Chromium Supplements Review
Initial Posting: 7/7/18
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What It Is:
- What does it do? Chromium is an essential trace mineral needed for insulin function. Supplementing with chromium may be of modest benefit to some people with type 2 diabetes. One study suggests it may help people with reactive hypoglycemia. Although touted for weight loss, the evidence is weak. (See What It Is and What It Does).
- How much to take? The daily requirement for chromium ranges from 11 mcg in young children to 45 mcg in lactating women. These amounts can be obtained from the diet (see Adequate intake and Chromium from food). However, much greater amounts (200 mcg to 1,000 mcg per day) are typically taken for therapeutic uses (See Dosage). Certain forms may be better absorbed than others (See Chromium from supplements).
- Best choice? Among the products Approved in testing, CL selected three (of different strengths) as its Top Picks (See What CL Found).
- How to take it? You can take chromium with water or food, but it may be best not to take it along with a supplement or dairy foods providing large amounts of calcium because calcium may reduce chromium absorption.
- Cautions: Chromium at doses of 200 mcg or more daily can cause side-effects (See Concerns and Cautions).
Chromium is an essential trace mineral, meaning that your body needs small amounts of it.
What It Does:
Chromium is important for insulin function. Chromium picolinate may be of modest benefit to some people with type 2 diabetes decrease fasting blood glucose levels as well as levels of insulin and glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c), although the evidence is mixed. For example, a study in Brazil among 71 men and women with poorly-controlled type 2 diabetes who were taking antidiabetes medications (i.e. biguanides and sulfonylureas) found that 300 mcg of chromium picolinate after breakfast and dinner every day (a total daily dose of 600 mcg chromium picolinate) for four months significantly reduced fasting blood sugar levels (- 31 mg/dL vs -14 mg/dL), blood sugar levels after eating (- 37 mg/dL vs -11.5 mg/dL), and HbA1c ( -1.9% vs - 1%) compared to placebo (Paiva, J Trace Elem Med Biol 2015). However, a study in the Netherlands among 46 men and women with poorly-controlled type 2 diabetes who were taking insulin found no benefit compared to placebo from either 250 mcg or 500 mcg of chromium picolinate taken twice daily with meals for six months (Kleefstra, Diabetes Care 2006). A review of 41 clinical studies on the effects of chromium supplementation (including chromium picolinate, chromium nicotinate, chromium chloride and brewer's yeast) in doses from 1.28 mcg to 1,000 mcg per day and lasting from three to eight months concluded chromium supplementation may have a "modest beneficial effect" in people with type 2 diabetes. The researchers noted that, on average, "chromium picolinate supplementation lowered A1C by 0.6% and that brewer's yeast and chromium picolinate lowered fasting glucose by 1.1 and 0.8 mmol/l, respectively." These effects were not found in people without diabetes (Balk, Diabetes Care 2007).
Taking 200 mcg of chromium chloride daily for three months seemed to improve symptoms and increase blood glucose levels in patients with reactive hypoglycemia (Anderson, Metabolism 1987).
Chromium may increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) ("good cholesterol") levels when these levels are lowered by use of beta-blockers.
A small, placebo-controlled study found that chromium (1,000 mcg daily from chromium picolinate) did not improve learning and memory, nor depression scores, in older adults with early memory decline. However, among those receiving chromium, there was a slight reduction in the substitution of incorrect, but related terms (such as recalling "celery" instead of "cabbage" on a recall test) and some increased activation in certain brain regions seen on functional MRI scans (Krikorian, Nutritional Neuroscience 2010).
See the Encyclopedia article about Chromium for additional clinical information.
Quality Concerns and What CL Tested For:
Neither the FDA nor any other federal or state agency routinely tests supplements for quality prior to sale. Yet, there are potential problems that can exist with chromium supplements:
Amount of key ingredient:
It is important to know that a product contains the ingredients that it claims. Too little and you may not get the expected effect and waste money. Too much, and you may experience negative effects (See Cautions and Concerns). In fact, there have been case reports of toxicity with doses of chromium over 600 mcg per day, and even rare reports at doses over 200 mcg per day. The amount of chromium was measured in all products.
Contamination with chromium (VI) (hexavalent chromium):
Chromium (VI) is a more toxic form of chromium than the one our bodies require, which is trivalent chromium or chromium (III). Hexavalent chromium does not occur in significant amounts naturally but is formed as an industrial by-product. It is used in the chemical and welding industries. Ingesting large amounts of chromium (VI) can cause stomach upsets and ulcers, convulsions, kidney and liver damage, and even death. Chromium (VI) is also a carcinogen — it is the form of chromium implicated as causing cancers in the movie Erin Brockovich. It has been known to occur as a contaminant in chromium supplements. All of the chromium products were tested for levels of chromium (VI).