For IDEAL WEIGHT, chromium reduces sugar cravings, helps to balance appetite and boost our desire for healthy whole foods, and it is essential for our bodies to utilize correct amounts of carbohydrates and fats, and eliminate any excess. Chromium is also crucial for insulin to regulate blood sugar by transporting glucose into cells. To maintain ideal weight, our bodies need trace amounts of chromium on a daily basis, as it is rapidly cleared from the body.
Chromium is an essential trace mineral that is not made by the body, and so it must be obtained from the diet. Natural food sources include whole grains, brewer’s yeast, oysters, green beans, broccoli, prunes, nuts, peanut butter, and potatoes. Chromium is important in the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates, another important role for achieving an ideal weight. It stimulates a correct balance of fatty acid and cholesterol synthesis, so that just the important fats needed for brain function, hormone balance, and cell membrane development are present in the right amounts. This is partly due to chromium aiding insulin’s action on fats and glucose metabolism.
For optimal weight, chromium in an absorbable nicotinate or picolinate form is especially effective when enhanced by vanadium, a trace mineral that helps with blood sugar control, and the classic blood sugar-balancing botanical Gymnema sylvestre.
Chromium forms part of glucose tolerance factor (GTF), a foundational molecule which also includes niacin. GTF is necessary for insulin to efficiently move glucose into cells. Without chromium, insulin fails and blood sugar levels rise. Chromium absorption from our intestines is very low: less than 2.5% of ingested chromium actually enters our tissues. Several conditions also cause the body to lose chromium. Diets high in simple sugars can increase chromium outflow in the urine. Infection, intense exercise, pregnancy and lactation, and stress can worsen chromium loss, and may lead to deficiency. With aging, the body’s chromium levels tend to significantly decrease, and reports suggest that older people are more vulnerable to chromium depletion than younger adults.
Evidence shows several ways in which chromium can support ideal weight by helping insulin to bring blood sugar and fats to optimal levels:
- Chromium can increase insulin sensitivity and stimulate insulin receptor sites, so that insulin attaches better to cells and works more effectively.
- Similar to metformin, experts believe that chromium decreases insulin resistance.
- Chromium may increase insulin binding to red blood cells, so that the insulin is efficiently transported in the blood to all parts of the body.
- Chromium can increase insulin receptor number or enhance receptor proteins, and increase insulin internalization in cells, so insulin can better enter into cells.
- The glucose sensitivity of pancreatic beta cells, which make the body’s insulin, is increased by chromium.
- Once chromium restores optimal insulin activity, then nitric oxide synthesis is boosted which opens blood vessels and improves blood flow.
Although chromium has been used for blood sugar balance for decades, and both in vitro and small in vivo human studies indicated that chromium has potentially beneficial effects in type 2 diabetes, it was not until 2015 that chromium supplementation in diabetes was investigated at the population level. In this large study of over 62,000 adults, researchers determined that the likelihood of having diabetes was 27% lower in those who took chromium dietary supplements.2
In non-diabetic people, chromium can lower total cholesterol by 10%, which translates to a 20% reduction in heart attack or stroke risk.3 In these ways, chromium reduces the commonest complications of excess weight, while helping to reduce starch cravings and achieve an optimal weight.
For strong food cravings and those who struggle with intense feelings of hunger and difficulty maintaining an ideal weight, several studies have highlighted the value of chromium picolinate. One 8-week, placebo-controlled study in 2008 showed that a dose of 1,000mcg of chromium picolinate per day reduced food intake, eased hunger, and lessened food cravings in healthy overweight women. Researchers reported that these benefits may have resulted from the effects of chromium on the brain, and its action of promoting a feeling of satisfaction.4
A 2005 research study examined people with binge-eating disorder or depression, as these groups could potentially benefit the most from suppressing cravings or hunger. An 8-week, double-blind study assigned 113 people with depression to receive either 600mcg per day of chromium picolinate or a placebo. Researchers found a significant positive therapeutic response to chromium picolinate. This finding is a milestone because it uncovered a link between depression, decreased insulin sensitivity, and subsequent diabetes. The results confirmed that chromium’s insulin-enhancing effect can help eating disorders and depressive ailments.5
For patients working to reach and maintain their ideal weight, the action of chromium picolinate is enhanced by the trace mineral vanadium, which helps to stabilize appetite and blood sugar, and by the well-regarded blood sugar-balancing herb Gymnema sylvestre.
Vanadium improves glycemic control by enhancing glucose transport into cells, and by improving lipid synthesis and formation of the storage carbohydrate glycogen. Vanadium inhibits gluconeogenesis and lipolysis, meaning that less glucose is made and less fat broken down or released into the circulation: These actions reduce glucose and fats in the blood. Vanadium appears to activate insulin-signaling pathways, and to support insulin’s metabolic benefits. According to current data, vanadium doses of 200 to 500mcg may stimulate glucose reduction and the formation of glycogen in the liver.
Gymnema is a plant from India’s tropical forests with a long history of use for high blood sugar and diabetes. Recent scientific investigation confirms traditional wisdom by showing that it stabilizes blood sugar in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and it reduces glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) levels. Gymnema may support regeneration of beta-cells in the pancreas that make insulin, boosting their number and function to help make more insulin. Gymnema may also interact with specific gut hormones so that more insulin is released. There is early evidence that gymnema can also help lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
In our clinic, chromium is a cornerstone of our whole food weight loss program. Patients working toward their ideal weight report a steady loss of unwanted pounds while taking chromium. Observations of our patients shows that chromium, especially with vanadium and gymnema, can reduce sugar cravings so that it becomes easier to enjoy a healthy low-carbohydrate diet. For patients who also have insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar, we see enduring improvements in fasting glucose and hemoglobin A1C over months and years using chromium in an absorbable nicotinate or picolinate form.
Recommendation: Chromium in the absorbable nicotinate or picolinate form, 500 to 1000mcg daily with any meals, or as directed by your physician. Optional gymnema 100-200mg, vanadium 250-500mcg.
- Mason JB. Vitamins, trace minerals, and other micronutrients. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 218.
- McIver, David J., et al. “Risk of type 2 diabetes is lower in US adults taking chromium-containing supplements.” The Journal of nutrition 145.12 (2015): 2675-2682.
- Jamilian M, Asemi Z. Chromium Supplementation and the Effects on Metabolic Status in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Ann Nutr Metab. 2015;67(1):42-8.
- Anton, Stephen D., et al. “Effects of chromium picolinate on food intake and satiety.” Diabetes technology & therapeutics 10.5 (2008): 405-412.
- Docherty, John P., et al. “A double-blind, placebo-controlled, exploratory trial of chromium picolinate in atypical depression: effect on carbohydrate craving.” Journal of Psychiatric Practice® 11.5 (2005): 302-314.