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Chromium is a mineral that has several natural sources, including some meats, fish, oils, and vegetables such as broccoli and carrots. As a nutritional supplement, it is often combined with a substance known as picolinate for better absorption. Picolinate is produced naturally in the body during the metabolism of certain amino acids. Chromium picolinate benefits are believed to include proper insulin metabolism and help with type 2 diabetes, increased muscle mass, weight loss, relief from depression, and prevention of heart disease.
The best-studied function of chromium is its ability to help the body respond properly to insulin. Insulin is a hormone released after meals as a signal for the body to absorb glucose, an important source of energy. In certain types of diabetes or in insulin resistance, the body loses its ability to respond efficiently to insulin. Chromium appears to enhance delivery of glucose to the tissues that need it. For this reason, one of the most widely publicized chromium picolinate benefits is help for people with diabetes.
Other well-known chromium picolinate benefits include weight loss and muscle building. Because chromium picolinate is thought to enhance insulin action in the body, many proponents claim that this contributes to less craving for carbohydrates and subsequent weight loss. This supplement is also believed to help the body more efficiently utilize proteins, leading to increased muscle mass. A popular claim is that chromium is good for building lean muscle mass, although this has never been proven.
Chromium picolinate is also thought to lower cholesterol levels and therefore prevent heart disease. Finally, this mineral may alter the breakdown of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, possibly helping people with depression. In addition to helping depression, the ability to affect neurotransmitters may also function to reduce appetite.
Due to these advertised chromium picolinate benefits, this compound is a popular component of many weight loss and body building supplements. Research studies in human subjects have not conclusively shown any of these claim, and have suggested that any chromium picolinate benefits would only occur if a person had a severe chromium deficiency. Chromium deficiency is hard to detect so it is not clear how rare this deficiency is, but some scientists claim that the body may stop excreting chromium when it senses that the chromium concentration is very low in order to adjust to low intake and prevent deficiency.
There is a mixed opinion among doctors and nutritionists if people should supplement with chromium picolinate. Some say that doses should stay below 30-35 mcg per day, whereas others claim doses below 200 mcg are safe and provide the best chromium picolinate benefits. Most health care providers agree that high doses of chromium picolinate should be avoided because it can result in gastrointestinal issues, heart palpitations, rashes, and even possible liver or kidney damage. A few studies have even suggested that very high chromium levels can cause DNA damage and may cause cancer.
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