Chromium Info 2

Chromium and Body Composition. 

Another area that is gaining more interest lately is the possible effect of Chromium on body composition; that is, how chromium affects the relative amounts of lean body mass (mainly muscle) compared to the amount of body fat. At present, there are positive results from studies with four separate animal species supplemented with chromium picolinate: pigs, lambs, rats and chickens. In all of these species, there were increases in muscle mass and decreases in fat body mass. And, in the case of pigs, these findings have been confirmed by several additional studies. 

For humans, however, the evidence was not as clear until quite recently. In October, 1996 a study published in a peer-reviewed medical journal looked at 154 slightly overweight individuals split into three groups who were supplemented with either 200 mcg of chromium as the picolinate compound, 400 mcg of Chromium as the picolinate compound or a placebo. 

Previously, some human studies had shown either no effect, an effect similar to that seen in animals (that is, reduction in fat and increase in muscle) or an effect in women but not in men. The main problem with these older studies was that they had looked at very few individuals sometimes as few as 12; so, while it appeared that chromium was having an effect on body composition, since there were so few persons involved in the studies we could not be absolutely certain. 

Further, some of the prior studies looked at young athletes (such as college football players) who, because of their high degree of fitness upon entering the study would not, in all likelihood, make the best subjects in which to observe these changes. 

This latest study examined average Americans in Texas who were given no special instructions in diet or exercise just the chromium at either dosage level or the placebo. The study was double-blind and randomized. What these researchers found after the 72 days of the study was a statistically significant difference in the chromium groups vs. the placebo group in change of body composition index (BCI, a sum of the loss in body fat plus the gain in muscle mass) loss of body fat and total weight loss. 

The authors conclude: 

These data suggest that supplementation with chromium picolinate can lead to significant improvements in body composition when a BCI [body composition index] is used as the outcome criterion that represents a sum of the net gains in nonfat mass added to the sum of the net losses of body fat. 

Kaats GR, Blum K, Fisher JA and Adelman JA. Effects of chromium picolinate supplementation on body composition: A randomized, double-masked, placebo-controlled study. Current Therapeutic Research, 57(10):747-765, Oct. 1996

While the mechanism of action whereby Chromium has this apparent effect is not known, it is interesting to note that therapies for diabetes that increase insulin levels in the blood are associated with weight gain (insulin injections and sulfonylureas such as Diabinese and Micronase) while therapies that decrease insulin levels (such as Glucophage and the not-yet-released oral agent troglitazone) are associated with no weight gain or even weight loss. Since chromium supplementation has been associated with decreased insulin levels, it is tempting to speculate that it is through this effect (that is, decreasing insulin resistance with the attendant drop in circulating insulin) that chromium works in altering body composition. 

Dietary Intake of Chromium

Data from U. S. Government sources show that the great majority of Americans get less chromium in their daily diets than the amount recommended by nutrition experts (the RDA Committee recommends 50-200 mcg of chromium/day; the vast majority of Americans get less than 50 mcg/day). 
"In the majority of all chromium supplementation studies in the United States, at least half the subjects with impaired glucose tolerance improved upon chromium supplementation, suggesting that the lower ranges of chromium intake from typical U.S. diet are not optimal with regard to chromium nutriture." 

RDA 10th Edition 1989 

Few foods are rich sources of chromium in the Western diet, the best being organ meats, mushrooms, wheat germ, broccoli and processed meats. It is theorized that Stone Age people ingested more chromium than modern people because they regularly ate organ meats from the animals they hunted (which contained higher levels chromium as well as other trace elements). 

Not only did these early people likely have a higher chromium intake than modern ones, but perhaps more important than their higher intakes, it is most likely that they lost less chromium in their urine than we do. This is because Stone Agers did not ingest nearly as much simple sugars as modern people and simple sugar intake causes chromium to be lost in the urine. These ingested sugars (such as table sugar and products made with it) bring insulin and chromium into the blood and cause chromium to be excreted in the urine after it's through working with the insulin on the increase in blood sugar. 

We Americans consume an average of 120 pounds of sugar per year from all sources. Thus, we can conclude that for hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution, our ancestors most likely took in more and lost less of this essential trace element than modern Americans. 

Another interesting fact demonstrated in large numbers of people both in the U.S. and the U.K.--is that Chromium tissue levels in humans decrease over our lifetimes. In fact, the highest tissue levels of chromium are found in newborns: they get chromium in the womb across the placenta from their mothers. There is also evidence that pregnancy depletes a woman's chromium stores, which may be one reason that as a total population our bodies show loss of chromium as we age. Contact I-Supplements for Additional Information on this Article.

From this evidence inadequate chromium intake, increased chromium losses, decreasing chromium tissue levels as we age, improvement in blood sugar in significant numbers of diabetics and pre-diabetics with modest chromium supplementation and widespread insulin resistance (25% of Americans have some degree of insulin resistance, though only a portion of this insulin malfunction appears to be due to chromium deficiency) experts in chromium nutrition urge supplementation with small amounts of this trace element on a daily basis. 

