Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Who would have thought that a trace mineral could cause so much confusion? As a dietitian, I remember many of my patients asking me if they should take chromium supplements. It was always a gray area for me, based on the ever-changing research.

Chromium is called a trace mineral and is essential to the human body. It’s needed to help process carbohydrate, protein, and fat, and it enhances the action of insulin. Chromium is found primarily in two different forms: trivalent chromium, the kind found in food, and hexavalent chromium, a toxic form found in some chemical substances. Food sources of chromium include meat, chicken, eggs, liver, some fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and brewer’s yeast. However, the amount of chromium in food can vary depending on agricultural and manufacturing processes. According to the Institute of Medicine, a component of the National Academy of Sciences, adequate daily intakes of chromium for adult women and men range from 24–35 micrograms (mcg) per day, with men needing more than women.

The link between chromium and diabetes originated in the 1950s, when researchers were able to prevent diabetes in rats by feeding them brewer’s yeast. Chromium was deemed to be the magic ingredient and was thereafter called a “glucose tolerance factor,” or GTF for short. Since then, quite a bit of research has been done to study the effect of chromium on various health conditions, primarily in the areas of diabetes, lipid control (including cholesterol and triglyceride levels), and weight loss.

Back in 2004, interest was sparked when researchers reported a link between chromium picolinate supplements and improved insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance in people with diabetes. But, after more scrutiny, the conclusion was that most of the previous chromium studies had been flawed and that more research was needed.

A more recent, 6-month study published in 2005 showed improved insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance in people with Type 2 diabetes taking a sulfonylurea drug and 1,000 mcg of chromium (in the form of chromium picolinate) compared to a placebo group that didn’t take chromium. Those taking chromium also gained less weight than the placebo group. However, this study involved only 37 subjects. And another 6-month study, also published in 2005, looked at chromium doses of either 500 or 1,000 mcg in 46 obese subjects with poorly controlled Type 2 diabetes and found no effect on HbA1c levels (a measure of blood glucose control over time), weight, or lipid levels compared to placebo.

Fortunately, another, larger study is underway which will look at the effects of 1,000 mcg of chromium picolinate in lean and obese people with Type 2 diabetes. This four-year study is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and will hopefully clear up some of the confusion.

In the meantime, should you take a chromium supplement on the off chance it might help control your blood glucose levels? That’s something to discuss with your health-care team. At this time, there’s no compelling evidence that chromium has any beneficial effects on HbA1c, body weight, or lipid levels. If you already take chromium, don’t exceed doses of 400–800 mcg per day, and make sure you’re checking your blood glucose levels regularly. Report any possible side effects to your doctor. It’s also important to let your doctor know if you do take chromium (or any kind of supplement), as it can interact with some medicines, including beta-blockers, insulin, nicotinic acid (niacin), corticosteroids, ibuprofen, and aspirin.

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Comments
  1. After checking with my doctor, I had started taking a “Diabetic Nutrition” supplement by Spring Valley I found at WalMart. This had Chronim as well as Selinum. The pharmacist forewarned me that there are many reports that Chronim will raise bloodsugar and may cause other problems. I took her advise and checked my bloodsugar more frequently as well as not changing my diet and found that my blood sugar raised from 103 two hours after lunch (1:30) to 175-180 before dinner (5:00) and did not lower till the next morning where waking BS were 145-150 which normally is 125. I used this supplement for 3 days then stopped after it became apparent this was not helping me and I was starting to get headaches. Everything went back to “my normal”. I wouldn’t suggest anyone take Chronim supplement.

    Posted by Stardust_Blue |
  2. Chromium Supplementation has helped me reduce my weight by over 40 pounds and significantly lower my insulin levels to a healthy amount. You must take a high quality version of the supplement to receive these benefits. You cannot simply pick one off the shelf at a Walmart. I would suggest a natural or vitamin store and a trusted brand.

    Posted by Christine |
  3. Some people may benefit from chromium supplementation, while others may not. If you’re thinking about taking any kind of dietary supplement, read up on the pros and cons and talk it over with your provider. And remember that any supplement has the potential for side effects, so if you experience anything while taking a supplement, it’s probably wise to discontinue it and inform your provider.

