Bodybuilders are always looking for the latest supplements and tools to help them bulk up, sometimes with disappointing or even dangerous results. One such dietary supplement, chromium picolinate, has been marketed since the 1990s as a way for you to lose fat and build muscle mass. Such claims have led several sports and nutrition centers to study chromium picolinate’s effects on athletes and bodybuilders. Research has shown no beneficial effects and some potential negative side effects.
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Chromium is an element found in the earth’s crust and added to metals in manufacturing and prosthetics. It’s also found in foods such as brewer’s yeast, spices, liver, potato skins, beef, vegetables and cheese, although the amount varies and hasn’t been studied extensively. The processing of foods strips them of their natural chromium and has caused a deficiency in many American diets. Chromium picolinate is a nutritional supplement that combines chromium and picolinic acid, a byproduct of the amino acid tryptophan.
Several companies market various formulations of supplements containing chromium picolinate as a way to boost energy, improve blood circulation, maintain your blood sugar levels, burn fat, lose weight, increase strength and muscle mass. Chromium picolinate products include capsules, tablets, sports foods and drinks and a variety of weight loss products, often combined with other ingredients such as L-carnitine, guarana and ma huang.
Chromium picolinate stimulates the activity of insulin, which helps your body metabolize glucose and fat. But research hasn’t been able to link chromium supplements with any beneficial effects on body composition, with or without exercise. Studies on male athletes have shown there can be an increase in urinary chromium loss during endurance exercise, an effect that has also been demonstrated in weight lifting, according to the Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center. However, exercise also apparently increases the amount of chromium your body can absorb, which means very little net loss of the element caused by exercise.
An article published in 2003 in the journal “Sports Medicine” by J.B. Vincent of the Department of Chemistry and Coalition for Biomolecular Products at the University of Alabama, reported on the potential effectiveness of chromium picolinate as a weight loss or muscle development agent. The article pointed out that over a decade of human studies with chromium picolinate have not been able to demonstrate effects on the body composition of healthy individuals, even when taken in combination with an exercise training program. Due to laboratory studies indicating chromium picolinate can damage DNA and lipids, cause mutations, and may have some negative neurological effects, Vincent suggests that other forms of chromium such as chromium chloride be studied as nutritional supplements instead, as they less likely to cause this type of oxidative damage.
The Recommended Daily Allowance for chromium dietary intake from foods and supplements is 25 micrograms, or mcg, per day for women and 35 for men. Clinical trials have tested up to 1,000 mcg daily for up to nine months, although higher doses haven’t been studied for long periods of time and the effects are unknown.
Drugs.com notes that one study conducted among HIV patients on antiretroviral therapy had increased excretion of chromium. There have also been a few reports of serious reactions to chromium picolinate, including kidney failure and liver impairment, according to the Linus Pauling Institute, so if you have already have a kidney or liver disease, you should use chromium supplements with caution. Chromium supplements may also increase the effects of some diabetes medications. If you're diabetic and take chromium, monitor your insulin levels and check with your doctor to see if your doses need to be adjusted.