Chromium is a mineral our bodies
use in small amounts for normal body functions, such as digesting food.
Chromium exists in many natural foods including brewer’s yeast, meats, potatoes
(especially the skins), cheeses, molasses, spices, whole-grain breads and
cereals, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Drinking hard tap water supplies
chromium to the body, and cooking in stainless-steel cookware increases the
chromium content in foods.
You can buy chromium supplements alone
in tablets or capsules or as part of a multivitamin. But because the human body
needs very little chromium, most people get enough in their regular diet and do
not require dietary supplements. Those at risk for chromium deficiency include
diabetes and the elderly.
What is chromium used for?
Chromium helps to move
blood sugar (glucose) from the bloodstream into the cells to be used as energy
and to turn fats, carbohydrates, and proteins into energy.
Chromium may help some people with
type 2 diabetes. It may help them control their blood
sugar and may play a role in the management of type 2 diabetes. But more
studies are needed to know how well it really works.
Chromium supplements are promoted as being helpful in building
muscle and burning fat and in helping the body use carbohydrates. But this has
not been proved.
Chromium may affect the eyes. There is a link
between low chromium levels and increased risk of
Chromium slows the loss of calcium, so it may help prevent bone
loss in women during
Is chromium safe?
The chromium found in foods will
not hurt you. But taking excessive chromium supplements can lead to stomach
problems and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Too much chromium from
supplements can also damage the liver, kidneys, and nerves, and it may cause
irregular heart rhythm. But side effects from taking chromium supplements are
Antacids (including calcium carbonate) interfere with the
absorption of chromium.
Being exposed to high levels of chromium
on the job (such as in metallurgy and electroplating) has been linked not only
to kidney damage but also to lung and other cancers as well as skin conditions
eczema and other inflammations of the skin.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary
supplements in the same way it regulates medicines. A dietary supplement can be
sold with limited or no research on how well it works or on its safety.
Always tell your doctor if you are using a dietary supplement or if you
are thinking about combining a dietary supplement with your conventional
medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical
treatment and rely only on a dietary supplement. This is especially important
for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
When using dietary
supplements, keep in mind the following:
Like conventional medicines, dietary
supplements may cause side effects, trigger allergic reactions, or interact
with prescription and nonprescription medicines or other supplements you might
be taking. A side effect or interaction with another medicine or supplement may
make other health conditions worse.
The way dietary supplements
are manufactured may not be standardized. Because of this, how well they work
or any side effects they cause may differ among brands or even within different
lots of the same brand. The form of supplement that you buy in health food or
grocery stores may not be the same as the form used in research.
Other than for vitamins and minerals, the long-term effects of
most dietary supplements are not known.
Chromium (2009). In A DerMarderosian et al., eds., Review of Natural Products. St. Louis: Wolters Kluwer Health.
Chromium supplementation (2006). Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, 48(1226): 7–8.
Murray MT, Pizzorno JE Jr (2006). Obesity. In JE
Pizzorno Jr, MT Murray, eds., Textbook of Natural Medicine, 3rd ed., pp. 1947–1960. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
Schauss AG (2006). Suggested optimum nutrient intake
of vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. In JE Pizzorno Jr, MT Murray, eds.,
Textbook of Natural Medicine, 3rd ed., pp. 1275–1314.
Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
Primary Medical Reviewer
Adam Husney, MD, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer
Marc S. Micozzi, MD, PhD - Complementary and Alternative Medicine
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.