    Posted by acampbell |
  4. While in my 30s I took chromium picolinate in a tablet with cider vinegar, lecithin and kelp to help me lose weight. This was combined with a reduction of fat intake, a lot of chicken breasts pan fried in orange or lemon juice and a small amount of exercise. It lasted 6 months and I lost 50 pounds in those 6 months.

    Now in my late 40s, after 20 years of sleep apnea, high ldl/triglycerides, low hdl and the doctor telling me I was “turning the corner” on the family history of diabetes I’ve returned to chromium picolinate supplements after reading “Chromium Picolinate Everything You Need to Know” by Dr. Gary Evans (who did a lot of research on the subject). He says when you become insulin resistant your insulin molecules become ovoid and chromium picolinate helps them return to round so they fit in the receptors. All I know is that after 6 months of taking 600mcg with every meal my blood pressure is so low I have them do it twice just to check accuracy (like 10 points lower over 6 points lower), my ldl is in line for the first time in 20 years, my triglycerides came down and my A1c is back in line. There are only three other changes I’ve made in my mostly sedentary life: I eat all the MUFAs I can, the inclusion of 25-35 grams of daily fiber by way of a powder I can mix with water and I learned to drive an 18 wheeler. I spend most of the day sitting while driving, but getting in and out is the best step class you can get! After the first 50 pounds losing weight was hard, but with the MUFAs, fiber and chromium I’ve managed another 10 in the last 6 months - only 40 more to go.

    Posted by velvetglass |
  5. I started taking NSI brand of chromium polynicotinate a couple of weeks ago, and very quickly my appetite decreased to the point that I sometimes have to force myself to eat. I plan to lose a lot of weight, and the chromium is making dieting effortless.

    Posted by ronald gaylord |
  6. I’m going to apologize in advance for the length of this. I’ve got a lot of experience and a lot to say about Chromium. First, I’m talking about TYPE 2 Diabetes. Type 1’s might use Chromium, but I’m sure it’s for OTHER reasons, such as weight loss.

    I’ve used Chromium Picolinate for 16 years to control my Type 2 diabetes. When I was first diagnosed, my B.S. was 780mg/dl. Needless to say I spent several days in the hospital, and nearly died. I was told I would never get off insulin and oral medication. I started taking Chromium a month later, and within 4 months was off insulin, and a year later off oral meds. I was off all meds until about 2 years ago. (that’s about 12 1/2 years with NO meds!)

    Most Doctors, nutritionists and pharmacists will, at best, say “well it won’t hurt you”. It’s not because they don’t believe in it, it’s because it’s not approved by the A.M.A., and they don’t want to get sued. And most of them also know that Chromium is not controlled like pharmaceuticals, and there is good and bad stuff out there. Also, quite frankly, the pharmaceutical companies want them to push their chemicals.

    DON’T expect to take Chromium for a few days and have it lower your blood sugar. It will take at least a month before it will START to have much effect. If your sugars go down right away, it’s because your exercising more or eating less. It takes 90 days for your blood to be completely replaced, and it takes at least that long for the Chromium to have it’s full effect. And that’s if you found a brand that is going to work. If you don’t see a change in a couple of months, try another brand or formulation.

    And just because you take the Chromium doesn’t mean you can go back to not exercising and eating all the junk that got you into trouble in the first place. You’re going to be diabetic for the rest of your life, so you have to continue to control your diet, exercise and take care of yourself. Chromium is not a cure. But if you take care of yourself, Diabetes is not a death sentence, it’s a life style.

    If the brand you use “goes bad” (this has happened to me a few times) Your blood sugar will slowly start going up over a period of months. That’s what makes it hard to know if it’s the chromium that has gone bad or if you’re having other problems.

    So even if your lucky enough to get your sugars down to normal all the time, DON’T stop checking them!!! If the Chromium goes bad, you won’t know
    until you start having other symptoms again.

    I will say you MUST be careful which Chromium you use. You may have to try several brands before you find one that works for you. The cheap junk from Walmart, Sams Club and Costco doesn’t work. I’ve found that Chromax (Chromium bound with Niacin)raises my blood sugar. For me Chromate seems to work, but it depends on the brand. Just because it’s a big name like Solaray doesn’t mean it works. It’s all in the formulation and the quality. Solaray used to work very well until they changed the formulation, now it raises my blood sugar.

    Over the years I’ve had to try numerous brands after the one I was using became no longer available or underwent a formulation change. Right now I’m searching for a new brand that works. And will hopefully get off the meds again.

