What Is Chromium?

Chromium is a mineral that is found in certain foods and in the environment. There are two known forms: trivalent (chromium 3+) and hexavalent (chromium 6+). The trivalent form is found in foods (and will be the focus of the following information). Hexavalent chromium is toxic and is found in industrial pollution.

In supplements, you may find chromium available in multiple forms including:

  • Chromium chloride
  • Chromium nicotinate
  • Chromium picolinate
  • High-chromium yeast
  • Chromium citrate

It is not known which form is most effective in the human body, but chromium chloride, in particular, has poor bioavailability. This means it is not broken down and absorbed by the body very well.

Foods that contain chromium
Verywell / JR Bee  

What Is Chromium Used For?

Chromium supplements are often used as a weight-loss aid and to control blood sugar. Chromium works by aiding the action of insulin in the body. Insulin is essential for metabolism and storage of carbs, fats, and proteins in the body. How it functions in the body as a supplement is not well known. It is found in a variety of foods but the amount in each type of food is not always easy to determine.

It is also difficult to determine if a person is deficient in chromium and whether or not supplements are useful in those cases. Many studies on chromium supplements have been inconclusive but also vary widely on which type of chromium is studied and the doses that are used.

Type 2 Diabetes

Reviews of multiple studies show that chromium supplements significantly decreased blood sugar and triglyceride levels in people with type 2 diabetes. A systematic review of 25 studies found that supplementation with 200 micrograms (mcg) of chromium picolinate improved glycemic control without increased side effects compared to placebo.

Weight Loss

Although the benefits of using chromium for weight loss are inconclusive, the theory that it could help with weight loss is based on the idea that regulated blood sugar will result in reduced cravings. Claims that it helps to reduce body fat and increase lean muscle mass have not been supported by scientific studies.

Possible Side Effects

There are few known side effects of chromium supplements. In reasonable doses, there does not appear to be any concern for serious side effects.

There have been some reports that chromium supplements can cause pain and bloating, kidney damage, muscular problems, and skin reactions when taken in large doses.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Chromium does pass through the breastmilk but is typically not considered harmful in typical doses. It is a necessary element that is also included in baby formula. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your healthcare provider prior to taking any supplements or medications.

Medication Interactions

Certain medications may affect the absorption of chromium in the body or enhance excretion (meaning your body gets rid of more of it). These include:

  • Antacids
  • Corticosteroids
  • H2 blockers (cimetidine, famotidine, and nizatidine)
  • Protein pump inhibitors (omeprazole, lansoprazole, rabeprazole, pantoprazole, and esomeprazole)

Other medications may have their effects enhanced by taking chromium. These include:

  • Beta-blockers
  • Corticosteroids
  • Insulin
  • Nicotinic acid
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Prostaglandin inhibitors

Dosage and Preparation

There is no established Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for chromium but "In 1989, the National Academy of Sciences established an 'estimated safe and adequate daily dietary intake' range for chromium. For adults and adolescents that range was 50 to 200 mcg."

Chromium occurs naturally in some foods in varying amounts. For example, broccoli could contain about 11 mcg per 1/2 cup serving, mashed potatoes contain 3 mcg per 1 cup serving, and red wine contains anywhere from 1 to 13 mcg in a 5-ounce serving. The exact amount of this mineral that we get from our food varies greatly depending on what you eat. It's also not well understood exactly how much is necessary.

What to Look For

There are many types of chromium supplements on the market. They may be available individually or as part of a combination product that includes other vitamins or minerals. When you are looking at a product, be sure to note how many micrograms (mcg) of chromium are in the recommended dose. If it is much higher than 200 mcg, be cautious about taking it.

If a supplement contains multiple minerals, vitamins, or other ingredients, be sure to research them all so you understand what you are taking and how it could affect you.

Use caution if you find a supplement that claims to cure or treat any disease or condition. This is illegal per the FDA.

A wide variety of foods contain chromium and most researchers agree that a majority of the population gets enough through food, including:

  • Broccoli
  • Grape juice
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Garlic
  • Basil
  • Beef
  • Orange juice
  • Turkey
  • Red wine
  • Apple
  • Banana
  • Green beans

A Word From Verywell

The benefits of taking chromium supplements may not be well established but it clearly benefits some people. If you are considering taking supplements of any type and you have any type of chronic health condition, talk to your healthcare provider first.

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