Chromium is a trace mineral that assists with burning carbohydrates and fat. It helps provide blood sugar to cells and may increase sensitivity to insulin, potentially helping to curb cravings for sweets and carbohydrates. Because of the role it plays in the metabolism, it is commonly added to natural weight-loss products. Chromium is naturally found in foods like yeast, mushrooms, prunes, and broccoli. It is sometimes added to drinking water.
Claims have been made that because chromium may reduce the risk of insulin resistance, it might also help to prevent type 2 diabetes. This would be a significant benefit considering the growing statistics of people with this disease. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a supportive yet highly qualified statement regarding this, stating a relationship between this mineral and insulin resistance may be present but is still “uncertain.”
Dr. William Cefalu of Pennington BioMedical Research Center at Louisiana State University conducted the chromium test for the FDA. Regarding diabetes, Dr. Cefalu has been quoted as saying:
Because of the effect of chromium on blood sugar, it is best to consult with a doctor before taking this supplement. This is especially true of diabetics and others whom must monitor blood sugar levels, as the mineral can cause blood sugar levels to fall. This may impact insulin injections or other medical care.
Chromium is available as different types of salts, the picolinate form being one. Other types are chromium polynicotinate and chromium chlorine, though the latter is not recommended because it has a low rate of absorption. Chromium picolinate is most commonly found in herbal products because it is the most absorbent type, with chromium polynicotinate also commonly used.
Though there is abundant research on this mineral that indicates it is safe when taken as directed, according to SupplementWatch there have also been some cautionary studies and at least two cases of toxicity involving the picolinate form. Researchers at Dartmouth found that chromium picolinate, unlike the other forms, is absorbed into the cell intact. Using mouse cells in a test tube, chromium picolinate had the effect of breaking down DNA. Researchers urge that a leap to assuming this carries over to a human model is unwarranted without further studies.
There have, however, been at least two cases of toxicity in women consuming very high doses of the picolinate form. These resulted in kidney and liver toxicity, and blood imbalances including anemia. Because of this some feel inclined to take a chromium polynicotinate supplement instead, a slightly less absorbent form, and stay within the daily-suggested dose of 200 - 400 micrograms per day.