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Chromium is present in food in the form of trivalent chromium or chromium (III). Most of chromium’s compounds are soluble when exposed to stomach acids. The digestive tract environment and other foods and supplements are important factors in chromium absorption. 

Roles

Chromium is a micronutrient, or small molecule, that is necessary for various reactions occurring inside the body. 

What does chromium do? 

  • Increases tissue sensitivity to insulin;
  • Helps stabilize blood sugar levels;
  • Regulates blood insulin levels;
  • Metabolizes fats and proteins;
  • Promotes the activity of a number of enzymes necessary for the body to function.

Needs

Adequate Intake (AI) of Chromium: 

Age
Men
Women
Infants
0 to 6 months
0,2µg
0,2µg
7 to 12 months
5,5µg
5,5µg
Children
1 to 3 years
11µg
11µg
4 to 8 years
15µg
15µg
Preteens
9 to 13 years
25µg
21µg
Teens
14 to 18 years
35µg
24µg
Adults
19 to 50 years
35µg
25µg
Elders
51 years and up
30µg
20µg
Pregnant women
18 years and under
 
29µg
19 years and up
 
30µg

Source: Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board, Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc, 2002. 

Sources

Chromium is well distributed throughout foods, but a number of foods provide less than one to two ug of chromium per serving. Processing can increase or decrease the chromium content in food. Refined cereal products contain less chromium than whole grain cereal products. Conversely, acidic foods, when processed or handled with stainless steel kitchen utensils, have a higher chromium concentration. 

The foods highest in chromium are brewer’s yeast and calf liver. 

Food Sources for Chromium: 

Food
Potatoes
Grapes
Gruyère cheese
Broccoli
Oranges
Plums
Green beans
Beef
Asparagus
Tomatoes
Pork
Egg yolks
Apples
Turkey
Whole grain cereals
Bananas
Fish
Wheat germ

Source: DRIs, Dietary Reference Intakes, 2006, p. 299.

Deficiency

Chromium deficiency is very rare but may be observed in: 

  • Those suffering from malnutrition;
  • Those who consume only refined foods and sugars;
  • Those who are drip or tube fed*;
  • Pregnant women;
  • The elderly;
  • High performance athletes;
  • Those suffering from physical and infection-related stress;
  • Those using corticosteroids.

*People who are fed through a stomach tube systematically receive a chromium-enriched nutritive solution to prevent long term deficiency, which could lead to diabetic symptoms. 

Signs of chromium deficiency: Chromium deficiency manifests as problems in the metabolism of sugars and fats: 

  • Elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels;
  • Elevated fasting blood sugar levels;
  • Increased insulin in the blood;
  • Unexplained weight loss;
  • Glucose intolerance.

Indications

  • Treat Type 2 diabetes (uncertain effectiveness);
  • Reduce cholesterol levels (uncertain effectiveness);
  • Increase muscle mass (probably ineffective);
  • Promote weight loss (probably ineffective).

Adverse effects

Ingested chromium has low toxicity, which can be partially explained by its low rate of absorption. 

Signs of chromium excess: 

  • Low-level gastrointestinal problems.

Cons-indications

Little information is available to measure adverse reactions from excess chromium. Great caution is therefore recommended, especially in those suffering from: 

  • Kidney disease;
  • Liver disease.

Interactions

Natural health products and vitamin supplements: 

  • Plants and supplements: zinc, calcium carbonate, and antacids (wait two hours between taking these products and chromium supplements).

Medications: 

  • Chromium magnifies the effect of hypoglycemia medications;
  • Blood chromium levels are reduced by corticosteroids, calcium carbonate, and antacids.

Additional information

***Speak with your pharmacist if you plan to take chromium supplements. Your pharmacist can help you choose the solution that’s best for you based on your health and any drugs you take. 

Other names

Chromium, Trivalent chromium, Chromium chloride, Chromium picolinate, Active chromium, Brewer’s yeast chromium, Chromium nicotinate