A lot of claims are made about the benefits of chromium, a trace mineral our bodies absorb naturally from various foods, but in many cases, the evidence to back up the claims is slim.
First things first: The difference between chromium and chromium picolinate is simply that picolinate is added to nutritional supplements to help your body absorb the mineral when it's ingested from pills or capsules, says Debbie Petitpain, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
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Scientists don't completely understand what chromium does in the body although it's thought to help with digesting carbohydrates, fats and proteins, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS). That may also give it a role in metabolism, regulating blood sugar and insulin levels and managing weight and type 2 diabetes. All of this has made it attractive as a nutritional supplement to potentially aid weight loss and prevent or treat type 2 diabetes.
But, as noted, there isn't a lot of evidence available to support these claims. Moreover, chromium is not considered an essential vitamin or mineral and there are no documented cases of chromium deficiency. It's unclear what effect, if any, too little chromium would have on health, Petitpain says.
This is what we know about the sources of chromium, its possible health benefits as well as various unsupported claims and risks.
Potential Health Benefits of Chromium Picolinate
1. It Might Aid Weight Loss
Although some studies suggest that chromium picolinate may have slight benefits for weight loss, it appears to be no substitute for good old exercise and healthy eating.
One older review of 20 studies of chromium picolinate for weight loss found several randomized controlled trials (the gold standard of medical research) showed weight loss in people who took chromium picolinate compared to a placebo, per the June 2013 review in the journal Obesity Reviews. While that may seem promising, the researchers note that the "magnitude of the effect is small, and the clinical relevance is uncertain."
And another meta-analysis from the same year "found no current, reliable evidence to inform firm decisions about the efficacy" of the supplement for people with obesity or overweight, according to November 2013 research in Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
Bottom line: "Research suggests that supplementation with chromium, mainly in the form [of] chromium picolinate, reduces body weight and body fat percentage to a very small, but statistically significant, extent," per ODS, which goes on to note the effects "have little clinical significance."
2. It Might Reduce Hunger
One older study of women with overweight or obesity found that chromium picolinate did make participants less hungry, have fewer fat cravings and even eat less, per August 2008 results in Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics.
But as well as being an older study, note that it is so small — only 42 women — that it's impossible to say that the effect is real.
Note: We make deliberate choices about the language we use when it comes to sex and gender, but for the sake of accuracy we're using the terms used by the primary sources cited in this article.
3. It Might Reduce Binge-Eating Episodes
Another small study, this one of 24 people with binge-eating disorder, reported that chromium picolinate supplementation reduced the frequency of binges, depressive symptoms and weight, per July 2013 findings in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research.
The study would need to be replicated in more people to warrant recommending these supplements.
4. It May Increase Lean Body Mass
There's been considerable interest in whether chromium picolinate can affect body composition, specifically lean body mass which may decrease with weight loss. One review article from December 2018 in Nutrients cited benefits in this area but several other studies found no effect.
One such study, published in September 2012 in Sports Medicine, noted a decade's worth of research had failed to identify any effects of chromium picolinate on body composition of healthy individuals even when combined with physical training. Earlier research, including a small trial from May 2001 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research and several conducted in the 1990s, came to the same conclusion.
5. It May Decrease Blood Sugar Levels
Many researchers have explored whether chromium picolinate can reduce blood sugar levels, a problem which affects millions of Americans with both diabetes and prediabetes. While some research — such as an August 2003 review in Diabetes Care — has indicated a benefit for people with type 2 diabetes, a May 2016 narrative review article in Nutrition Review, which examined 20 randomized controlled trials, concluded there was very limited evidence to support this claim.
Nor have studies been able to confirm that chromium supplementation improves insulin function, which goes hand in hand with healthy blood glucose levels. One November 1997 study in Diabetes did show an improvement in insulin sensitivity but a more recent article from June 2010 in Endocrine Practice showed the opposite.
6. It May Reduce the Risk of Diabetes
The holy grail of many individual studies of chromium picolinate is to see if the supplement can make a dent in the current epidemic of diabetes and prediabetes in the U.S. Both of these conditions involve elevated glucose levels and insulin resistance. Not surprisingly, data on people with diabetes is inconclusive as well.
