If you have been amazed at the wonders of trace minerals like zinc and boron, you’ll want to spend a few minutes learning how chromium can improve your health! This amazing mineral is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and bone loss- miss out on this one, and you could be laying the foundation for a life-threatening chronic illness. Chromium is hard to get from your diet, so we will explain at the end of this post how you can maximize your intake from a balanced diet and smart supplements!
Chromium Deficiency Increases Disease Risk
When former director of the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center Dr. Walter Mertz, MD first discovered biologically active chromium, he found it bound to niacin (vitamin B3) in Brewer’s yeast. As you many have noted from other posts about, for instance, the discovery of the B vitamins, yeast has played a central role in our discovery of several important micronutrients. This was no exception. Mertz also discovered that chromium plays a key role in our ability to extract energy from carbohydrates: chromium appeared to be part of a key compound called “glucose tolerance factor,” or GTF. He was so impressed by his results that he deeply believed, as he wrote in 1959, that type 2 diabetes was the inevitable disease state resulting from deficiency of GTF. Today, we know that there are many roads to diabetes paved with micronutrient deficiency, and chromium is one of several micronutrients (like zinc, magnesium, or vitamin B6) that play critical roles in the symphony of balanced blood sugar metabolism. While the exact mechanism of how GTF works is under debate, it is clear that it is composed of chromium, niacin (vitamin B3), and the amino acids glycine, glutamic acid, and cysteine. GTF may also reduce heart disease risk because it has been shown to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides, at least in part due to its effect on blood sugar. That is extremely powerful information in a world facing an epidemic of type 2 diabetes and heart disease!
Your body contains several milligrams of chromium- tops. There is an adequate intake of chromium, meaning more research is needed for a more solid recommended allowance. Toxicity is likely possible from over-supplementation, but due to a lack of evidence of toxicity thus far, there is no set upper limit.
Are you at High Risk for Chromium Deficiency?
Chromium deficiency and insufficiency is associated with problems like:
- Cold Hands
- Cold Sweats
- Need for frequent meals
- Impaired Glucose Tolerance
- Insulin Resistance / Type 2 Diabetes
- High Cholesterol
- High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
- Decreased Fertility
Most people deficient in chromium simply do not consume enough. For instance we found in our research that in all four popular diet plans we analyzed, from Atkins (low carb) to the DASH (high carb) diet, not one provided the adequate intake of chromium! Beyond inadequate intake, people at the greatest risk of chromium deficiency and insufficiency include:
- People consuming a high carbohydrate and/or high sugar diet
- People consuming a vegan or vegetarian diet
- People consuming a primal or paleo diet
- People experiencing chronic stress
- Elderly people (still up for clinical debate, but the elderly generally have impaired mineral absorption from reduced stomach acid production)
- People with low stomach acid production and/or take antacid medications
- People with type 2 diabetes
How Chromium Supports Metabolism
Chromium is an important trace mineral that you must consume in order to survive and has several important functions:
- Promotes a Healthy Pregnancy. Chromium is essential for fetal growth and development.
- Helps Balance Blood Sugar. As mentioned above, chromium is a key part of GTF, which increases the action of insulin and improves insulin sensitivity. Insulin helps you get sugar from your bloodstream (glucose) into your cells where it can be used as energy. When this system fails, sugar stays in the bloodstream and both damages tissues in your body wherever very sugary blood flows and encourages your liver to convert and store those excess sugars as triglycerides (fat).
- Helps Control Cholesterol Levels. Chromium can help reduce cardiovascular disease risk in some by improving cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels. As mentioned above, high blood sugars are linked to high triglyceride production and an overall increase in circulating cholesterol levels, correlated with an increased risk of high blood pressure.
