Any Real Benefits of Chromium Supplements?

Any Real Benefits of Chromium Supplements?

We all know about Chromium as essential nutrient for our body and helpful in key body functions and helpful on diabetes, reduction of cholesterol and heart related diseases. However recently you find this buzz about Chromium Supplements – mainly Chromium Polynicotinate. Most of this buzz is created by marketing efforts of the million dollar supplement business. A popular health show, Dr. OZ show broadcasted benefits of various supplements including chromium supplements and its benefits for weight loss. Let’s try to solve this puzzle about Chromium Supplements.

What is Chromium?

Our body can be visualized as complex chemical factory which is interlinked by several intermediate processes. Nutrients as we know play vital role in these processes. Chromium is a heavy metal, first discovered in 1797 and is commercially used by steel industry. In trace amount it is found in our water and food and is found to be required by our body in micro amounts. A large amount of chromium is toxic and can cause cancer. Also there are two forms – trivalent (a biologically active, less toxic) and hexavalent (highly toxic).

In trace quantity, trivalent Chromium impacts actions of Insulin – a hormone which decides how carbohydrate, sugar, fats and proteins are digested and absorbed in our body.

Health benefits of Chromium?

It was in 1957, a study found a compound – Brewers’ Yeast – preventing age related diabetes. Further probe found Chromium to be cause of “Glucose tolerance factor” which paved way for use of Chromium supplements for Diabetes patients. Preliminary research also found that Chromium plays role in metabolism of fats and proteins and reduces absorption of Cholesterol. Our article on health benefits of Chromium discusses more on the topic.

Are there any chromium deficiency?

Chromium deficiency is believed to be very rare. Most of cases of chromium deficiency are found with patients on separate diets.

Now the buzz about Chromium Supplements

The buzz started with US dietary guidelines for intake of Chromium in diet, which showed that most Americans are Chromium deficient. This was possibly the time when chromium supplements were ‘pushed’ into the market. Further fuel was pushed in the fire by research stating only 1-3% of dietary Chromium is absorbed by body.

What is Chromium polynicotinate vs. chromium picolinate?

Chromium supplements include Chromium in biologically active form as salts of Chromium Picolinate and Chromium Polynicotinate. Picolinate is organic compound which enhances absorption Similarly Polynicotinate is alternate form of vitamin B3 which also helps in Chromium absorption in body.

Other supplement forms include chromium chloride, high-chromium yeast and chromium citrate. However these supplements are marred by less bioavailability and weaker absorption.

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Claims on Possible benefits of Chromium Supplements

A factsheet about Chromium and Chromium supplements on University of Maryland Medical Center website  shows possible benefits of Chromium supplements.

The claims of benefits of Diabetes and treatment of type to Diabetes, impact on insulin production are well researched and we find it difficult to debate. However it should be an area of medicine rather than supplements. Chromium Polynicotinate for diabetes should be always taken under prescription. Also it should be understood that not all studies concur or agree if Chromium supplements reduce blood glucose. A well planned study and more research is probably required.

Similarly studies on benefits for heart are less convincing. While Chromium can reduce blood pressure in animals, clinical tests on human are not very scientific. Modification of lipid profile by reduction of bad cholesterol and increasing absorption of good cholesterol needs further understanding on how these supplements work.

Let’s talk about most buzzed benefits – Chromium Polynicotinate Weight loss. The claims starts with chromium supplements reducing blood sugar and changing lipid profile, both of them believed to have links with weight gain and obesity. Control group studies showed overweight women taking chromium polynicotinate losing more weight than other group. Most chromium supplements advertisement claim for lean muscle, fat loss and weight loss. All the stories are well written about how insulin acts, how insulin reduces fat and sugar and impacts weight and how chromium supplements are helpful for weight loss.

Chromium Picolinate Athlete performance BuzzAgain the claims hover around increasing muscle mass and changing lipid profile which is believed to enhance Athletic performance. Initial studies which proved the same were criticized later for methodological inefficiency and the same results could not be reproduced. Further claims of lean body mass could not be established with advanced studies using body composition testing, hydrodensitometry and dual energy X-ray absorptiometry. Research community has more or less agreed that chromium supplements do not enhance any performance and is nothing but a fad.

