for carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism. Not getting enough chromium in your diet can affect insulin's ability to process these nutrients.

It is estimated that as many as 90 percent of all Americans' diets are low in chromium. Eating a lot of highly processed foods may contribute to this problem because foods lose chromium during the refining process. Children with protein-calorie malnutrition, people who have diabetes, and older people may be especially at risk for chromium deficiency. Eating too many sugary foods, exercising strenuously, and having an infection or physical injury can cause your body to lose chromium. Low chromium levels can increase blood sugar and raise triglyceride (a type of fat) and cholesterol levels.


Here is a list of some of the health problems associated with low chromium levels.

  • Diabetes. People with diabetes cannot adequately process blood sugar. People who have type 1 diabetes need insulin shots to help them process blood sugar.
  • Type 2 diabetics can often control their blood sugar with diet alone. Studies show that taking chromium supplements can improve the ability of people with type 2 diabetes to process blood sugar, especially if their body's store of chromium is low
  • Some people have higher than normal blood sugar (hyperglycemia), but are not considered diabetic. These people often have low chromium levels and can also benefit from taking chromium supplements. High blood sugar levels due to low chromium levels is a common problem among older people.
  • Hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is the opposite of hyperglycemia and diabetes. People who have hypoglycemia have low blood sugar. Low chromium levels may be a contributing factor of hypoglycemia in some people. Taking 200 mcg of chromium a day may improve the symptoms of hypoglycemia.
  • Cardiovascular disease. Low chromium levels are associated with increased blood cholesterol and a greater risk of developing heart disease. Taking chromium supplements has been shown to increase HDL ("good") cholesterol and lower triglyceride and total cholesterol levels in people with diabetes and people with high blood sugar.
  • Glaucoma. Chromium affects insulin receptors in the eye. There is a strong association between low chromium levels and increased risk of glaucoma. Glaucoma is a common problem among people with diabetes.
  • Obesity. Preliminary evidence suggests that taking chromium supplements may help reduce body fat and increase muscle tissue.
  • Osteoporosis. Chromium picolinate has been shown to decrease urinary excretion of calcium and hydroxyproline in women, and may help preserve bone density in postmenopausal women.

Dietary Sources

Brewer's yeast, lean meats (especially processed meats), cheeses, pork kidney, whole-grain breads and cereals, molasses, spices, and some bran cereals.

Brewer's yeast grown in chromium-rich soil is the best dietary source for chromium. Vegetables, fruits, and most refined and processed foods (except for some processed meats, which contain high amounts of chromium) contain low amounts of chromium. Hard tap water can supply 1 to 70 percent of your daily requirement. Cooking in stainless steel cookware increases the chromium content of food.

Other Forms

Chromium is available commercially in several forms, including chromium polynicotinate, chromium picolinate, chromium-enriched yeast, and chromium chloride. Chromium is available in multivitamins and alone in tablet and capsule forms. Preparation doses are typically between 15 and 200 mcg chromium a day in multivitamins.

How to Take It

To prevent and treat disease, you should take between 100 to 200 mcg of chromium daily.

As with all medicines and supplements, check with a health care provider before giving chromium supplements to a child.


The form of chromium found in foods is generally nontoxic. However, extremely high amounts can cause toxicity and gastric irritation. High amounts or tissue accumulation of chromium can make insulin less effective. Check with your health care provider before taking chromium if you have diabetes, hyperglycemia, or hypoglycemia.

Possible Interactions

Chromium combines with niacin to form glucose tolerance factor (GTF). Calcium carbonate and antacids reduce the absorption of chromium.Excerpt from Integrative Medicine Access Copyright © 1999 Integrative Medicine Communications

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Updated on: 02/01/10