Given these metabolic skills, chromium may be used in the prevention and/or treatment of:
- Alzheimer’s Disease / Dementia
- Cognitive Function
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Cardiovascular Disease
- High Cholesterol
- Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
- Metabolic Syndrome
Clearly, chromium is too important for you to ignore! Let’s focus for a moment on two common conditions that can be deeply affected by chromium deficiency:
- Diabetes. Chromium is important for glucose tolerance and sufficient levels lower diabetes risk. Let’s look at one publication of over 28,000 United States adults examined for chromium supplementation and diabetes risk. A 2015 publication published in The Journal of Nutrition using data from the United States 1999-2000 National Health And Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) database significantly correlated regular chromium supplementation in the previous month with reduced odds of having type 2 diabetes! Interestingly, just taking dietary supplements without chromium did not result in a reduced diabetes risk. Clinical research tends to show that those who show an improvement in blood sugar with chromium supplementation may be more likely to be insufficient or deficient in the first place, because not everyone with diabetes improves with chromium supplementation.
- Cardiovascular Disease. Chromium can help reduce cardiovascular disease risk in some by improving cholesterol and triglyceride levels. High blood sugars can raise triglycerides and total cholesterol and damage the walls of arteries, resulting in an increased risk of high blood pressure.
Don’t Come Up Short on Chromium!
With all these amazing benefits of adequate chromium status, let’s break down how to get it with a focus on foods, mindful lifestyle choices, and smart supplementation.
STEP ONE – FOOD: Choose foods rich in chromium and avoid foods that deplete it.
- Choose foods rich in chromium. Animal proteins have more bioavailable chromium than plant proteins. Rich sources include lean meats, cheese, oysters, turkey, legumes (beans, peas, and peanuts), nuts, whole grains, broccoli, onions, tomatoes, and romaine lettuce.
- Power up with Protein. Vegan and vegetarian diets have been associated with chromium deficiency due to a low animal protein intake and sometimes low stomach acid production, which hinders chromium absorption. Even vegetarian sources of protein that may contain higher levels of chromium, such as whole grains and legumes, will require adequate stomach acid for chromium absorption. Consider diversifying your protein intake or covering your bases with a high quality multivitamin (like our multivitamin Nutreince).
- Avoid Antinutrients. Chromium is hard to digest and absorb from foods containing high levels of phytates, which also block absorption of niacin (vitamin B3), vitamin D, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and calcium. Sprouting and soaking your legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds can reduce (but not eliminate) the anti-nutritive effect of phytates. You’ll find higher phytate levels in grains and plant proteins such as wheat, oats, brown rice, corn, soy and other legumes, nuts, and seeds (including flax and chia). Some fruits and vegetables are particularly high in phytates, such as figs, artichokes, carrots, potatoes, broccoli, strawberries, and apples.
- Choose whole foods and consider your cooking methods. Food processing, such as refining wheat flour, removes most chromium content from the grain as it is found in the germ. Chromium found naturally in sugar cane is also removed during the process of making sugar.
- Avoid Excessive Alcohol. Alcohol reduces your ability to absorb chromium as well as fat soluble vitamins, water soluble vitamins, essential fatty acids, other important minerals, and amino acids.
- Step away from the Sugar. High sugar intake causes increased excretion of chromium. Consume lots of sugar or high fructose corn syrup and you will risk depleting chromium as well as vitamin C, calcium, copper, and magnesium. Avoid pre-packaged goods with added sugars in any form, especially corn syrup, dextrose, sucrose, and fructose. For a complete breakdown of sugary additives in processed food products, consult our books, – Naked Calories, Rich Food Poor Food, The Micronutrient Miracle and Rebuild Your Bones.
- Monitor for MSG. Monosodium glutamate can drive sensitivities in many people and depletes chromium, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, and selenium. Many prepackaged food items and some restaurant foods contain MSG, the “flavor enhancer.” Use natural proteins high in glutamate, such as meats, fish, poultry, beans, or mushrooms to savor the flavor and skip the MSG. Again, you’ll find a list of ingredients that may indicate your food choices contains MSG, in any of our our books!
STEP TWO – LIFESTYLE: Consider your digestion, medications, and overall health to support your chromium status. There is a lot you can do to reduce your risk of depletion!