One of the more recent studies (published in February 2015 in Nutrition Journal) found a chromium supplement with Brewer's yeast had a small effect on blood sugar levels, but not chromium picolinate. But a review which included pooled data from other studies published in Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics in December 2006 did find a benefit for glucose (especially HbA1c levels, which measure longer-term glucose control) and insulin suggesting a reduced risk of diabetes complications in the future.
As for modifying risk, research undertaken by the Food and Drug Administration in 2006 found that any relationship between chromium picolinate and insulin resistance was "highly uncertain."
Supplementing with chromium "may be worth a try if you're deficient in chromium, but that's very rare," per the American Diabetes Association.
7. It May Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease
Because people with diabetes have a dramatically elevated risk of developing cardiovascular disease, much research has focused on whether chromium picolinate can also reduce markers of heart disease like high cholesterol and blood pressure.
Again, the evidence is mixed. While a study from the 1990s in Diabetes Care showed improvements in triglyceride levels with chromium supplementation, a 2013 review article in the Journal of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences found no lowering of cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Previously, an August 2007 review article in Diabetes Care came to similar conclusions.
8. It Might Improve Markers of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
About one in 10 people with ovaries have PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), according to the Office of Women's Health (OWH). This condition involves hormonal and metabolic abnormalities, including overly high levels of insulin. Several studies have explored a connection between this condition and chromium picolinate with mixed results.
For instance, insulin levels improved for women who took chromium picolinate for eight weeks, per a 2015 randomized controlled study in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. Another trial, with results published in July 2017 in the Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology, had similar results. But a January 2018 review article in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research did not corroborate these findings.
Be Cautious About Chromium Picolinate Hype
Even the best studied aspects of chromium picolinate lack really rigorous research to support them, and there are are other claims which come with virtually no evidence at all. Meanwhile, supplements cost money. "You may be better pushing that money toward foods that have other benefits as well," Petitpain says.
Be especially wary of products that make these claims:
Very few studies have explored the benefit of chromium picolinate on depression or other mental health disorders.
A review of clinical trials in patients with bipolar disorder found some benefit for chromium, per November 2012 results in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, but it wasn't clear how large the benefit was. And, while a January 2000 study in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology found improvements among people with treatment-resistant mood disorders the study was vanishingly small: only eight participants.
2. Cognitive Function
Studies on cognitive function and chromium picolinate have been similarly ambiguous.
For instance, one very small trial of 26 people with mild cognitive impairment showed limited benefits, per a November 2018 review in Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews examining several studies to discover the effects of vitamin and mineral supplementation. People with depression who received 600 micrograms of chromium picolinate did show some improvements in appetite and eating, per a September 2005 clinical trial in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice.
Always talk to your doctor before taking supplements for depression or cognitive issues.
3. Hair Loss
There's no credible evidence that chromium supplementation can contribute to or curb hair loss.
One February 2010 report in the Archives of Internal Medicine described about 200 individuals who had experienced hair loss, among other symptoms, after taking a specific nutritional supplement. The symptoms were attributed to the selenium content of the supplement which was 200 times the recommended amount of selenium. Chromium levels were also elevated but not enough to be toxic.
There's no good evidence that chromium picolinate has any benefits for human skin conditions, although a March 2010 animal study in the Egyptian Journal of Histology did find that the supplement helped diabetes-related skin problems in 25 rats.
Chromium supplements don't seem to be harmful even at high doses. "Our bodies don't absorb it very well," Petitpain sats. In certain people, though, it could be dangerous.
Because it is stored in the liver and passes out of the body through the kidneys, anyone with kidney or liver disease should talk to their doctor before adding any supplements that contain chromium.
Chromium picolinate and other forms of chromium can also interact with some medications, vitamins and minerals, including the following, per Mount Sinai:
- Insulin, metformin and other diabetes medications
- Levothyroxine, which is used to treat low thyroid levels (hypothyroidism)
- Antacids including Tums, Mylanta, Nexium, Prevacid and Prilosec
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen
How to Take Chromium Picolinate
Most studies use far more than the daily adequate intake of chromium — dosages of as much as 600 micrograms daily or more. These amounts seem to be safe, at least in the short term, but in general "supplements are not regulated for toxicity and overuse," says Joanne Slavin, RD, PhD, professor in the department of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences in St. Paul.
