Diabetes and Chromium: Can I Take Chromium For Diabetes, Cholesterol or Weight Loss?

by Cindy

Chromium and Diabetes

Like vitamin D deficiency and diabetes, another hot topic in medicine is the effect of chromium on diabetes, weight loss, hyperlipidemia and more.  This substance is currently being studied carefully in laboratory rats and the findings are exciting but controversial. 

What is Chromium?

Chromium is an important mineral that is needed for the body to function properly.  It is currently estimated that up to 90% of the American population consume too little chromium.  Chromium can be obtained through a healthy diet that contains foods rich in this essential element.  It is important to note that dietary chromium differs from the type of chromium that is commonly used industrially.  Chromium is present in many different types of foods such as whole grain products, lean meat, organ meats, mushrooms, nuts, thyme, black pepper and cheese. Brewer’s yeast is also high in chromium.

People who are at risk for low chromium levels include:

  • Elderly patients
  • People who have poor diets
  • People who do not exercise
  • Pregnant women

Chromium and Diabetes

Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas to keep normal blood sugar levels in balance.  In patients with type 2 diabetes, insulin production decreases and the use of insulin by the cells of the body is inefficient, resulting in high blood sugar.  Research has demonstrated that chromium is an essential element that plays a key role in the use of insulin by the body.  It has been linked to insulin use and sugar tolerance and some studies have shown that chromium helps the body use its own insulin more effectively, reducing blood sugar levels.  This is exciting news for type 2 diabetic patients who struggle against insufficient use and decreased production of insulin. 

Over the years, some studies have shown that supplementation with chromium may decrease blood glucose levels and may also lower the amount of exogenous insulin (injected insulin) that is needed by the type 2 diabetic patient.  Other studies have demonstrated that chromium supplements can reduce fasting blood sugar and the results of the a1c blood test, particularly when combined with biotin supplements.  At this time, data is still emerging but the effects of chromium on type 2 diabetes look promising.  Studies published as recently as May 2011 suggest that chromium derived from yeast sources can improve fasting blood sugars and improve cholesterol levels in diabetic patients!

Unfortunately, the research is not always consistent and there are many studies that show chromium to have no effect on glucose levels.  Due to inconclusive data, it is not yet clear if chromium replacement is beneficial in treating diabetes and the American Diabetes Association does not recommend for or against the use of chromium supplementation.

Chromium and High Cholesterol

Patients with diabetes often have elevated cholesterol levels.  Studies that have been conducted in lab rats suggest that chromium deficiency can raise cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Chromium has been found to be particularly helpful in raising cardio-protective HDL levels.  At this time, using supplements or chromium rich foods to lower cholesterol is not supported by scientific research.

Chromium and Weight Loss

Chromium supplements are often marketed as a weight loss tool and although many diabetics are interested in losing weight, studies have produced conflicting evidence regarding its benefit.  At this time, it does not seem that chromium has a significant effect on weight or muscle mass.

Using Chromium For Diabetes, Weight Loss or High Cholesterol

At this time there are no recommendations in place for the use of chromium as a supplement to treat chronic health conditions such as obesity, high cholesterol or diabetes because the research is not conclusive.  It is advised that patients get the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of chromium through dietary sources or supplements to maintain good health.   The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of chromium does vary depending on age:

  • Men Ages 19-50 years:  35 mcg per day
  • Women 19-50 years: 25 mcg per day
  • Men over 50 years: 30 mcg per day
  • Women over 50 years: 20 mcg per day
  • Pregnan Women over age 19: 30 mcg per day

Most supplements contain much more than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of chromium and the effects of this mineral in high doses is not well studied.  Always ask your doctor before starting any medication, chromium vitamin or supplement to be sure that it is right for you and that it will not interact with your medications.  High doses of chromium may not be safe in patients with depression, liver disease, kidney disease or anemia.  In addition, too much chromium may cause adverse side effects or organ damage.  Studies have shown that every individual responds to high doses of chromium differently meaning that some people may be more susceptible to toxicity from this supplement.  If you are interested in taking chromium supplements, ask your doctor first what dose may be safe for you.

 

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