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Chromium


What is it?

Chromium is a metal. It is called an “essential trace element” because very small amounts of chromium are necessary for human health.

Chromium is used for improving blood sugar control in people with prediabetes, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and high blood sugar due to taking steroids.

It is also used for depression, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), lowering “bad” cholesterol, and raising “good” cholesterol in people taking heart medications called beta blockers.

Some people try chromium for body conditioning including weight loss, increasing muscle, and decreasing body fat. Chromium is also used to improve athletic performance and to increase energy.

Chromium was discovered in France in the late 1790s, but it took until the 1960s before it was recognized as being an important trace element.

How effective is it?

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.

The effectiveness ratings for CHROMIUM are as follows:

Likely effective for...

  • Preventing chromium deficiency.

Possibly effective for...

  • Type 2 diabetes. Some evidence shows that taking chromium picolinate (a chemical compound that contains chromium) by mouth can lower fasting blood sugar, lower insulin levels, and help insulin work better in people with type 2 diabetes. Chromium picolinate might decrease weight gain and fat accumulation in type 2 diabetes patients who are taking one of the prescription drugs called sulfonylureas.

    Higher chromium doses might be more effective and work more quickly. Higher doses might also lower the level of certain blood fats (cholesterol and triglycerides) in some people.

    Beginning research suggests that chromium picolinate might have the same benefits in patients with type 1 diabetes and in patients who have diabetes as a result of steroid treatment.

    However, researchers are looking carefully at the results that show chromium might be effective for treating diabetes. It might not help everyone. Some researchers suspect that chromium supplements might primarily benefit patients with poor nutrition or low chromium levels. Chromium levels can be below normal in patients with diabetes.

Possibly ineffective for...

  • Athletic performance. Reliable studies show that taking chromium by mouth doesn’t seem to enhance body building, strength, or lean body mass.
  • Prediabetes.

Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...

  • Obesity and weight loss. Taking chromium picolinate by mouth for 2 to 3 months might produce a small weight loss of about 1.1 kg. But not all studies have found this benefit.
  • Depression. Chromium might improve the mood of people with mild depression who are not responding fully to certain prescription medications for depression.
  • Preventing a heart attack. Low chromium levels in toenails seem to be linked with a higher risk of having a heart attack. Researchers reasoned that giving chromium supplements might lower that risk. But so far, there is no reliable research showing that chromium supplements can prevent a heart attack.
  • Turner’s syndrome (an inherited disease that often leads to diabetes). Research so far suggests chromium supplements might improve sugar and fat metabolism problems in people with Turner’s syndrome.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of chromium for these uses.

How does it work?

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Chromium might help keep blood sugar levels normal by improving the way our bodies use insulin.

Are there safety concerns?

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Chromium is LIKELY SAFE for most adults when used appropriately for 6 months or less. Chromium is POSSIBLY SAFE for most people when used for longer periods of time. Some people experience side effects such as skin irritation, headaches, dizziness, nausea, mood changes and impaired thinking, judgment, and coordination. High doses have been linked to more serious side effects including blood disorders, liver or kidney damage, and other problems. It is not known for sure if chromium is the actual cause of these side effects.

Special precautions & warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Chromium is LIKELY SAFE during pregnancy and breast-feeding when taken by mouth in amounts that are equal to or less than “adequate intake” (AI) levels. However, women should not take chromium supplements during pregnancy or breast-feeding unless advised to do so by their healthcare provider.

Kidney problems: There are at least three reports of kidney damage in patients who took chromium picolinate. Don’t take chromium supplements, if you already have kidney problems.

Liver disease: There are three reports of liver damage in patients who took chromium picolinate. Don’t take chromium supplements, if you already have liver disease.

Diabetes: Chromium might lower blood sugar levels too much if taken along with diabetes medications. If you have diabetes, use chromium products cautiously and monitor blood glucose levels closely. Dose adjustments to diabetes medications might be necessary.

Chromate/leather contact allergy: Chromium supplements can cause allergic reactions in people with chromate or leather contact allergy. Symptoms include redness, swelling, and scaling of the skin.

