Chromium is a mineral that humans require in trace amounts, although its mechanisms of action in the body and the amounts needed for optimal health are not well defined. It is found primarily in two forms: 1) trivalent (chromium 3+), which is biologically active and found in food, and 2) hexavalent (chromium 6+), a toxic form that results from industrial pollution. This fact sheet focuses exclusively on trivalent (3+) chromium.
Supporting research & information
Chromium is known to enhance the action of insulin, a hormone critical to the metabolism and storage of carbohydrate, fat, and protein in the body. In 1957, a compound in brewers' yeast was found to prevent an age-related decline in the ability of rats to maintain normal levels of sugar (glucose) in their blood. Chromium was identified as the active ingredient in this so-called "glucose tolerance factor" in 1959.
Chromium is involved in making glucose available for energy, which is why it has been studied to see if it would be helpful in managing diabetes. However, Diabetes UK says there is no clinical evidence yet to support chromium for people with diabetes.
For a supplement to be sold making claims about being beneficial to aspects of a person's health, claims have to be approved by the European food regulator EFSA. It has approved a health claim that chromium contributes to the maintenance of normal blood glucose levels.
Health claims that chromium helps with body weight management or reducing fatigue or tiredness have not been approved.
Some studies have also found that chromium may help with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is linked to insulin resistance.
In a pilot study published in the US journal Fertility and Sterility, researchers at the State University of New York, analyzed the effects of nutritional supplementation with chromium on six women with PCOS. Results showed that daily supplements of 1,000 mcg of chromium significantly enhanced insulin sensitivity. However, this was a small trial and larger controlled trials are needed to confirm efficacy.
Chromium supplements have also been studied for their effects on cholesterol, heart disease risk, psychological disorders, Parkinson’s disease and other conditions. However, the study results have been contradictory or unclear.
Some people use chromium supplements to build muscle or trigger weight loss. Again, results have been inconclusive and more research is needed.
Side effects. Chromium seems to have few side effects. There have been some reports of chromium causing occasional irregular heartbeats, sleep disturbances and allergic reactions. Chromium may increase the risk of kidney or liver damage. If you have kidney or liver disease, do not take chromium without talking to your GP first.
Since chromium may affect blood sugar levels, it is crucial that anyone taking diabetes medications - like insulin - only use chromium under medical supervision.
Chromium may also interact with medicines like antacids, acid reflux drugs, corticosteroids, beta-blockers, insulin and NSAID painkillers. These interactions may cause the chromium to be poorly absorbed or amplify the effect of the medication being taken.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not take chromium supplements. For children, consult your child’s GP. Some experts recommend that no one should take more than 200mcg/day without medical advice. Doses of over 1,000mcg/day may be dangerous, though some experts place the figure much higher. There is a theoretical risk that it could increase the risk of cancer, so don’t use chromium in high doses without talking to your doctor first.
Chromium picolinate is a form of the mineral chromium that can be found in supplements.
Many of these products claim to improve nutrient metabolism and produce weight loss.
Chromium is a mineral that exists in several forms. Although one dangerous form can be found in industrial pollution, a safe form is found naturally in many foods.
This safe form, trivalent chromium, is typically considered essential, meaning that it must be obtained from the diet.
Although some researchers question whether this mineral is truly essential, it does serve several important functions in the body.
For example, it is part of a molecule called chromodulin, which helps the hormone insulin perform its actions in the body.
Insulin, a molecule released by the pancreas, is important in your body’s processing of carbs, fat and protein.
Interestingly, the absorption of chromium in the intestines is very low, with less than 2.5% of ingested chromium being absorbed.
However, chromium picolinate is an alternate form of chromium that is absorbed better. For this reason, this type is commonly found in dietary supplements.
Chromium picolinate is the mineral chromium attached to three molecules of picolinic acid.
Chromium is a mineral found in low doses in many foods. It plays a role in the metabolism of nutrients through its impact on the hormone insulin. Chromium picolinate is the form often found in dietary supplements.
Although limited evidence is available, some reports indicate that 600 to 1,000 μg/day of chromium picolinate may help reduce hunger, cravings and binge eating in some people.
The Bottom Line
Chromium picolinate is the form of chromium commonly found in dietary supplements.
It may be effective at improving the body’s response to insulin or lowering blood sugar in those with diabetes. What’s more, it may help reduce hunger, cravings and binge eating.
However, chromium picolinate is not effective at producing meaningful weight loss.
Chromium deficiency appears to be rare, and there are concerns that the picolinate form of chromium could produce harmful effects in your body.
Overall, chromium picolinate is probably not worth taking for most people. If you want to take it, you should discuss the risks and benefits with an experienced healthcare provider.