What is chromium?
Chromium is a metallic element that humans require in very small amounts. It is an essential part of metabolic processes that regulate blood sugar, and helps insulin transport glucose into cells, where it can be used for energy. Chromium also appears to be involved in the metabolism of carbohydrate, fat, and protein. Two forms are commonly available as supplements: glucose-tolerance factor (GTF) chromium and chromium picolinate.
Why is chromium necessary?
Chromium enhances the actions of insulin and is necessary for maintaining normal metabolism and storage of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Inadequate intake of chromium has been linked to the development of glucose intolerance, a condition seen in type 2 diabetes. Chromium can also help raise HDL ("good") cholesterol levels, and may play a role in preventing heart disease.
What are the signs of a deficiency?
An estimated 25-50% of the U.S. population is mildly deficient in chromium, a greater incidence of deficiency than is found in almost any other developed country. The industrialization of the American food supply chain, reflected in very low soil levels of chromium and the loss of chromium from refined foods, especially sugar and flours, probably contributes to this. Dietary chromium has a low absorption rate, which becomes even lower with age, so the elderly are especially at risk. Life threatening clinical deficiency may be rare, but deficiency is common.
Because adequate dietary chromium helps to maintain insulin sensitivity, chromium deficiency can contribute to the development of diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Even mild deficiencies of chromium can produce problems in blood sugar metabolism, and contribute to other symptoms such as anxiety or fatigue. Altered cholesterol metabolism, accelerated atherosclerosis, decreased growth in young people and delayed healing time after injuries or surgery can result from chromium deficiency.
How much, and what kind, does an adult need?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends:
- males 19-50, 35 mcg per day
- men over 50, 30 mcg per day
- females 19-50, 25 mcg per day
- females over 50, 20 mcg per day
- pregnant females over 19, 30 mcg per day
- lactating females over 18, 45 mcg per day
Dr. Weil recommends 200 mcg a day as part of a multi-vitamin multi-mineral, and recommends 1000 mcg of GTF chromium a day for those with type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
How much does a child need?
According to the NIH:
- infants 0-6 months, .2 mcg per day
- babies 7-12 months, 5.5 mcg per day
- children 1-3 years, 11 mcg per day
- children 4-8 years, 15 mcg per day
- young males 9-13, 25 mcg per day
- young females 9-13, 21 mcg per day
- teen males 14-18, 35 mcg per day
- teen females 14-18, 25 mcg per day
How do you get enough chromium from foods?
Brewer's yeast, broccoli, grape juice, meat and whole-grain products are all excellent sources. Some fruits, vegetables, and spices provide chromium. Romaine lettuce, raw onions and ripe tomatoes are all good sources.
Are there any risks associated with too much chromium?
Researchers have not found any toxic effects that result from taking high doses of chromium.
Are there any other special considerations?
Diabetics taking chromium should do so only under physician's supervision, as should anyone using prescribed medications for blood sugar control.
The following medications can alter stomach acidity and may reduce chromium absorption or increase excretion of chromium:
- H2 blockers
- Proton-pump inhibitors
The following, when taken with chromium, may be metabolized more slowly or quickly, or may change the absorption rate of chromium:
- Vitamin C
- Beta-blockers (such as atenolol or propanolol)
- Nicotinic acid
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
- Prostaglandin inhibitors (such as ibuprofen, indomethacin, naproxen, piroxicam, and aspirin)
Updated by: Andrew Weil, M.D., and Brian Becker, M.D., on Sept. 27, 2012
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