Chromium Picolinate Update
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | September 28, 2004

Chromium picolinate has been in the news recently with research establishing the safety of this dietary supplement, in contrast to the negative reports from several years ago. (For a review, see The Newsletter of December 19, 2000: Chromium and the Cancer Issue). This Newsletter will focus on the safety of chromium picolinate as well as a couple of new studies that were recently published.

In September 2004, Ronald Slesinski, the president-elect of the Regulatory & Safety Specialty Section of the Society of Toxicology, reported the results of a safety review of chromium picolinate at a conference at the U. S. Centers for Disease Control. The conclusion was that based on a review of the literature, chromium picolinate was safe for human consumption with no carcinogenic effects observed. This confirms the recent the review of the literature done by the U. S. National Academy of Sciences to establish the Dietary Reference Intake levels (1). In that document, no upper limit was established for chromium because no negative effects were reported at any dose.

Does this mean that chromium picolinate is safe beyond all doubt? No. That claim could never be made. What it does mean is that in the doses that have been studied in humans, there is no cause for concern when using this supplement. In fact, there may be good reason to use chromium picolinate.

Chromium seems to help modulate blood sugar; for people who are insulin resistant, this is important. People who are insulin resistant make enough insulin to remove glucose from the blood stream, but their insulin receptors won’t accept the insulin, thus limiting the removal of sugar from the blood. Chromium appears to activate the insulin receptors, thereby keeping blood sugar levels closer to normal in response to carbohydrate intake. It doesn’t replace weight loss and exercise, but it can help.

In a recent study, researchers tested the blood sugar response of a group of normal-weight men who ate a high-glycemic meal after taking either a placebo, 400 mcg of chromium picolinate, or 800 mcg of chromium picolinate (2). The group taking chromium had a better response overall in reducing blood sugar than did the control group, although some men responded to the chromium and others did not. While not reported in the study, those who responded may have had more visceral adiposity (fat in the abdominal cavity) than those who didn’t respond, even though all men were in the normal-weight range. That might mean insulin resistance begins with a very slight increase in visceral adiposity--levels lower than currently thought.

Chromium may also be helpful in treating depression (3). In a recent study, subjects with clinical depression were given 600 mcg of chromium picolinate per day for eight weeks. Again, when broken into responders and nonresponders, there were measurable improvements in depression symptoms in those who took the chromium. It may be that insulin resistance has a role to play in depression, and modulating blood sugar helps, together with traditional treatment. Further research is warranted.

Where does this leave you? First, chromium picolinate appears to be safe--if that was an issue that prevented you from taking chromium picolinate, it shouldn’t be. Second, and more importantly, this recent research has provided possibilities for those who are insulin resistant and suffer from depression and erratic levels of blood sugar.

But remember to discuss chromium picolinate with your physician before you start self treating. If you’re insulin resistant, you’re pre-diabetic. That’s a metabolic disorder that should be monitored by your physician, and so should depression. You have to do your part by reducing body weight and getting fit through exercise. But chromium supplements may help your body make the transition from where you are to where you want to be. It’s worth discussing with your healthcare provider.

  1. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. 2000.

  2. Frauchiger MT, et al. Effects of acute chromium supplementation on postprandial metabolism in healthy young men. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004;23(4):351-7.

  3. Davidson JR, et al. Effectiveness of chromium in atypical depression: a placebo-controlled trial. Biol Psychiatry. 2003. 53(3):261-4.
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