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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...

  • Chromium deficiency. Taking chromium by mouth is effective for preventing chromium deficiency.

Possibly effective for...

  • 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 in people with type 2 diabetes. Also, chromium picolinate might decrease weight gain and fat accumulation in people with type 2 diabetes who are taking one of 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.

    Early research suggests that chromium picolinate might have the same benefits in people with type 1 diabetes and in people 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 think that chromium supplements benefit only people with poor nutrition or low chromium levels. Chromium levels can be below normal in people with diabetes.
  • High cholesterol. Some research shows that taking 15-200 mcg of chromium daily for 6-12 weeks lowers low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol and total cholesterol levels in people with slightly high or high cholesterol levels. Other research suggests that taking chromium for 7-16 months lowers triglycerides and LDL, and increases high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol. However, there is some evidence that taking chromium daily for 10 weeks does not improve cholesterol levels in postmenopausal women.

Possibly ineffective for...

  • Athletic performance. Some early evidence that suggests taking chromium while participating in resistance training can increase weight loss, body fat loss, and lean body mass. However, more reliable research shows that taking chromium by mouth does not enhance body building, strength, or lean body mass.
  • Prediabetes. Taking chromium does not seem to help control sugar levels people with prediabetes.
  • Schizophrenia. Taking 400 mcg of chromium daily for 3 months does not seem to affect weight or mental health in people with schizophrenia.

Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...

  • A type of depression called atypical depression. Early research suggests that chromium might improve the remission rate in people with atypical depression. However, other evidence suggests that taking chromium does not improve most symptoms of this type of depression.
  • Abnormal cholesterol levels caused by medications. Early research suggests that taking 600 mcg of chromium daily for 2 months increases high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol in men who take a class of drugs called beta-blockers.
  • Bipolar disorder. Early research suggests that taking 600-800 mcg of chromium daily for up to 2 years can decrease the frequency of severe mood disturbances in people with bipolar disorder that is resistant to treatment.
  • Age-related mental decline. Research suggests that taking 1000 mcg of chromium daily for 12 weeks does not improve memory or depression in older people with mild mental decline. However, images of the brain show that taking chromium can increase some brain activity during memory games.
  • Long-term depression (dysthymia). There is some early evidence that chromium might improve how people with long-term, mild, depression respond to antidepressants. Taking chromium seems to improve mood in people who only partially respond to antidepressants.
  • Diabetes caused by HIV treatment. Early research suggests that taking chromium daily for 8-16 weeks might improve blood sugar levels and help insulin work in people with diabetes caused by antiretroviral therapy for HIV.
  • Low blood sugar. Early research suggests that taking chromium daily for 3 months improves symptoms and increases blood sugar levels in people with low blood sugar.
  • Metabolic syndrome. Some early evidence suggests that taking a chromium product (Chromax) twice daily for 12 weeks does not affect weight, waist circumferences, blood sugar, or cholesterol levels in people with metabolic syndrome.
  • Heart attack. Research suggests that having low chromium levels in the toenail is associated with an increased risk for heart attack. However, toenail levels might not accurately measure chromium levels in the body, and there is no reliable research showing that chromium supplements can prevent a heart attack.
  • Obesity and weight loss. There is inconsistent evidence about the effect of chromium on weight loss. Some research shows that taking chromium picolinate by mouth might result in slight weight loss of about 1.1 kg. However, not all studies have found this benefit.
  • An ovary disorder known as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Early evidence suggests that taking 200-500 mcg of chromium once or twice daily might improve the removal of sugar in women with ovarian disease. However, other early research shows that taking chromium does not benefit women with this disease.
  • Turner’s syndrome (an inherited disease that often leads to diabetes). Early research suggests chromium supplements might improve sugar and fat metabolism problems in people with Turner’s syndrome.
  • 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 taken by mouth in doses up to 1000 mcg daily for up to 6 months. Chromium is POSSIBLY SAFE for most adults 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.

In children, chromium is LIKELY SAFE when taken by mouth in amounts that do not exceed the “adequate intake” (AI) levels. Taking chromium by mouth is POSSIBLY SAFE when used in amounts that exceed the AI levels.

Special precautions & warnings:

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

Kidney disease: 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 disease.

Liver disease: There are at least 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.

Medications for diabetes (Antidiabetes drugs)
Chromium might decrease blood sugar. Diabetes medications are also used to lower blood sugar. Taking chromium along with diabetes medications might cause your blood sugar to go too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of your diabetes medication might need to be changed.

Some medications used for diabetes include glimepiride (Amaryl), glyburide (DiaBeta, Glynase PresTab, Micronase), insulin, metformin (Glucophage), pioglitazone (Actos), rosiglitazone (Avandia), and others.

Minor

Be watchful with this combination.

Aspirin
Aspirin might increase how much chromium the body absorbs and increase chromium levels in the blood. In theory, taking aspirin with chromium might increase the risk of adverse effects.

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.

Herbs and supplements that might lower blood sugar
Chromium might lower blood sugar. Using it along with other herbs and supplements that have the same effect might cause blood sugar to drop too low in some people. Some of these products include include alpha-lipoic acid, bitter melon, chromium, devil's claw, fenugreek, garlic, guar gum, horse chestnut, Panax ginseng, psyllium, Siberian ginseng, and others.

Iron
Chromium can make it hard for the body to use iron. This could lead to iron deficiency in some people. However, 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: 10 December 2014