Chromium is also available in many multivitamin and mineral supplements, Petipain sats. Just check the ingredient label.
Otherwise, there's very limited information on how much chromium picolinate you should take to lose weight or have an effect on diabetes or prediabetes. Nor is there reliable information on the best time to take it.
As for effectiveness, conclusions have been mixed. Even when it does help, it may not be clinically meaningful, Petitpain says.
It's always best to get your nutrients from healthy foods. "If you're eating a well-balanced diet, the nutrients come along for the ride," Slavin says.
Food Sources of Chromium
Despite the popularity of supplements, chromium is easily available in the food supply, Slavin says.
The exact amount of chromium in different foods is variable because it depends on how much chromium is in the soil where fruits and vegetables are grown, or in the feed of animals whose meat we eventually eat.
- Whole grains such as bread and oatmeal
- Fruits including apples and bananas
- Vegetables including broccoli and green beans
- Brewer's yeast
Because amounts of chromium vary from one product to the next, it's also hard to determine how much Americans need or how much we eat. There's no recommended daily allowance for the mineral, but per the ODS, an "adequate intake" is 25 to 35 micrograms daily for adults.
- ODS: “Chromium Fact Sheet for Health Professionals”
- Office of Dietary Supplements: “Chromium Fact Sheet for Consumers
- Mount Sinai: “Chromium”
- ScienceDirect: “Chromium Picolinate”
- Beth Israel Lahey Health Winchester Hospital: “Chromium”
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Vitamins and Minerals” v
- Cleveland Clinic: “Hypokalemia “
- Obesity Reviews: “Chromium supplementation in overweight and obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials”
- Obesity: “A statewide intervention reduces BMI in adults: Shape Up Rhode Island results”
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: “Chromium picolinate supplementation for overweight or obese adults”
- Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics: “Effects of Chromium Picolinate on Food Intake and Satiety”
- Journal of Psychosomatic Research: “A double-blind, randomized pilot trial of chromium picolinate for binge eating disorder: Results of the Binge Eating and Chromium (BEACh) Study”
- Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute: “Chromium”
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “Supplements and Ergogenic Aids”
- Sports Medicine: “The Potential Value and Toxicity of Chromium Picolinate as a Nutritional Supplement, Weight Loss Agent and Muscle Development Agent”
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Chromium supplementation and resistance training: effects on body composition, strength, and trace element status of men”
- Journal of the American College of Nutrition: “Effect of Chromium Supplementation and Exercise on Body Composition, Resting Metabolic Rate and Selected Biochemical Parameters in Moderately Obese Women Following an Exercise Program.”
- Journal of Applied Physiology: “Effects of resistance training and chromium picolinate on body composition and skeletal muscle in older men”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Prediabetes – Your Chance to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes”
- Mayo Clinic: “Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Annals of Nutrition and Metabolislm: “Chromium Supplementation and the Effects on Metabolic Status in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial”
- Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology: “Chromium supplementation and polycystic ovary syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis”
- Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research: “Chromium supplementation in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: Systematic review and meta-analysis”
- International Journal of Neuropharmacology: “Chromium treatment of depression”
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: “Vitamin and mineral supplementation for preventing dementia or delaying cognitive decline in people with mild cognitive impairment”
- The Egyptian Journal of Histology: “Effect of Chromium Picolinate on Histological Skin Alterations of Streptozotocin - Diabetic Rats. A light and Electron Microscopic Study”
- Nutrition Reviews: “Chromium picolinate intake and risk of type 2 diabetes: an evidence-based review by the United States Food and Drug Administration”
- Nutrients: "Body Composition Changes in Weight Loss: Strategies and Supplementation for Maintaining Lean Body Mass, a Brief Review"
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "The effect of chromium picolinate on muscular strength and body composition in women athletes"
- Nutrition Review: "Chromium supplements for glycemic control in type 2 diabetes: limited evidence of effectiveness
- Office of Women's Health: "Polycystic ovary syndrome"
- Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics: "Nutrient-based therapies for bipolar disorder: a systematic review
- Archives of Internal Medicine: "Acute Selenium Toxicity Associated With a Dietary Supplement
- American Diabetes Association: "Vitamins & Diabetes"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Chromium"
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