The Benefits of Chromium for Blood Sugar Control
Chromium tends to be underrepresented in nutrition research. However, recent studies have pinpointed the mineral as a candidate for managing blood sugar and potentially reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Chromium is a trace metal found in the body as trivalent chromium, referred to as chromium 3+ or chromium III. Another form, hexavalent chromium 6+, results from industrial pollution and is considered toxic. In this article, all mentions of chromium will be referring to the trivalent chromium form.
The essentiality of chromium has been debated over the past few decades; essential nutrients cannot be made by the human body and require dietary or supplemental consumption. Some research indicates that while chromium is biologically active, it may not be necessary in the human diet.
Regardless of its essentiality in the diet, chromium has been studied for its effects on lowering blood sugar and potentially reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
In this article, learn more about the food sources of chromium, its supplemental forms, and recent research on chromium’s relationship to blood sugar.
Dietary Sources of Chromium and Supplements
Although there is no set Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for chromium, there are Adequate Intakes (AI), which are created by the Food and Nutrition Board when there is insufficient research to establish an RDA for a nutrient.
The AI for chromium is set at 20 and 30 micrograms (mcg) per day for adult females and males over age 50, respectively.
The best food source of chromium is broccoli, which contains 11 mcg per half-cup serving. Many other fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and animal proteins contain chromium in smaller amounts.
In supplemental form, the mineral is found most often as chromium picolinate, but it’s also seen as chromium chloride, chromium nicotinate or niacinate, and high-chromium yeast.
Chromium and Blood Sugar Reduction
Chromium is thought to lower blood sugar by enhancing the action of the hormone that takes sugar from the blood into cells for storage or use as energy.
A reduction in the body’s sensitivity to this hormone causes cells to become resistant to its effects, leading to chronically high blood sugar because the hormone isn’t able to shuttle glucose from the blood into cells as effectively. Over time, this resistance can cause impaired glucose tolerance, and, eventually, type 2 diabetes.
Chromium acts as a cofactor in the signaling process to increase glucose uptake and storage, thereby reducing blood glucose. The mineral has also been studied for its ability to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which play a role in impaired glucose tolerance and type 2 diabetes.
Research has found that chromium inhibits pro-inflammatory cytokines and compounds, including TNF-alpha, interleukin-6, and C-reactive protein. Chromium also lowers levels of lipid peroxidation in conditions of high blood sugar.
In a June 2014 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, researchers analyzed 25 randomized controlled trials. The combined data indicated that supplemental chromium was linked to significant glucose control improvements, as measured by reductions in fasting blood glucose and hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), a marker commonly used to diagnose and track diabetes.
HbA1c is a glycated form of hemoglobin that is considered a proxy for average blood sugar levels over the past three months. In this study, the researchers found that the most significant benefits to glucose control were seen when people took 200 mcg of chromium picolinate per day.
Another study, published in Metabolism in July 2006, gave diabetic patients either 400 mcg of chromium chloride or a placebo for 16 weeks. The group receiving chromium supplements experienced significant reductions in fasting blood glucose by an average of 38.1 mg/dL. The males in the chromium group also significantly reduced their HbA1c levels by 1.1%, compared to the placebo group.
Chromium and Type 2 Diabetes Risk
In addition to lowering blood sugar in the short term, chromium is also linked to a reduction in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
A cross-sectional study published in December 2015 in the Journal of Nutrition looked at data from over 28,000 individuals. The researchers found that adults who consumed a chromium-containing supplement within the previous 30 days had a 27% reduced risk of having type 2 diabetes, which was highly significant compared to non-users of chromium.
In a case-control study published in BioMed Research International, similar results were found. Sixty patients with impaired glucose control were matched with 50 healthy controls. Those with type 2 diabetes and diabetic complications were significantly more likely to have lower serum chromium levels than healthy controls.
However, as these studies were observational — not experimental – it can’t be determined that chromium directly causes a reduced risk of diabetes. The results solely indicate an association between increased chromium intake and reduced diabetes risk.
Chromium and Metabolic Syndrome Risk
Impaired glucose control is a significant component of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess abdominal fat, and abnormal cholesterol and lipid levels. Metabolic syndrome is closely linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
In a recent study published in April 2020 in Clinical Nutrition Research, adults with type 2 diabetes were randomized to receive either 400 mcg of chromium picolinate or a placebo. After the 8-week trial, total and LDL cholesterol were decreased significantly in the chromium group. However, fasting blood glucose was not affected.
Another study, published in Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, and Obesity, found that a chromium chloride supplement boosted the efficacy of fish oil in reducing cardiovascular risk factors. The participants were randomized to receive fish oil, fish oil plus 200 mcg chromium, or fish oil plus 400 mcg chromium.
Fish oil did modestly reduce markers of oxidative stress and triglycerides and increase levels of the antioxidant glutathione. However, the addition of chromium — especially at the 400 mcg dose — led to a significant improvement in all cardiovascular and inflammatory biomarkers measured, including a reduction in HbA1c that was not found with the fish oil group.
As omega-3-rich fish oil is commonly used to improve heart health, adding chromium to a supplement regimen may help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome even further.
Are Chromium Supplements Safe?
Chromium supplements are generally considered safe, as the bioavailability of chromium tends to be poor, and it is excreted in the urine when in excess. Therefore, there is no set tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL). Most research has indicated that doses up to 1,000 mcg per day have little to no adverse effects.
However, a few case studies have associated kidney damage or kidney failure with doses ranging between 600 to 2,400 mcg per day. Based on the studies reviewed in this article, 400 mcg of chromium appears to be adequate for producing cardiovascular and metabolic benefits without affecting kidney health.
- Chromium is a trace mineral that is linked to significant improvements in blood sugar control and glucose metabolism, as it is a cofactor in the signaling process to increase glucose uptake and storage.
- Research has found that chromium is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, as well as reductions in inflammatory cytokines and oxidative damage.
- Supplements of 400 micrograms per day of chromium picolinate are generally considered safe and may support cardiometabolic health.
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