What Is Chromium?
Chromium – specifically, trivalent chromium – is an essential trace element that some people use as a supplement. Chromium forms a compound in the body that seems to enhance the effects of insulin and help lower glucose levels. But it also has risks, and its use as a supplement is somewhat controversial.
Some studies have shown that chromium supplements may help people with type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance, a condition that causes your body to respond poorly to the naturally occurring hormone insulin. There’s scientific 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 in people who are chromium deficient, which usually only happens if you have poor nutrition overall.
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. But 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 haven't.
How Much Chromium Should You Take?
Experts don't know how much chromium people need. So there's 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, ages 19-50||25 micrograms/day|
|Women, ages 51 and older||20 micrograms/day|
|Men, ages 19-50||35 micrograms/day|
|Men, ages 51 and over||30 micrograms/day|
Many people get more chromium than that. But no one knows exactly how much more is safe. Too much chromium may actually worsen insulin sensitivity and lead to kidney or liver damage.
The doses used in studies vary. For example, in studies looking the effect of chromium supplements on people with diabetes, people have taken 200-1,000 micrograms daily, split into smaller doses, two to three times a day.
Foods With Chromium
It’s easy to get enough chromium through a well-balanced diet. Because the mineral comes from soil, it’s in most vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, along with grain- or grass-fed meats.
Processed meats like deli ham and bacon are also high in chromium, but research shows eating highly processed meat can increase your risk of chronic diseases.
These eight foods offer healthy sources of chromium:
Shellfish in general are a great source of chromium. Mussels stand out with 128 micrograms per 3.5-ounce serving, while oysters have 57 micrograms and brown shrimp offer 26 micrograms.
Most vegetables have some chromium, like green beans with 2.2 micrograms and mashed potatoes with 2.7 micrograms per cup. But a cup of cooked broccoli provides an impressive 22 micrograms.
3. Grape juice
Grapes are naturally rich in chromium, and grape juice offers a concentrated source of the mineral. One cup of grape juice contains about 7.5 micrograms of chromium. Look for 100% grape juice products, as many commercial brands add extra sugars, flavorings, and other ingredients that reduce the juice’s nutritional content.
4. Brewer’s yeast
Brewer’s yeast is used to make beer, but it’s also a nutritional supplement often mixed with drinks like water, juices, and smoothies. It’s rich in many vitamins and minerals, including 3.3 micrograms of chromium per tablespoon. But brewer’s yeast can cause bloating and nausea in some people.
Of all meats, lean beef contains the highest amount of chromium, with 2 micrograms per 3-ounce serving. You can also find chromium in turkey and chicken breast. Per 3-ounce serving, turkey has 1.7 micrograms and chicken has 0.5 micrograms.
Like its non-alcoholic cousin grape juice, wine contains high levels of chromium. Amounts vary based on the wine type and origin, with red wine samples containing between 1.7 and 21.4 micrograms per cup and white wines offering 1.6 to 10.5 micrograms per cup.
7. Brazil nuts
Brazil nuts are famous for their rich nutrient content for a reason. Just one nut has 1 microgram of chromium. But be careful not to eat too many. Brazil nuts are also packed with selenium, which can be dangerous in high doses. Doctors recommend eating no more than five Brazil nuts per day.
8. Whole wheat
Whole-wheat flour has 21 micrograms of chromium per 100 grams, which adds the mineral to many wheat-based products. A whole-wheat English muffin, for example, has 3.6 micrograms of chromium.
What Are the Risks of Taking Chromium?
There are risks to consider before you add this supplement to your diet, including:
- Side effects. Chromium seems to have few side effects. But 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, don't take chromium without talking to your doctor first.
- Interactions. Since chromium may affect blood sugar levels, it's crucial that anyone taking diabetesmedications, like insulin, use chromium only under the guidance of a doctor. Chromium may also interact with drugs like antacids, acid reflux drugs, corticosteroids, beta-blockers, insulin, thyroid medicine, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) painkillers. These interactions may cause the chromium to be poorly absorbed or boost the effect of the other medicine.
- Risks. If you 're pregnant or breastfeeding, don't take chromium supplements. Talk to a doctor before giving chromium supplements to children. Some experts say no one should take more than 200 micrograms a day without medical advice. The Institutes of Medicine hasn't set a tolerable upper intake level (UL) because few serious side effects have been seen with high chromium intake.