- Mind your Medications. These medications can deplete chromium levels. Check out this list ti determine whether you are at risk for medication-induced deficiency:
- Beta Blocking Drugs such as Atenolol (Tenormin, Senorman), Nadalol (Corgard), and Metaprolol (Lopressor, Toprol XL)
- Loop Diuretics such as bumetanide (Bumex, Burinex), ethacrynic acid (Edecrin), furosemide (Lasix), and torsemide (Demadex)
- Antacids such as Gaviscon, Gelusil, Maalox, and Mylanta
- H2 inhibitors / H2 blockers such as Axid, Pepcid, Tagamet, and Zantac
- Proton Pump Inhibitors such as lansoprazole (Prevacid), omeprazole (Losec, Prilosec), rabeprazole (Aciphex), and pantoprazole (Pantoloc, Protonix, Nexium)
- Corticosteroids such as cortisone (Cortone), hydrocortisone (Cortef, Hydrocortone), prednisone (Deltasone, Meticorten, Orasone, Panasol-S), prednisolone (Delta-Cortef, Prelone, Pediapred), triamcinolone (Aristocort, Atolone, Kenacort), methylprednisone (Medrol), fluticasone (Flonase, Cutivate, Veramyst), and beclomethasone (Beconase, Qvar, Vancenase, Vanceril)
- Soothe Stress. Make time for yourself to rest, digest, and relax. Chromium is drawn on to help balance blood sugar during an excessive stress response. Excessive stress depletes zinc, selenium, magnesium, potassium, iodine, iron, copper, calcium, vitamin A, all of the B vitamins, vitamins C, D, and E, omega-3 fatty acids, and certain amino acids. That’s stressful just to think about.
- Munch Mindfully. Giving your body time to eat makes a huge difference in digesting starches in your mouth and increasing the production of the stomach acid that can help you digest your chromium-containing plant (and animal) protein foods.
STEP THREE – SUPPLEMENTATION: Chromium is great- in moderation. Be smart!
- Avoid excessive supplementation of chromium. The adequate intake for chromium was reduced from 120 mcg to 35 mcg in the newest RDI recommendations, likely to be conservative as no solid upper limit has been formally set. We simply do not know yet whether high doses of chromium are safe and effective in the long term. Furthermore, excessive chromium supplementation may compete with iron and vanadium for binding and absorption, so type 2 diabetics with a chronic mild anemia may want to take particular note.
- Seek Synergy. Seek out the sweet spot for supplementation to get the most out of your micronutrients- help them work together! Vitamin C increases chromium absorption and chromium is better absorbed with niacin.
- Choose beneficial forms. Common forms of chromium in supplements include chromium polynicotinate, chromium picolinate, and chromium chloride. To our knowledge, the supplemental form of chromium that works the best at supporting blood sugar is chromium polynicotinate, a biologically active, niacin (vitamin B3)-bound form of chromium that is easier to absorb than inorganic forms, and may also be more easy to utilize. Find this form in Nutreince.
- Roll with the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI). The new adult RDI for chromium is 35 mcg, and we provide 35 mcg per day in Nutreince to help you meet sufficiency. This should be enough to obtain micronutrient sufficiency- unless you have reasons to suspect additional depletion like those mentioned above. In that case you can take an additional 35 – 120 mcg of chormium polynicotinate with your AM nutreince (not PM) to avoid any competitions.
Convinced you should care about Chromium yet?
Yes, that same chrome on a shiny hubcap is made out of chromium, which plays an important role in reducing your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, also preserves bone mineral by reducing the loss of calcium in the urine, promotes collagen production, increases adrenal DHEA levels, improves insulin regulation, and reduces the rate of bone resorption – just in much smaller quantities! Not only is chromium important in its own right, but some of the tools and tips we recommend for maximizing your intake and minimizing your losses can be helpful for improving your levels of other essential minerals, as well! In short, ditch the depleters, eat a chromium-friendly diet, and supplement safely – you got this!