    Posted by Steve H |
  7. I need to make a correction to previous post.
    Chromate is the niacin bound chromium that RAISES my blood sugar.

    CHROMAX is the form that I’ve used for many years.

    Posted by Steve H |
  8. Even 200 mcg can lower my blood sugar to much and make me faintish until i eat. My normal blood sugar is 110 (fasting). I don’t have diabetes. It ook it in the past and was fine, maybe something is up with the particular brand? It happened twice now with this brand so I stopped taking it. Years ago i was ok taking 200 mcg every day or so.

    Posted by July |
  9. Simple statement - I do not have diabetes and seems born out by facts. Lucky person.

    Therefore, you probably do not need added supplements to reduce glucose lower.

    For me, I need all the help I can get:

    metformin, diet, carbs control, exercise and supplements.

    So far I I am ok compared to the official type 2 constructs but not at 110.

    Bes wishes and good luck.

    Posted by jim snell |
  10. try megafood GTF chromium (100% whole food), that works for me to reduce my blood sugar and also lower down my blood pressure.

    Posted by Wen |
  11. “Fortunately, another, larger study is underway which will look at the effects of 1,000 mcg of chromium picolinate in lean and obese people with Type 2 diabetes. This four-year study is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and will hopefully clear up some of the confusion.”

    Any news? Almost six years have passed since you wrote the above blog entry.

    Thanks

    Posted by Grace |
  12. Hi Grace,

    I don’t see that this study has been published yet. However, a study has been done with a supplement called chromium dinicocysteinate. This supplement contains chromium, niacin and L-cysteine. Participants who took 400 micrograms of the supplement for 3 months had a 30% reduction in fasting insulin levels and insulin resistance compared with no significant improvements in those who took chromium picolinate or a placebo. And rats who were given chromium dinicocysteinate had lower blood glucose and A1C levels. However, it may be too soon to recommend this supplement, based on just a small handful of studies.

    Posted by acampbell |
  13. For those of you that are Chromium advocates. There is DEFINITELY alot of studies and info out there about Chromium benefits with glucose control and dieting; BUT, make sure that you are being safe. With more and more products adding Chromium, there are alot more incidences of kidney failure due to Chromium. Make sure you do you research and weight the benefits with the possible detrimental side affects.

    Posted by lanetted |
  14. Just been diagnosed type 2. My score was 7 which I think is now in old money. Anyway, no meds. yet just diet and exercise control. I’m not overweight and do regular ish exercise. I’m told no coffee or similar stimulant drinks and take Cinnamon and chromium as supplements. That’s it basically, however, from what I have read on this forum not quite so easy. Help. Drs not brilliant at handing out advice and tend not to be as aware at your . Level. No idea how to test oneself to monitor effects of chromium. Are there self testing kits or machines available, what is procedure and how often? At the moment I’m winging it without any supplements and just eat a well balanced diet including lots of rabbit food, fish and fruit and veg. Slowly cutting out evening puds!! No real symptoms except blood sugar at 7. Blood pressure healthy. I’m not complaining just a little confused what I can do for myself to maintain. Thank you.

    Posted by phil |
  15. Hi phil,

    I’m not aware of home test kits for chromium levels. I attended a talk at a diabetes conference, and the physician who spoke mentioned that most people have adequate blood chromium levels. He added that chromium supplements may be really only be helpful for those who have uncontrolled Type 2 diabetes. Given that your A1C was 7 (the goal for most people is less than 7), it’s hard to say if taking chromium will be that helpful to you. The research is very mixed in terms of its benefit. It sounds like you are on the right track in terms of your eating plan. Make sure you’re exercising most days of the week, too, as physical activity is just as important as your food choices in managing diabetes. Perhaps your doctor can refer you to a dietitian with experience in diabetes who can provide you with more specific guidance.

    Posted by acampbell |
  16. why don’t you reference your text?!

    Posted by daria |
  17. Moms diabetic and I’m pre-diabetic and since taking chromium (which was more for loosing weight) and increasing my activity (I sit in an office all day) my fasting b.s. is lower. Im getting the results of my blood test today so hopefully A1c is lower as well (was 6 but in a country where 12 % of the population has diabetes it’s a wake up call). Also take cinnamon and magnesium (also to assist in sleeping) to control b.s in combination. Seems to work well as now my after meal glucose is 130 and not 170/ 210.

