chromium

What can high-chromium foods do for you?

  • Help maintain normal blood sugar and insulin levels
  • Support normal cholesterol levels

What events can indicate a need for more high-chromium foods?

  • Hyperinsulinemia (elevated blood levels of insulin)
  • High blood pressure
  • High triglyceride levels
  • High blood sugar levels
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Insulin resistance
  • Low HDL cholesterol

Romaine lettuce is an excellent source of chromium while onions and tomatoes are very good sources of this mineral. Other food sources of chromium include brewer’s yeast, oysters, liver, whole grains, bran cereals, and potatoes. Many people do not get enough chromium in their diet due to food processing methods that remove the naturally occuring chromium in commonly consumed foods.

 

Description

What is chromium?

This essential mineral, required by the body in trace amounts, was first discovered in 1957 by a research scientist named Walter Mertz. He named this naturally occuring compound, which normalized blood glucose levels in rats, glucose tolerance factor (GTF).

Researchers are still not clear whether GTF is an actual chemical compound or not. But they are clear that the nutrients related to GTF - even though they may not be assembled into a single chemical structure - play an important role in blood sugar balance.

These chemicals include chromium (which may be the most active component), nicotinic acid (a version of vitamin B3), and the amino acids that make up glutathione (glutamic acid, cysteine, and glycine).

How it Functions

What is the function of chromium?

Controlling blood sugar levels

As the active component of glucose tolerance factor(GTF), chromium plays a fundamental role in controlling blood sugar levels. The primary function of GTF is to increase the action of insulin. Insulin is the hormone responsible for carrying sugar (glucose) into the cells where it can be used for energy.

After a meal, blood glucose levels begin to rise, and, in response, the pancreas secretes insulin. Insulin lowers blood glucose levels by increasing the rate in which glucose enters the cells. To accomplish this, insulin must be able to attach to receptors on the surface of cells. GTF is believed to initiate the attachment of insulin to the insulin receptors.

Metabolizing cholesterol & nucleic acid

Chromium may also participate in cholesterol metabolism, suggesting a role for this mineral in maintaining normal blood cholesterol levels. In addition, chromium is involved in nucleic acid metabolism. Nucleic acids are the building blocks of DNA, the genetic material found in every cell.

Deficiency Symptoms

What are deficiency symptoms for chromium?

Dietary deficiency of chromium is believed to be widespread in the United States, a consequence of food processing methods that remove most of the naturally occurring chromium from commonly consumed foods. Chromium deficiency leads to insulin resistance, a condition in which the cells of the body do not respond to the presence of insulin. Insulin resistance can lead to elevated blood levels of insulin (hyperinsulinemia) and elevated blood levels of glucose, which can ultimately cause heart disease and/or diabetes.

In fact, even mild dietary deficiency of chromium is associated with a medical condition known as Syndrome X. Syndrome X represents a constellation of symptoms, including hyperinsulinemia, high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, high blood sugar levels, and low HDL cholesterol levels, that increase one’s risk for heart disease.

Toxicity Symptoms

What are toxicity symptoms for chromium?

In 2001, the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences conducted a thorough review of the chromium research and concluded that excessive intake of chromium from foods or supplements is not associated with any adverse effects. As a result, no Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) was established for this mineral. However, the Institute of Medicine noted that people with liver or kidney disease may be more susceptible to adverse effects from excessive intake of chromium, and cautioned such individuals to avoid taking chromium supplements in higher than recommended amounts.

Impact of Cooking, Storage and Processing

How do cooking, storage, or processing affect chromium?

Under most circumstances, food processing methods decrease the chromium content of foods. For example, chromium naturally occurs in the bran and germ of whole grains. When whole grains are milled to make flour, the germ and bran are removed, and consequently most of the chromium is lost. Also, the refinement of sugar cane and sugarbeets to make sugar (sucrose) removes most of the chromium that naturally occurs in the plants.

On the other hand, acidic foods cooked in stainless steel cookware can accumulate chromium by leaching the mineral from the cookware.

Factors that Affect Function

Which factors might contribute to a deficiency of chromium?

If you have diabetes or heart disease, the amount of chromium your body needs may be increased. You may also need extra chromium if you experience physical injury or trauma or mental stress. All of these conditions increase the excretion of chromium. But in addition, in the case of stress, the need for increased chromium may relate directly to blood sugar imbalance. Under severe stress, the body increases its output of certain hormones. These hormonal changes alter blood sugar balance, and this altered blood sugar balance can create a need for more chromium.

Drug-Nutrient Interactions

What medications affect chromium?

Chromium supplementation can cause blood sugar levels to drop. If you are taking insulin or an oral glucose-lowering medication (for example, Diabeta or Micronase), be sure to consult your physician before taking chromium supplements, as you may need to decrease your current dose of medication to prevent your blood sugar levels from decreasing too much.

Calcium carbonate, found in calcium supplements and antacids, decreases the absorption of chromium, while aspirin is believed to increase chromium absorption.

Nutrient Interactions

How do other nutrients interact with chromium?

