Chromium is a trace mineral the body needs in order to stay healthy. Discovered in the late 18th century, this essential nutrient aids in the regulation of insulin—a hormone critical for healthy regulation of blood sugar.
Today, chromium is combined with niacin—a B-complex vitamin (B3)—and sold as chromium polynicotinate. It is a nutritional supplement many people use to balance blood sugar levels, lose weight, and reduce cholesterol levels.
Chromium polynicotinate offers health benefits when taken as a nutritional supplement. Some of the health benefits include:
Chromium is an essential mineral that has a beneficial role in helping regulate insulin—a hormone that controls blood sugar and helps deliver glucose into cells where it is used for energy in the body.
People living with type 2 diabetes have lower levels of chromium in the body, which suggests that chromium supplementation may help balance blood sugar levels.
Fortunately, chromium supplementation can help regulate blood sugar levels in the body. One study found that when individuals living with newly onset type 2 diabetes were given a chromium supplement once a day over a period of one month, their insulin and cholesterol levels declined.
Additionally, chromium supports healthy metabolism, as it helps absorb and distribute nutrients from the foods you eat. Though chromium can help regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels, the jury’s still out on whether it can effectively prevent diabetes.
For many who are prone to developing diabetes, chromium may be helpful in preventing the disease when combined with other intervention methods, such as regular exercise and eating a healthy diet.
In addition to balancing blood sugar levels, chromium is also used to metabolize fat and balance cholesterol. In fact, it is required for the metabolism of fats (including cholesterol). Research shows that daily chromium supplementation helps lower LDL levels (aka “bad” cholesterol) and helps raise HDL levels (aka “good” cholesterol).
Another study showed that people who were taking beta blockers for cardiac health had higher levels of HDL cholesterol levels when supplementing with chromium.
Higher chromium levels in the body are associated with not only healthier levels of cholesterol but healthier arteries, too. Some studies suggest that people who have heart attacks have lower levels of chromium in their system.
Many people swear by chromium supplementation to help lose weight. But is chromium supplementation is associated with reducing the risk of obesity and less weight gain?
A study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice demonstrated that patients who were given a dose of 600 micrograms (mcg) of elemental chromium each day experienced a reduction in appetite, had fewer cravings for carbohydrates, and some experienced weight loss.
A study out of Louisiana State University found that chromium supplements effectively helped modulate food intake in overweight women who were otherwise healthy. The 42 women in the study who took 1,000 milligrams of chromium picolinate each day experienced reduced cravings (particularly for carbohydrates and fatty foods) and experienced a slight decrease in body weight.
More recent research suggests that although some studies have reported small reductions in body weight in those who have supplemented with chromium, there been significant limitations with these findings. More research is required to determine how effective chromium polynicotinate is in aiding with weight loss.
Chromium supplementation is generally safe and is not associated with any major side effects when used in the short term. Some people may experience mild side effects when taking large doses, including headaches, dizziness, nausea, and mood changes.
It is important to follow dosage guidelines (generally between 50-300 mcg/day) suggested on labels in order to avoid unwanted side effects.
If you take diabetes medications (including insulin) talk to your doctor before taking chromium, as it may raise the risk of low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. Chromium is safe in small amounts during pregnancy and for children. As with all supplements, it is important to speak with your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you have.
The United States Institute of Medicine (IOM) has recommended guidelines for chromium intake, and suggests that adults consume between 20 to 35 micrograms per day. Studies have demonstrated that daily doses of up to 1,000 micrograms of chromium taken for several months is safe.
Most people get enough chromium from the foods they eat. According to the USDA, foods with the highest levels of chromium include:
The average person becomes more chromium deficient with age. If your body shows signs of chromium deficiency, you may experience fatigue, dizziness, sugar, and carbohydrate cravings. In addition to eating foods rich in chromium, you may experience improved results with chromium supplementation.
Chromium supplementation is generally safe, but it’s important to pay attention to labels when looking for a supplement, as there are two types of chromium commonly used in dietary supplements:
The benefits of taking chromium polynicotinate supplements are not yet well established, but it does appear to offer health benefits to some. Some people suggest that chromium polynicotinate helps improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression, but not enough research has been conducted for a definitive conclusion on its effectiveness in improving mood.
If you are considering taking chromium supplements, talk to your healthcare provider, as it may interfere with some medications used to treat diabetes and an underactive thyroid.