Chromium: A Trace Mineral for Blood Sugar and Carbohydrate Cravings

April 19, 2021 | Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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 Chromium: A Trace Mineral for Blood Sugar and Carbohydrate Cravings
Chromium, a trace mineral, has been recognized for many decades for its role in blood sugar management, insulin function, and cholesterol management and recent other findings. In fact, chromium was first discovered in brewer’s yeast almost 100 years ago. Much has changed in the food supply since that time. Western diets and depleted soil conditions have caused much less intake. Many fail to meet the daily adequate intake. It is definitely a concern and something to be mindful about.

Chromium commonly exists in two major types – chromium III and chromium VI. Chromium III is the biologically active form found in food and supplements. Food contains natural chromium III. Sources include brewer’s yeast, oysters, mushrooms, liver, potatoes, beef, and fresh vegetables. Levels within food vary markedly from food item to food item even within the same type due to soil content, agricultural methods, and food processing.

High sugar foods and most dairy contain no chromium. High cooking temperatures and food processing leaches chromium out of foods causing even less intake. Foods rich in oxalates (spinach, berries, rhubarb, etc.) and antacids inhibit absorption of chromium.

Chromium VI is a toxic by-product of the manufacturing industry. It is linked with various health disorders. The 2000 film Erin Brockovich brought to light concerns of chromium VI contamination in ground water.

Chromium III levels in food:


Broccoli ½ c 11 mcg
Ham, 3 oz 3.6 mcg
English muffin, whole wheat 1 muffin 3.6 mcg
Brewer’s yeast, 1 Tbsp 3.3 mcg
Beef, 3 oz 2.0 mcg
Green beans, 1 c 2.0 mcg
Lettuce, 5 oz 1.8 mcg
Turkey breast, 3 oz 1.7 mcg
Tomato 1 c 1.26 mcg
Whole wheat bread 1 slice 1 mcg
Banana, 1 medium 1 mcg

An estimated 90 percent of Americans do not meet Adequate Intakes (AIs) guidelines for chromium. AIs measurements are used rather than the RDA due to decisions by the Food and Nutrition Board in 2001. Adequate intake for boys age 1-13 years need 11 mcg – 25 mcg. Girls age 1-13 years need 11 mcg – 21 mcg. Males age 14 and older require 30-35 mcg and females 14 and older require 21 – 25 mcg.

Medical science does not currently recognize chromium as an essential nutrient that causes serious nutrient deficiencies as research is incomplete. Isolated case reports of chromium deficiency occurred in those who received intravenous TPN feedings in the 1970s and 1980s, but since has been resolved with the addition of chromium to the TPN. Current reports indicate that lower levels of chromium are found in individuals who have dysregulated blood sugar and insulin management, and/or are obese and awaiting gastric bypass/bariatric surgery.

Chromium Impacts Blood Sugar and Cholesterol Management


Chromium works in your body by attaching to a peptide, or a carrier protein, that binds onto insulin receptors throughout your body. This activity creates an insulin sensitizing, or mimicking effect, within cells which aids blood sugar management. Chromium enhances internalization and activation of insulin into cells and supports pancreatic beta-cell sensitivity. Beta-cells make and secrete insulin in the pancreas.

A growing body of research has demonstrated the effect of chromium on blood sugar metabolism in the human body. A 2016 study that performed a meta-analysis of 16 randomized controlled trials demonstrated chromium’s highly positive effects on fasting blood sugar and total cholesterol.

A 2014 meta-analysis of 25 randomized controlled trials evaluated the effect of chromium on blood sugar metabolism. Chromium intake assisted with fasting blood sugar, HDL and triglyceride metabolism. Chromium helps cholesterol metabolism and insulin sensitivity which in turn decreases cardiovascular stress.

Chromium and Tissue Stress


Blood sugar management affects tissues throughout your body. High blood sugar levels are stressful to cells, mitochondria, blood vessels, and nerves. An increased level of glucose in your body creates oxidative stress and free radicals. Management of blood sugar through diet, exercise, and nutrient support like chromium helps lower the oxidative stress load and inflammatory chemicals in your body.

Cellular and animal studies along with some limited preliminary human studies demonstrated that chromium affects inflammatory biomarkers linked with elevated blood sugar in tissues. These studies showed that chromium inhibits secretion of inflammatory compounds like TNF-alpha, Il-2, IL-6, IL-8, IL-9, MCP-1, adiponectin, and hs-C-reactive protein.

Chromium Supports Brain Blood Sugar Metabolism and Mood


Your muscles, liver, and kidneys contain the highest concentrations of chromium. It is also found in other tissues and organs like the hypothalamus in your brain. The brain’s primary fuel is blood sugar. Chromium’s effect on blood sugar and fat metabolism and insulin sensitivity impacts the hypothalamus with glucose metabolism. These metabolic effects in turn support the production of serotonin, melatonin, and norepinephrine, which in turn supports a positive mood.

Tips for Blood Sugar Health


If you haven’t done so recently, check some of these health markers to see how you are doing with insulin and blood sugar management and cardiovascular health.

Helpful measurements include:

• Waist-height ratio
• Apple versus pear shape
• Fasting blood sugar
• Hemoglobin A1C
• Fructosamine
• Serum insulin
• Triglycerides
• Triglyceride: HDL cholesterol ratio greater than 3 indicates insulin resistance
(TG/HDL-C >3)

Further information may be found in the article Health Clues and Tips for Your Heart and Weight.

Helpful Tips


Supplemental chromium intake ranges commonly from 100 mcg – 1000 mcg or more. This is far more than the American diet provides, but it has proven helpful and safe for blood sugar management and other support. Chromium may be used with other nutrients to support blood sugar management. These include B vitamins, banaba leaf, bitter melon, cinnamon, copper, curcumin, fenugreek, Gymnema sylvestre, Inula racemosa, magnesium, manganese, milk thistle, selenium, vanadium, zinc, and others. These nutrients create a synergistic effect on blood sugar management.

An estimated nine out of ten individuals do not meet the basic adequate daily intake of chromium. The greater your intake of processed foods, sugars, and carbohydrate rich foods, the more stress it is on your cells to manage blood sugar, insulin, leptin, adiponectin, and other hormones. These same types of foods contain no or almost no chromium, which places heavier demands for chromium from healthier foods. Are you getting enough chromium? You do the math.

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