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Chromium -- specifically, trivalent chromium -- is an essential trace element that's used by some people as a supplement. Perhaps most importantly, chromium forms a compound in the body that seems to enhance the effects of insulin and lower glucose levels. However, it also had risks and its use is somewhat controversial.  

Why do people take chromium?

Some studies have shown that chromium supplements may be helpful for people with type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance (prediabetes). There’s good evidence that chromium can lower glucose levels and improve insulin sensitivity, although not all studies have shown a benefit. It may be that chromium works better if someone is chromium deficient, which is usually only seen if a person has poor overall nutrition. Other studies have also found that chromium may help with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is linked to insulin resistance.

Chromium supplements have also been studied for their effects on cholesterol, heart disease risk, psychological disorders, Parkinson's disease, and other conditions. However, the study results have been contradictory or unclear.

Some people use chromium supplements to build muscle or trigger weight loss. Some chromium studies have shown these benefits, but others have not.

How much chromium should you take?

Experts don't know how much chromium people need. So there is no recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for chromium. Instead, experts came up with a minimum amount of chromium that people should get.

Adequate Intakes (AI) of Chromium

Women, aged 19-50

 25 mcg/day

Women, aged 50 and older

 20 mcg/day

Men, aged 19-50

 35 mcg/day

Men, aged 50 and over

30 mcg/day

Many people get more chromium than that. However, no one knows exactly how much more is safe. Some researchers suggest that 1,000 micrograms a day should be considered the upper limit. Excessive doses of chromium may actually worsen insulin sensitivity.

The doses used in clinical studies vary. For example, for diabetes, people have taken 200-1,000 micrograms daily, split two to three times a day.

Can you get chromium naturally from foods?

Most people get enough chromium from food. Foods that are good sources of chromium include:

  • Vegetables such as broccoli, potatoes, and green beans
  • Whole-grain products
  • Beef and poultry
  • Fruits, including apples and bananas
  • Milk and dairy products

What are the risks of taking chromium?

  • Side effects. Chromium seems to have few side effects. There have been some reports of chromium causing occasional irregular heartbeats, sleep disturbances, headaches, mood changes, and allergic reactions. Chromium may increase the risk of kidney or liver damage. If you have kidney or liver disease, do not take chromium without talking to your doctor first.
  • Interactions. Since chromium may affect blood sugar levels, it is crucial that anyone taking diabetes medications, like insulin, only use chromium under the care of a medical doctor. Chromium may also interact with medicines like antacids, acid reflux drugs, corticosteroids, beta-blockers, insulin, and NSAID painkillers. These interactions may cause the chromium to be poorly absorbed or amplify the effect of the other medicine.
  • Risks. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should not take chromium supplements. For children, consult a doctor. Some experts recommend that no one should take more than 200 mcg/day without medical advice. Doses of 1,000 mcg/day may be dangerous -- there is a theoretical risk that it could increase the risk of cancer. So don't use chromium in high doses without talking to your doctor first.

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