Chromium

Chromium is an essential mineral that the body needs in trace amounts. It is naturally present in a wide variety of foods, though only in small amounts, and is also available as a supplement. Chromium enhances the action of the hormone insulin. [1) It is also involved in the breakdown and absorption of carbohydrate, proteins, and fats. Vitamin B3 (niacin) and vitamin C help to improve the absorption of chromium.

Recommended Amounts

There is not enough data to establish a Recommended Dietary Allowance for chromium. [2] An Adequate Intake (AI) was set as an estimated safe and adequate daily dietary intake for chromium.

AI: The AI for men ages 19-50 years is 35 micrograms daily, and for women ages 19-50 years, 25 micrograms daily. Men and women older than 50 years require slightly less, at 30 and 20 micrograms daily, respectively. For pregnancy and lactation, the AI is 30 and 45 micrograms daily.

UL: A Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) is the maximum daily dose unlikely to cause adverse side effects in the general population. A UL has not been established for chromium, because a toxic level has not been observed from food sources or from longer-term intakes of high-dose supplements.

Chromium and Health

Potential downsides of chromium supplements

Chromium supplements are a popular go-to for people hoping to improve blood sugar control with diabetes, enhance muscle mass, or lose weight. Research has not confirmed their effectiveness for any of these conditions, and there are isolated reports of negative side effects. These include diarrhea, vertigo, hives, and headaches. [10] Case reports have described kidney damage in doses of 1,200-2,400 micrograms daily for four months. [11] Chromium supplements can interfere with many medications, among them corticosteroids, proton pump inhibitors, beta-blockers, insulin, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. [2]

Food Sources

Chromium is found in small amounts in a range of foods. However, chromium content varies even among the same types of food, likely due to mineral variations in the soil in which it was grown. Chromium may also be inadvertently added into a food when it is processed with stainless steel equipment.

Signs of Deficiency and Toxicity

Deficiency

A chromium deficiency is rare, even though the mineral is poorly absorbed, with only about 5% or less absorbed in the gut. [12] Diets high in refined sugars can cause more chromium to be excreted in the urine. Pregnancy and lactation, strenuous exercise, and physical stress from infections and trauma can also increase chromium losses. A risk of chromium deficiency increases with these scenarios if the diet is also low in chromium (most commonly seen with general malnutrition or acute illness that causes a deficiency of many nutrients).

Toxicity

Harmful side effects linked to high intakes of chromium from food or supplements exist but are rare. This may be because chromium is poorly absorbed in the gut. Therefore a Tolerable Upper Intake Level has not been established by the Institute of Medicine. This is a level set as a maximum intake that is unlikely to cause adverse health effects. However, caution should be used with high dose supplements of any trace mineral; a few case studies found an association with chromium supplements and kidney and liver damage. [1]

Did You Know?

  • Although only present in small amounts in food, chromium is one of the most common elements in the earth’s crust and seawater. [3]
  • Chromium exists in two main forms: trivalent chromium (III) and hexavalent chromium (VI). Trivalent chromium is the type found in food and supplements and is not toxic. Hexavalent chromium is found with industrial pollution and is toxic and carcinogenic when inhaled. Symptoms of a latter toxicity include dermatitis, skin ulcers, and kidney and liver damage.

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