The second best-selling mineral supplement after calcium, chromium has been hyped as a fat burner, a muscle builder, a treatment for diabetes and a weapon against heart disease. Though this mineral is essential for growth and health, its more spectacular claims remain controversial.

What it is

Chromium is a trace mineral that comes in several chemical forms. Supplements usually contain chromium picolinate or chromium GTF (glucose tolerance factor). Another type, called chromium dinicotinic acid glutathione, is found in brewer's yeast. Supplements may be worthwhile because many people today don't get enough chromium in their diet.

What it does

Chromium helps the body to use insulin, a hormone that transfers blood sugar (glucose) to the cells, where it is burned as fuel. With enough chromium, the body uses insulin efficiently and maintains norml blood sugar levels. Chromium also helps the body to break down protein and fat.

Major benefits

Getting sufficient chromium may prevent diabetes in people with insulin resistance. This disorder makes the body less sensitive to the effects of insulin, so the pancreas has to produce more and more of it to keep blood sugar (glucose) levels in check. When the pancreas can no longer keep up with the body's demand for extra insulin, type 2 diabetes develops. Chromium may help avert this progression by helping the body to use insulin more effectively in the first place. Chromium also helps to break down fats, so it may reduce LDL ('bad') and increase HDL ('good') cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of heart disease.

Additional benefits

Chromium may relieve headaches, irritability and other symptoms of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) by keeping blood sugar levels from dropping below normal. In people with diabetes, it may help to control blood sugar levels. The mineral's most controversial claims relate to weight loss and muscle building. though some stuides indicate that large doses of chromium picolinate can aid weight loss or increase muscle mass, others have found no benefit. At best, the mineral may give you a slight edge in losing weight when combined with a sensible diet and regular exercise. But more research is needed to determine chromium's role in this regard.

Common uses

  • Essential for the breakdown of protein, fat and carbohydrates.
  • Helps the body maintain normal blood sugar (glucose) levels.
  • May lower total blood cholesterol, LDL ('bad') cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • May aid weight loss.


  • Capsule.
  • Tablet.
  • Softgel.
  • Liquid.

How much you need

No RDI has yet been established for chromium, but scientists believe that 50-200 mcg a day can prevent a deficiency. (Even with a healthy, varied diet, getting chromium at the high end of this recommended would be difficult.)

If you get too little: A chromium deficiency can lead to inefficient use of glucose. In itself, a lack of chromium is probably not a cause of diabetes, but it can help to precipitate the disease in those who are prone to it. In addition, people who don't get enough chromium may suffer from anxiety, poor metabolism of amino acids, and high triglyceride and cholesterol levels.

If you eat too much: Chromium does not seem to have an adverse effects even at high doses, although there is some concern that megadoses can impair the absorption of iron and zinc. This can usually be corrected by getting extra iron or zinc though diet or supplements.

How to take it


Chromium supplements are generally available in 200 mcg doses. For general good health: Take 200 mcg a day. As an aid to a weight-loss program: Take 200 mcg twice a day before exercising. To improve the effectiveness or insulin: Take 200 mcg three times a day.

Guidelines for use

Take chromium in 200 mcg doses with food or a full glass of water to decrease stomach irritation. Chromium is better absorbed when combined with foods high in vitamin C (or taken with a vitamin C supplement). Calcium carbonate supplements or antacids can reduce chromium absorption.

Other sources

Chromium is found in whole grains, wholegrain breads and cereals, potatoes, prunes, peanut butter, nuts, seafood and brewer's yeast. Low-fat diets tend to be higher in chromium than those that are high in fat.


People with diabetes should consult their health practitioner before taking chromium. This mineral may alter the dosage for insulin or other diabetes medications, so you will need to closely monitor your blood sugar levels.