Behavioral or psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia: Chromium might affect brain chemistry and might make behavioral or psychiatric conditions worse. If you have one of these conditions, be careful when using chromium supplements. Pay attention to any changes in how you feel.

Are there interactions with medications?

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Moderate

Be cautious with this combination.

Insulin
Chromium might decrease blood sugar. Insulin is also used to decrease blood sugar. Taking chromium along with insulin might cause your blood sugar to drop too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of your insulin might need to be changed.

Levothyroxine (Synthroid, Levothroid, Levoxyl, and others)
Taking chromium with levothyroxine (Synthroid) might decrease how much levothyroxine (Synthroid) that the body absorbs. This might make levothyroxine (Synthroid) less effective. To help avoid this interaction, levothyroxine (Synthroid) should be taken 30 minutes before or 3-4 hours after taking chromium.

Minor

Be watchful with this combination.

NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
NSAIDs are anti-inflammatory medications used for decreasing pain and swelling. NSAIDs might increase chromium levels in the body and increase the risk of adverse effects. Avoid taking chromium supplements and NSAIDs at the same time.

Some NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Nuprin, others), indomethacin (Indocin), naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox, Naprelan, Naprosyn), piroxicam (Feldene), aspirin, and others.

Are there interactions with herbs and supplements?

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Chromium-containing herbs and supplements
Herbs that contain chromium, such as horsetail (Equisetum arvense) and cascara (Rhamus purshiana), can increase the risk of chromium poisoning when taken long-term, or when taken with chromium supplements.

Iron
Chromium can make it hard for the body to use iron. This could lead to iron deficiency in some people. But this is unlikely to happen when people take chromium supplements at the usual doses.

Vitamin C
Using vitamin C along with chromium use might increase the amount of chromium absorbed.

Zinc
Using zinc along with chromium might decrease absorption of both chromium and zinc.

Are there interactions with foods?

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There are no known interactions with foods.

What dose is used?

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The following doses have been studied in scientific research:

BY MOUTH:
  • For type 2 diabetes:
    • 200-1000 mcg daily in divided doses.
    • A specific combination product providing chromium 600 mcg plus biotin 2 mg daily (Diachrome, Nutrition 21) has also been used.
The safe and tolerable upper intake levels of chromium are not known. However, daily adequate intake (AI) levels for chromium have been established: Infants 0 to 6 months, 0.2 mcg; 7 to 12 months, 5.5 mcg; children 1 to 3 years, 11 mcg; 4 to 8 years, 15 mcg; boys 9 to 13 years, 25 mcg; men 14 to 50 years, 35 mcg; men 51 and older, 30 mcg; girls 9 to 13 years, 21 mcg; 14 to 18 years, 24 mcg; women 19 to 50 years, 25 mcg; women 51 and older, 20 mcg; pregnant women 14 to 18 years, 29 mcg; 19 to 50 years, 30 mcg; lactating women 14 to 18 years, 44 mcg; 19 to 50 years, 45 mcg.

Other names

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Acétate de Chrome, Atomic Number 24, Chlorure Chromique, Chlorure de Chrome, Chrome, Chrome III, Chrome 3+, Chrome FTG, Chrome Facteur de Tolérance au Glucose, Chrome Trivalent, Chromic Chloride, Chromium Acetate, Chromium Chloride, Chromium Nicotinate, Chromium Picolinate, Chromium Polynicotinate, Chromium Proteinate, Chromium Trichloride, Chromium Tripicolinate, Chromium III, Chromium III Picolinate, Chromium 3+, Cr III, Cr3+, Cromo, Glucose Tolerance Factor-Cr, GTF, GTF Chromium, GTF-Cr, Kali Bichromicum, Nicotinate de Chrome, Numéro Atomique 24, Picolinate de Chrome, Picolinate de Chrome III, Polynicotinate de Chrome, Potassium Bichromate, Protéinate de Chrome, Trichlorure de Chrome, Tripicolinate de Chrome, Trivalent Chromium, Cr.

Methodology

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To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.methodology (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/methodology.html).

References

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To see all references for the Chromium page, please go to http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/932.html.

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Page last updated: 27 October 2014