Chromium: Supplements, What Works
Chromium is necessary for insulin to function properly in the human body. Insulin not only helps to metabolize sugars, but is also involved in the body's use of protein and fats. Borderline chromium deficiency may help to trigger adult-onset diabetes, but is not the underlying cause of diabetes, so chromium cannot cure the disease.
A majority of the American population takes in less than the RDA of chromium. Estimates are that 50 percent of the American population has a marginal or serious chromium deficiency, especially the elderly, pregnant women, and athletes. Therefore, supplementation with 50 to 200 mcg may be prudent.
Chromium supplementation does present some dangers. Excess dietary chromium may accumulate in the tissues and cause chromosome damage, which may contribute to cancer. Daily supplementation of 200 mcg or more of chromium picolinate, an organic form of chromium, has been linked to iron deficiencies because chromium competes with iron for transport and distribution. Trivalent chromium, the form found in the diet, has very low toxicity and a great margin of safety, but hexavalent chromium is toxic, and long-term occupational exposure can lead to skin problems, perforated nasal septum, and lung cancer.
Among the claims made for chromium are that it promotes an increase in lean body mass, increases strength during resistance training, stabilizes blood sugar levels, and lowers cholesterol. Following is an examination of these claims.
However, two recent studies have contradicted the findings of this 1989 study. In a 1996 study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, muscle mass increased with resistance training, regardless of chromium supplementation. In a 1994 University of Massachusetts study, the strength and body fat of athletes was unaffected by the supplementation.
In a recent review of the clinical literature, Dr. Pamela Peeke, a National Institutes of Health researcher, failed to establish any beneficial effects of chromium supplementation on lean body mass and enhancement of strength. It appears as if the beneficial effects of chromium supplementation may occur only in individuals with impaired chromium status.
In conclusion, because chromium deficiency seems to be widespread in the U.S. diet, individuals with impaired glucose tolerance or lipid metabolism may benefit from chromium supplementation, especially if testing shows low blood levels of chromium. For other people, it is probably wiser to rely on nutritional sources.
Chromium can be obtained in the diet from whole grains, brewer's yeast, wheat germ, liver, broccoli, prunes, nuts, cheese, and fortified cereals. One form of yeast, known as chromium-enriched yeast, has an even higher chromium content than brewer's yeast. Both of these forms of yeast contain GTF (glucose tolerance factor) chromium, which is much better absorbed by the body than the other forms.
BEST ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE: WHAT WORKS? WHAT DOES NOT? by Dr. Kenneth R.
Unless otherwise indicated,
Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier. All Rights Reserved.