A study found that chromium is useful in treating depression. Why not rely on other better natural antidepressants? However true the claim could be, there is no substitute for natural dietary antidepressants. We prefer other natural foods over chromium supplements for depression.

How Much Chromium Polynicotinate Should I Take? 

We feel you ask this question to your doctor rather than online resources. Side effects of Chromium supplements are far more than any of the claimed benefits.

What are Side effects of Chromium supplements?

Whether chromium is trivalent or hexavalent, it is toxic and carcinogenic in nature. Supplement manufacturers take protection in choosing Trivalent Chromium as lesser devil. Chromium Polynicotinate dangers include risk of cancer, interaction with your other medications and risk of kidney and liver damage. Some side effects and dangers of chromium supplements are listed below:

  • Chromium picolinate cleaves DNA and can cause mutations.
  • Chromium polynicotinate may harm the liver and care should be taken in case of liver problems.
  • Chromium may result in kidney problems and other kidney problems.
  • Body may convert trivalent form in chromium supplement to hexavalent form which is carcinogenic.
  • A study published in European Journal of Internal Medicine, reported case of toxic hepatitis in patient chromium polynicotinate. Liver biopsy revealed chromium deposits in Liver.
  • Drugs like Antacids, Corticosteroids, H2 blockers and Proton-pump inhibitors, alter acidity in stomach and results in reduced chromium absorption; whereas Chromium supplements enhance action of drugs like Beta-blockers, Insulin, Nicotinic acid, Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and Prostaglandin inhibitors.
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What’s the take on Chromium Supplements?

A study was commissioned by European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Foods (ANS Panel). The objective of study was to generate a “scientific opinion on the safety of chromium nicotinate added for nutritional purposes as a source for chromium in food supplements and in foods intended for particular nutritional uses and on the bioavailability of chromium from this source”. The conclusions of the panel were – a. Chromium bioavailability from chromium nicotinate is low and is comparable to the bioavailability of trivalent chromium from other sources.  b. No conclusive evidence that most recommended use levels up to 200 μg/day are safe.

A study by Vincent titled “The potential value and toxicity of chromium picolinate as a nutritional supplement, weight loss agent and muscle development agent” published in Sports Medicine did a review of over 24 studies of effect of chromium on body mass at varied intake. It concluded that chromium picolinate DOES NOT have significant benefits on body mass.

A study points out that Chromium picolinate supplements actually resulted in weight gain.  Also results in people with chromium nicotinate supplements were different for people with and without exercise training, which impacts both the earlier claims.

Best advice would be caution. Consult your doctor on any chromium supplements and treat them as other medicines. Beware of paid Chromium polynicotinate reviews. Though we ourselves are part of this, but today’s social media is often blamed for the buzz.

Why eat supplementBuzz tends to wean away. Till the time there is no other wonder drug, chromium supplements would be much talked about. This year’s hot potato is often next year’s, “dud spud”.

An article – quite aptly titled Chromium – Friend or Foe, concludes that for the general public, current data do not warrant routine use of chromium supplements, whose risk-benefit function has not yet been adequately characterized.

Another article though difficultly worded by Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institute of Health concludes that there are no benefits of chromium supplements.

Why supplement when you can go natural way?

Include high chromium diet in your food. Some of the rich sources of chromium in food include – Broccoli, Grape Juice, Potatoes, Garlic, Basil, Beef and Meat, Orange, Onions, Tomatoes, Brewer’s Yeast, Oysters, Whole Grains, Bran Cereals, Potatoes, Wheat Germ, Green Pepper, Alfalfa, Amla or Indian Gooseberry

Note: Unprocessed forms of food have more chromium than processed food.

Disclaimer – We do not support third party advertisements which may publish Chromium supplements advertisement on this website. The article is just a food for thought, for your personal information and judgment and no way medical advice.


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