What is Chromium?
Chromium is an essential trace mineral that we all need in our diets in very small quantities. Once absorbed, chromium is distributed widely in the body, with the highest levels being found in the kidney, liver, spleen, and bone . It is one of the most common elements in both the earth’s crust and seawater. It is also found naturally in many common food items. Because of this fact, deficiency is rare in healthy humans. However, chromium and blood glucose have a unique relationship, making this supplement useful for people with certain metabolic needs.
Do I Need a Chromium Supplement for Blood Glucose Support?
As long as you have healthy glucose metabolism and normal insulin sensitivity, you might not. However, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences has established the Recommended Daily Allowances for chromium to be 50–200 μg per day for normal, healthy adults, while studies have shown Americans only ingest about half of that suggested minimum, on average .
Daily supplementation of chromium has been shown to promote healthy levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol, triglycerides, and total cholesterol levels, while increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol in people with above-normal cholesterol levels .
Even if you have normal insulin sensitivity and healthy cholesterol, some studies have indicated that chromium supplementation may help to increase muscle gain and fat loss associated with exercise, while also aiding in glucose metabolism and improving the serum lipid profile [3,4].
Metabolic Maintenance offers a chromium niacinate supplement called Chromium Plus that delivers a high but safe dose of chromium. It also contains a synergistic mineral base to aid in the absorption and efficacy of supplemental chromium. As always, talk to your trusted healthcare professional about the potential cardiometabolic benefits of chromium supplementation before adding Chromium Plus to your nutritional regimen.
What Does Chromium Do in the Body?
It was hypothesized, as early as the 1950s, that the trivalent chromium in brewer’s yeast, at the time dubbed “glucose tolerance factor”, could prevent some metabolic issues in experimental animals . By the late 1970s that nutrient had studied extensively in relation to glucose metabolism in humans as well. Inpatient care has shown that when total nutrition is delivered intravenously, a lack of chromium can induce metabolic issues, while adding chromium back to the IV diet appears to ameliorate those issues, reducing or removing a patient’s needs for extraneous insulin .
The results of these studies strongly implicated chromium as a critical cofactor in the action of insulin. However, its exact mechanism of action is still being refined through experimentation. A likely hypothesis proposes that ingested chromium increases a chromium-containing oligopeptide present in insulin-sensitive cells. That oligopeptide then binds to the insulin receptor, thereby increasing the activity of the insulin-stimulated tyrosine kinase and phosphorylation of insulin receptor substrate-1 and glucose transporter GLUT4 . Essentially, chromium may help to increase the sensitivity of cells to insulin, thereby increasing the efficiency of glucose transporters to absorb more glucose from the circulation.
What Does Blood Glucose Metabolism Have to Do With Cardiovascular Health?
Patients with insulin resistance often find this issue to be accompanied by obesity and dyslipidemia . Cardiovascular health and the state of vascular inflammation can be associated with these health issues.
One study showed that men with a body mass index over 25 had better health outcomes when their chromium levels were in the highest percentiles among the study group . A similar study showed that tissue chromium levels are typically lower in patients with insulin/blood glucose issues, but the lowest chromium levels of all were associated with those who had both insulin/glucose and cardiovascular troubles .
The quality of life of people who struggle with blood glucose often also suffers due to microvascular complications in the nerves, kidneys, and vision .
What Should I Look For in a Chromium Supplement?
Chromium supplements are available as chromium chloride, chromium niacinate (sometimes called nicotinate), chromium picolinate, high-chromium yeast, and chromium citrate. In particular, chromium chloride appears to have poor bioavailability . Chromium niacinate is the result of a chemical reaction that combines chromium chloride with nicotinic acid (niacin), for improved absorption. Chromium picolinate is widely available but is also the most controversial of the forms due to its potential toxicity . Conversely, chromium niacinate was not found to have any toxicity effects on rats in a year-long supplementation study, at a human-equivalent dose of 1000 μg/day .