Dietary supplements have been recognized as an important weapon to counteract the symptoms as well as causes of type 2 diabetes; not only by practitioners of alternative medicine but also by mainstream medical physicians. Functional medicine practitioners have also been using supplements to reduce the stress of side effects of prescription anti-diabetic drugs that cause both short-term and long-term health complications due to removal of vital nutrients from the body.
Chromium has garnered a lot of interest, in recent times, with people with diabetes type 2 as it has been reported that chromium picolinate has been found to lower blood glucose levels. Chromium is an essential mineral that helps insulin regulate blood sugar level in our body. All metabolic reactions of chromium are insulin dependent. Adequate chromium consumption decreases our requirement of insulin and improves our blood lipid profile. Chromium is used by the body to make Glucose Tolerance Factor, a biologically-active compound that enhances activity of insulin by as much as three times. This activity has led to studies that show the importance of chromium for diabetes type 2.
What Does Research Say About Chromium and Diabetes?
The earliest study that showed the effect of chromium supplementation in decreasing symptoms of diabetes was done in the 1970s, when a patient was given supplemental chromium. Within two weeks, the patient showed distinct improvement in signs and symptoms, blood sugar levels improved and insulin requirements were greatly reduced.
These and many other studies implicated chromium as a critical cofactor in insulin action. In a study with Chinese subjects with Type 2 Diabetes, patients that received a chromium picolinate diabetes dosage of 500 micrograms (μg) twice per day of chromium picolinate showed significant improvement as far as blood sugar levels and requirement of insulin was concerned.
A study found that elevated chromium supplementation was involved in control of type 2 diabetes. 180 adults with type 2 diabetes were treated with placebo and differing levels of chromium supplements. Data suggested that supplemental chromium has significant effects on HbA1c levels, glucose, insulin and cholesterol.
Another study with 72 type 2 diabetes patients discovered that chromium supplementation gives better control of glucose and lipid levels while decreasing drug dosage.
Chromium has also been found beneficial in increasing muscle gain and fat loss associated with exercise. It also improves glucose metabolism and lipid profile in individuals even without diabetes.
Absorbed chromium combines with a protein called transferrin which carries it through blood inside insulin-insensitive cells. There, chromium is released and it then combines with a compound called low molecular weight chromium binding substance (LMWCr). Binding with chromium activates LMWCr and it then participates in a complex chain reaction that amplifies the action of insulin.
Chromium’s insulin sensitivity-enhancing activity comes from its ability to deactivate an enzyme that makes certain structural changes to insulin receptors, thereby not allowing the insulin to bind effectively to the receptors. By deactivating the enzyme, chromium protects the integrity of the receptors and allows effective binding of insulin, increasing insulin sensitivity.
Natural Sources of Chromium
To enhance body levels of chromium for diabetes control, you need to consume foods rich in the mineral. Foods rich in chromium are:
- Sea food (shellfish, mussels, oysters – best natural sources of chromium)
- Whole grains
- Brown rice
- Green beans
- Brewer’s yeast
- Chicken breast, and legs
- Dairy products and
- Fresh vegetables.
Herbs are also rich in chromium. Herb sources of chromium include:
- Wild yam
- Red clover and
How Much of Chromium Helps?
The RDA (Recommended Daily Allowances) for chromium has been established by the US Academy of Sciences as 50 – 200 μg/day for adult men and women. And yet, Americans normally ingest only around 50-60% of the minimum suggested daily intake of 50 μg. This means that normal dietary intake of chromium for an adult is suboptimal.
Most studies have used 200 μg of chromium, 1 to 3 times a day. The polynicotinate seems to work better because it is a form in which chromium is bound to niacin, which improves cellular effectiveness. A 200 μg per day seems to be a safe starting dose, especially under medical supervision.
Chromium is commercially available in several forms, like
- Chromium picolinate
- Chromium histidinate
- Chromium nicotinate
- Chromium-enriched yeast
- Chromium chloride
- Glucose tolerance factor (GTF)
Chromium is available as part of many multivitamins or alone in tablet and capsule forms.
Is Chromium Safe?
Chromium ingested through foods is safe. When it is consumed in the form of supplements, you need to be sure that you do not consume it in quantities greater than those recommended. Also, supplemental chromium is different from the industrial chromium which is toxic. Industrial chromium may be accidentally ingested by workers or people living in the vicinity. Industrial chromium may be absorbed by the lungs, digestive tract and skin and can cause severe health problems like respiratory problems, skin allergies, kidney and liver problems and cancers.
Some antacids (those containing calcium carbonate) may interfere with chromium absorption and may reduce the amount of chromium your body gets. You need to avoid taking chromium supplements at the time of taking these antacids.
Medications like aspirin, naproxen and ibuprofen may raise chromium levels in the body. You need to stop taking chromium supplements when you are taking these pain killers.
Corticosteroids like prednisone are prescribed to reduce inflammation. Such corticosteroids may reduce the chromium levels in the body.
People with liver or kidney disease as well as people with anemia should not take chromium supplementation before consulting with their healthcare advisors.
Chromium reduces blood sugar levels. So if you are already on anti-diabetic drugs that reduce blood sugar, you need to be very careful with your chromium supplements. If you intend to take chromium supplements, your doctor will need to adjust the dosage of your anti-diabetic medication.
Side Effects of Chromium
Side effects can arise only when chromium is taken in excess. These are:
- Stomach problems
- Damage to liver, kidneys and nerves
- Arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythm)
- Skin irritatio
- Mood changes
- Impaired thinking, judgment and coordination
- Blood disorders
Excessive chromium supplementation may make depression and anxiety worse.
Final Verdict on Chromium for Diabetes
Chromium is a vital nutrient that is part of the system that accentuates the action of insulin. This makes it clear that chromium is absolutely vital for glucose metabolism. Its supplementation in type 2 diabetics is of immense value to reduce the dependence on anti-diabetic medication.
Chromium supplementation has also shown positive effects in people without diabetes. It could be argued that people should take chromium to prevent diabetes as the health benefits of chromium are immense, especially with regards to glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity. Research has also shown that people, in general, do not consume enough chromium and that it has to be supplemented in one way or the other for positive health benefits.
Dietary supplements can reduce the burden of health complications by prescription medicine and also help in mitigating the risks of chronic lifestyle disorders like type 2 diabetes. A balanced, healthy diet along with an active lifestyle is the key to lasting health and wellness.