These experts feel that chromium supplementation for diabetics should take its place alongside the two other proven ways of decreasing insulin resistance: low-fat, high complex-carbohydrate diets for weight loss/weight maintenance and regular exercise. 


It is extremely difficult to poison laboratory animals with oral chromium. For example, cats fed 1,000 mg of trivalent Chromium per day showed no signs of toxicity (the equivalent daily dose for a 150 lb person would be approximately 35,000 mg per day or 3.5 million mcg per day. In terms of the number of 200 mcg tablets, this would be 175,000 tablets per day for a human. 

On March 14, 1996, a safety study conducted by the U. S. Department of Agriculture was presented at the Society of Toxicology's annual meeting. This study looked at various supplemental doses (including none) of chromium chloride and chromium picolinate fed to rats for 6 months, The highest doses were equal to a human consuming 5,000 tablets of 200 micrograms chromium picolinate. At regular intervals during the study the rats were weighed and blood was taken for laboratory tests. 

At the end of the study the livers and kidneys (organs that would have the highest tissue levels of chromium) were examined under the microscope. There were no differences in any of the measurements or examinations between the various groups. The investigators were unaware ("blinded") as to which group the animals were in when the measurements and evaluations were performed.

The safety issue had been raised by a study published in December, 1995 which attempted to link chromosomal damage in the test tube to oral supplementation of chromium picolinate. These researchers used cultured Chinese hamster ovarian cancer cells to which they directly added unnaturally high amounts of chromium compounds, including chromium picolinate. Some of these cells showed chromosomal damage (clastogenic effects). 

This was not particularly surprising, since this concentration directly applied to these cells in a test tube was 3,000 times the blood level of people who are ingesting chromium picolinate as supplements! 

Very few essential minerals tested in this way would be found to be without toxicity; for example, merely doubling the blood concentration of the mineral calcium is fatal to humans. When tested by the Ames test (a specific test for mutagenicity) for cancer-causing potential, chromium picolinate was proven negative. 

Again, the standard medical reference on nutrition: 

"Trivalent chromium has such a low order of toxicity that deleterious effects from excessive intake of this form of Chromium do not occur readily. Trivalent chromium becomes toxic only at extremely high amounts.- chromium then acts as a gastric irritant rather than as a toxic element interfering with essential metabolism or biochemistry." 

Modern Nutrition In Health and Disease, Eighth Ed., 1994. Shils, Olson and Shike, eds.

Assessment of Chromium Status

One of the main problems that has hindered a more widespread interest and possible usage of chromium by the medical profession is the fact that gauging whether or not someone is chromium deficient or not cannot easily be done. The only generally accepted method for assessment of chromium status is to supplement an individual (who has abnormalities of either blood sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides or all three) with the trace clement and see if the laboratory values improve. If they do, then chromium insufficiency is presumed. This is an expensive and cumbersome process (especially when doing a glucose tolerance test). 


Indications are that marginal deficiency of Chromium, an essential trace mineral, may be widespread in industrialized nations. Further, the consequences of this deficiency may contribute to some of the manifestations of obesity, diabetes, abnormal blood lipids, hypertension and coronary artery disease in 20th century western society. 

Although some of the above is speculative, it would seem prudent for Americans to supplement their diets with small amounts of trivalent chromium (for example, 200 mcg of chromium picolinate) since the benefits of supplementation may be significant for certain individuals and the safety of this regimen is well-supported by a large amount of data. 

Postscript: What do Doctors Think About This?

You may now be asking: Why haven't I heard about this? Do my friends who are diabetics known about this? Does my doctor know anything about this? These are reasonable questions, and there are several issues involved in dealing with issues relating to the apparent lack of interest in chromium for diabetics. 
  • Doctors have traditionally shied away from techniques involving nutritional management of their patients. 
  • There is still no reliable way to test individuals for chromium status. 
  • The first few decades of Chromium research was complicated by contamination of the food or tissues being examined by significant amounts of chromium from the environment (the use of stainless steel laboratory equipment, for example). This resulted in confusing and contradictory results from different research facilities. By the early 1980s, this problem was resolved, however. 
  • The marketing of nutritional therapies to physicians and other health professionals is not nearly as extensive as pharmaceutical marketing; since profits from nutritional therapies are significantly smaller than those from pharmaceuticals, supplement manufacturers cannot justify the large capital outlays needed for the promotional and educational materials for physicians. In addition, representatives of drug manufacturers frequently call on physicians to present them with new research data and samples of their products. Direct mail and advertising are other means by which pharmaceutical manufacturers get important information about their products to doctors. The same promotional and educational budgets are not available in the nutritional area. 

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