Diets high in simple sugars increase the urinary excretion of chromium and rob the body of some of the chromium it needs. Diets rich in whole grains can also decrease absorption of chromium, since whole grains contain a compound called phytic acid, which can bind to chromium, form an insoluble complex, and prevent it from being absorbed.

Whole grains, however, contain significant amounts of chromium, and the activity of phytic acid in grains does not prevent us from getting chromium from whole grain foods. As a result, a diet rich in whole grains is still unlikely to increase our risk of chromium deficiency.

Ascrobic acid (vitamin C) increases the absorption of chromium.

Health Conditions

What health conditions require special emphasis on chromium?

Chromium may play a role in the prevention and/or treatment of the following health conditions:
  • Acne
  • Glaucoma
  • High cholesterol levels
  • High triglyceride levels
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM)
  • Obesity
  • Psoriasis

Form in Dietary Supplements

What forms of chromium are found in dietary supplements?

As a dietary supplement, chromium is available as chromium picolinate, chromium polynicotinate, chromium chloride, and chromium-enriched yeast. There is substantial debate about the preferred delivery form. Research studies have shown that chelated forms of chromium - like chromium picolinate, where chromium is hooked together with an organic acid called picolinic acid, or chromium polynicotinate, where chromium is hooked together with several molecules of vitamin B3 - are better absorbed into the body.

However, in the case of chromium picolinate, more chromium may also be excreted from the body as well, since picolinic acid binds chromium so tightly that it "doesn't let go," and the two substances stay bound together all the way through the bloodstream, and kidneys, and out through the urine. Because of vitamin B3's value in helping stabilize blood sugar, chromium in the polynicotinate form is often used in conjunction with blood sugar problems.

Food Sources

Introduction to Nutrient Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the foods which are either excellent, very good or good sources of this nutrient. Next to each food name you will find the following information: the serving size of the food; the number of calories in one serving; DV% (percent daily value) of the nutrient contained in one serving (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Nutrient Rating System, please click here.

 

Foods Ranked as quality sources of:
chromium
Food Serving
Size
Cals Amount
(mcg)
DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's
Healthiest
Foods Rating
Lettuce, Romaine 2 cup 15.7 15.68 13.1 15.0 excellent
Onions, Raw 1 cup 60.8 24.80 20.7 6.1 very good
Tomato, Red, Raw, Ripe 1 cup 37.8 9.00 7.5 3.6 very good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

Public Health Recommendations

What are current public health recommendations for chromium?

The Adequate Intake (AI) levels for chromium, set in 2001 by the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences are as follows:

  • 0-6 months: .2 micrograms
  • 7-12 months: 5.5 micrograms
  • 1-3 years: 11 micrograms
  • 4-8 years: 15 micrograms
  • Boys 9-13 years: 25 micrograms
  • Girls 9-13 years: 21 micrograms
  • Boys 14-18 years: 35 micrograms
  • Girls 14-18 years: 24 micrograms
  • Men 19-30 years: 35 micrograms
  • Women 19-30 years: 25 micrograms
  • Men 31-50 years: 35 micrograms
  • Women 31-50 years: 25 micrograms
  • Men 51-70 years: 30 micrograms
  • Women 51-70 years: 20 micrograms
  • Men greater than 70 years: 30 micrograms
  • Women greater than 70 years: 20 micrograms
  • Pregnant women 14-18 years: 29 micrograms
  • Pregnant women 19-50 years: 30 micrograms
  • Lactating women 14-18 years: 44 micrograms
  • Lactating women 19-50 years: 45 micrograms

References

  • Anderson RA. Chromium in the prevention and control of diabetes. Diabetes Metab 2000 Feb;26(1):22-7.
  • Cefalu WT, Wang ZQ, Zhang XH et al. Oral chromium picolinate improves carbohydrate and lipid metabolism and enhances skeletal muscle Glut-4 translocation in obese, hyperinsulinemic (JCR-LA corpulent) rats. J Nutr 2002 Jun;132(6):1107-14.
  • Groff JL, Gropper SS, Hunt SM. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. West Publishing Company, New York, 1995.
  • Kobla HV, Volpe SL. Chromium, exercise, and body composition. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2000 Jul;40(4):291-308.
  • Kumpulainen JT. Chromium content of foods and diets. Biol Trace Elem Res 1992 Jan-1992 Mar 31;32:9-18.
  • Kuritzky L, Samraj GP, Quillen DM. Improving management of type 2 diabetes mellitus: 6. Chromium. Hosp Pract (Off Ed) 2000 Feb 15;35(2):113-6.
  • Lininger SW, et al. A-Z guide to drug-herb-vitamin interactions. Prima Health, Rocklin, CA, 2000.
  • Vincent JB. Elucidating a biological role for chromium at a molecular level. Acc Chem Res 2000 Jul;33(7):503-10.
  • Vincent JB. The biochemistry of chromium. J Nutr 2000 Apr;130(4):715-8.

This page was updated on: 2004-11-21 11:00:24
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation