Chromium helps control blood sugar, curbs carb cravings and fights body fat
Chromium is an essential trace mineral that has received much attention as a dietary supplement because good dietary sources of chromium are scarce and intake is generally low. There is debate, however, regarding optimal amounts and exactly how chromium works in the body. In recent years, some very elegant work has revealed that chromium augments the actions of insulin, which is consistent with studies showing that long-term use effectively controls blood sugar (glucose) levels in people with intolerance to carbohydrates. Better control of blood sugar levels has several favorable effects.
When you eat carbohydrate, it is broken down to sugar and absorbed into the blood. The magnitude of the rise in blood sugar, and subsequent rise in insulin, varies widely from food to food. Slowing the release of sugar into the blood is the first step to controlling blood sugar and one of the most important goals of any healthy diet.
According to research, keeping blood sugar in check does everything from enhancing weight and fat loss and decreasing appetite to warding off several chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, etc. In contrast, foods that are rapidly digested and quickly released into the blood promote overeating, obesity, insulin resistance, and other metabolic disturbances contributing to disease.
Chromium helps control blood sugar
Chromium supplementation is a simple method to improve blood sugar control in some people. Several studies have evaluated the effect of chromium on glucose levels with varied results, but a significant number of these studies have shown that chromium can normalize blood sugar levels, improve blood sugar utilization and decrease insulin requirements in patients with glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. In one study, blood sugar responses to a carbohydrate meal of white bread were measured with and without a single dose (400 micrograms) of chromium. The addition of chromium resulted in a 23% reduction in blood sugar after the meal. Thus, taking chromium with carbohydrate-rich foods may be an effective way to lower the glycemic index of that meal.
Chromium and cholesterol levels
Chromium also plays a role in fat metabolism. Several studies have investigated chromium’s effects on lipid profiles. A number of those studies reported reductions in triglycerides, as much as 32%, and reductions in total and LDL cholesterol. These positive effects were noted when studying the risk for heart disease in healthy people and those with diabetes or glucose intolerance.
Chromium diminishes carb cravings
If you are like a lot of people, you might have a compelling and recurring hunger for carbohydrate-rich foods. Cravings for starchy and sugar-laden foods are common and are a type of addiction that involves similar mechanisms engaged by opiates and the pain/pleasure center of the brain.
In one study, it was shown that simply taking 600 micrograms of chromium picolinate for 8 weeks significantly reduced carbohydrate cravings. The subjects who had the most severe carbohydrate cravings experienced the best results. When blood sugar is low, the drive to seek out sugars and starches is amplified, and there is a tendency to overconsume calories. Although not addressed in this study, chromium supplementation may have helped to stabilize blood sugar levels and diminish the desire for carbohydrate-laden foods.
Chromium fights body fat
There have been fewer studies focused on chromium supplementation by athletes, but some double-blind, placebo-controlled experiments have shown that chromium picolinate supplementation reduces fat mass, increases lean body mass and can lead to weight loss. In one study, chromium picolinate was able to increase lean body mass in obese patients placed on a very low calorie diet.
Chromium combats insulin resistance
The exact role of chromium has eluded researchers, but recent evidence indicates that chromium plays an important role in insulin signaling. Poor insulin signaling, or insulin resistance, is a prevalent condition that contributes to obesity and several other metabolic problems that predispose people to diabetes and heart disease. Therefore, anything that combats insulin resistance (like exercise) is generally viewed as health-promoting.
One study examined the effects of chromium in rats that were obese and insulin resistant. The results clearly showed that rats given additional chromium in their drinking water significantly improved glucose disposal rates and insulin-stimulated signaling in skeletal muscle. In other words, extra chromium improved the insulin resistance normally present in these animals.
These findings are consistent with several studies showing improved glucose control in people with glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. Since glycogen synthesis and protein synthesis are regulated by insulin signaling, adding chromium could stimulate these processes in individuals who are insulin resistant.
My lab investigated the potential of chromium picolinate to improve glycogen synthesis after intense exercise in healthy men. Although chromium led to very high rates of glycogen synthesis during the recovery phase after exercise, the values were not significantly different than the placebo group. However, we did find that chromium engaged a different cellular pathway in muscle that bypassed one of the steps often deficient in people with glucose intolerance and diabetes.
How much chromium to take
Chromium supplementation is safe with no reported significant side effects. Effective doses seem to be in the range of 200 to 600 micrograms (0.2 to 0.6 mg). It is typically sold in 200 microgram capsules or tablets.
There are several types of chromium supplements available, such as chromium chloride, chromium polynicotinate and chromium picolinate. Chromium picolinate is remarkably stable and remains intact for several hours in synthetic gastric juice. The comparative data results of chromium picolinate versus other forms of chromium demonstrated that it is the most effective form to facilitate glucose control. It was also observed that chromium picolinate is better absorbed physiologically (2.5%) than chromium chloride (0.5-1%) and chromium acetate (0.8%); chromium oxide is not absorbed at all (0.001%).
You’ll find chromium in most good multi-vitamin formulas like Lindberg Varsity Pack 2 or Pink Pack, which have 120 mcg in each packet. If you want more of the blood sugar and dieting benefits of chromium, you should add another 100-200 micrograms twice a day to your diet. You can find this extra chromium in many diet formulas available.
by Jeff S. Volek, Ph.D., R.D.