Although present in rather small amounts in our bodies, chromium is a mineral of great importance for our well-being. Research suggests that chromium helps insulin transport glucose to cells in order to produce energy. Also, it is believed that it may be beneficial in lowering blood sugar levels in individuals suffering from type-2 diabetes. Moreover, it appears to have great positive effects on the cardiovascular system, contributing to lowering blood cholesterol levels and reducing high blood pressure in addition to high blood glucose levels in pre-diabetes.
Additionally, the mineral supports the digestion process and contributes to ensuring adequate energy levels. Our body requires rather small amounts of chromium to help it perform essential life-sustaining functions. This mineral is essential for good metabolism because it helps transform glucose into energy, which our body then uses to sustain basic functions such as digestion or breathing. An adequate daily intake of chromium is set at around 25 mcg (micrograms) for an adult woman and around 35 mcg for an adult man. Pregnant and nursing women have been found to require around 30 mcg of the mineral a day.
An adequate chromium intake also supports the conversion of fats, proteins and carbohydrates into energy. Moreover, it is said to promotes muscle tone and actively contributes to lowering high cholesterol levels. In addition to this, it activates several essential body enzymes and supports brain activity. It has been suggested that the mineral may help reduce bone loss by regulating calcium metabolism and thus potentially benefit osteoporosis sufferers (read more about what foods to eat and to avoid for osteoporosis). Also, it has been theorized that vitamin C and vitamin B3 can significantly increase the absorption of the mineral. Our diet should supply us with adequate amounts, necessary for staying in good health.
Chromium rich foods include brewer’s yeast, broccoli, black pepper, thyme, mushrooms, whole grains, potatoes, tomatoes, coffee, tea, beer (due to its high yeast content) and meat. Brewer’s yeast is by far the richest food source of the mineral. However, it is not so easy on the stomach and many people have trouble digesting it. Broccoli is the second best chromium food source. Coffee and tea are two rather problematic foods.
While they may be good sources of dietary chromium, coffee and tea are also known to hold anti-nutrient value, meaning they encourage nutritional deficiencies by either reducing vitamin and mineral absorption in the intestinal tract (read more about why coffee is bad for you). As a result, relying on these two particular food sources for meeting our chromium intake is not recommended. As a general rule, a good diet, varied, natural and balanced, should provide us with all the chromium we need to meet our daily intake.
Nonetheless, a surprising number of people have been found to have a chromium deficiency. This is believed to be caused by the following factors: food sources do not contain sufficient amounts of the mineral, people enjoy poor diets or don’t balance their eating so as to include chromium-rich foods in their diet and, most important, chromium is absorbed very poorly but eliminated in very high amounts from the body. As a result, supplements may sometimes be required in order to avoid deficiencies. Chromium chloride, chromium nicotinate and chromium picolinate are the most common names of chromium forms in food supplements. Consulting a doctor before taking chromium supplements is advised.
Need to know: chromium bioavailability refers to the fact that not all the chromium we ingest is fully absorbed at the intestinal level. Some forms of the mineral may be poorly absorbed, while digestive problems or certain medication (antacids, for example) also prevent optimal absorption. Ascorbic acid and niacin, or vitamins C and B3 have been found to increase chromium absorption. Similarly, vitamin C increases iron absorption.
Even so, very little chromium gets absorbed overall in an healthy individual. Fortunately, the human body has significantly low demands. Exceeding its needs may lead to toxicity symptoms such as liver and kidney damage or gastrointestinal problems. Nonetheless, it remains a mineral with great health benefits and essential for sustaining life. Here are 6 noteworthy properties and health benefits of the mineral:
1) Improves insulin function, regulating blood glucose levels. People suffering from obesity or diabetes show poor insulin activity. Although their pancreas produces sufficient insulin, it seems their body cannot make good use of it. Chromium helps the body use insulin for transporting glucose (sugar) to cells for the purpose of producing energy more efficiently.
2) May play a role in preventing type 2 diabetes. Because it regulates insulin activity, the mineral prevents the accumulation of high glucose levels in the blood which may cause hyperglycemia and, in time, diabetes. Research suggests it may be used for managing prediabetes, a condition characterized by having higher than normal blood sugar levels and thus a higher risk for diabetes.
3) An adequate chromium intake may help relieve depression symptoms in people suffering from atypical depression and may prove efficient in treating AD (Alzheimer’s Disease). However, more research is needed on the subject.
4) By lowering LDL cholesterol and raising HDL cholesterol, chromium improves blood lipid levels, which is a sign of cardiovascular health. It has been found to help prevent hypertension as well.
5) Chromium supports normal metabolism by ensuring the proper synthesis of fats, proteins and carbohydrates during digestion, a function which contributes to improving energy levels.
6) Last but not least, it would appear that chromium supports weight loss by eliminating the feeling of hunger and promoting a better muscle tone. Its role in the metabolism of fats, proteins and carbohydrates is believed support is use for weight loss, but there are studies that deny its effectiveness.
Chromium deficiency symptoms may include: insulin resistance and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels), increased risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol, irregular heartbeat, heart disease, brain inflammation, nerve damage, severe weight loss, itching, skin irritation, dermatitis, stomach upset.
Conclusion. Although chromium deficiency is rare, toxicity may occur when exceeding the recommended intake from food supplements. Because it is stored in the liver (spleen and bones), it may lead to liver damage if intake is too high. Although it is probably the least studied mineral, data available up to this point suggests that while recommended daily allowances should not be exceeded, it is just as important to include chromium-rich foods to our diet in order to keep healthy. Also, vitamins C and B3 are believed to significantly increase the absorption of the mineral.