    Posted by Kim |
  18. I’m diabetes 2 for 5 yrs now. unfortunately I have been stubborn and slow to change my bad eating habits, 30lbs overweight! Recently I started taking a product back in April called Glucocil, it contains all the ingredients that are supposed to be good to lower A1c. Chromium, cinnamon, berberine,,alpha lipoic acid, gymnema sylvestre and much more I can’t list. My most recent blood work in September resulted in my A1c dropping from 6.9 to 6.1, my lipids were all great especially my HDL, no matter what I do I can never get it above 25 but lab says it increased to 40! I also add powered cinnamon to plain yogurt when I eat it and take 400mg of magnesium daily along with a reg multi. I am waiting on new lab results this week and can’t wait to see the numbers. Anyway, it works for me, good luck to all.

    Posted by mary |
  19. I’ve had type 2 diabetes for about 3yrs probably undiagnosed for some time prior!
    I’ve been taking chromium picolinate (1000mcg) and cinnamon for 3 months now as an experiment along with gliclazide 80mg at breakfast AM and 500mg metformin with my evening meal, in 6 months my metformin has been reduced from 2000mg to 500mg, also exercising for an hour 2 or 3 times a week.
    HbA1C from 179 down to 70mg, hence reduction in metformin.
    I have a liver problem due to past lifestyle and would be please if any input could be offered regarding effects of chromium on the liver.
    Thanks

    Posted by Andy |
  20. Hi Andy,

    Excellent results! However, given your history of a liver problem, you need to be very careful about taking chromium. “High doses” of this may lead to issues with both the kidneys and the liver, although the Institute of Medicine has not set a Tolerable Upper Intake Level for this supplement. The daily acceptable intake for chromium for men is set at 30 to 35 mcg. To be on the safe side, talk to your doctor and let him or her know that you’re taking this (and at what dose). Your doctor may decide to check your liver function tests to make sure that there are no adverse effects on your liver.

    Posted by acampbell |
  21. Hi! I’m not understanding the link of chromium and diabetes. I just got back my micronutrient test and I am deficient in chromium. I have hyperthyroidism caused by an auto-immune disease called Graves’ Disease. I can tell you 3 years prior, I had very low blood sugar. I don’t have diabetes (that I know of). The NP said maybe hypoglycemia. If I start taking Chromium, what will it do? I see weight loss in the comments up above. I also saw blood sugar spike and a decrease in blood sugar. I don’t think I need a decrease in blood sugar… But I do need to get my Chromium levels back to normal. I tried finding links between Graves Disease and chromium. I see that Vitamin B12, selenium, and magnesium are the top 3 deficiencies. Any suggestions? Thank you!

    Posted by LO'Dell |
  22. Hi LO’Dell,

    If you are deficient in chromium, you will very likely need to take a supplement, but then have your level checked after a period of time. You may not need to take chromium indefinitely. If you don’t have diabetes, it’s unlikely that taking chromium will affect your blood sugar. You should also note that chromium supplements can interfere with thyroid medication, so you should take them 3–4 hours apart from each other.

    Posted by acampbell |
  23. Hi,

    My husband is 42 yr old, 6 ft and 191lbs last night he was admitted to the hospital because his blood sugar level was 563. He has a family history of diabetes, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure. The hospital gave him insulan and a couple hours later it dropped to 132, he ate a salad and it went to 213 and this morNing it was 352. He doesn’t want to take any insulan or any medication, what natural ways can help his blood sugar stabalize? I’ve read chromium, magnesium, cinnamon. What doses? What’s best?
    Thank you

    Posted by Jackie |
  24. Hi Jackie,

    Hopefully the doctor can determine what type of diabetes your husband has. If he has Type 1 diabetes, he will need to take insulin, because his pancreas no longer makes it. If he has Type 2 diabetes, he may be able to take other types of diabetes medicines, such as pills, to help manage his blood sugar in addition to following a healthy eating plan and doing regular physical activity. Given that his blood sugars have been so high, it’s unlikely that taking cinnamon or chromium will be enough to get them down to a safe level. However, you and he should talk with his doctor, find out what type of diabetes he has, and discuss treatment options. There are people who have Type 2 diabetes who can manage their diabetes with a healthy lifestyle and weight loss, so it’s certainly possible. I’d also suggest that you and he meet with a dietitian to discuss his eating plan.

    Posted by acampbell |

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