Trivalent chromium (Cr 3+) is an essential trace nutrient required by the human body. Chromium is involved in glucose and lipid metabolism and is widely present in body tissues and everyday foods. It’s often used as a nutritional supplement for athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and is commonly found in multivitamin formulations. Research has shown that chromium supplementation can effectively improve the conditions of metabolic syndrome and some patients with type 2 diabetes .
Research into chromium as a nutritional supplement for glucose metabolism dates back to the 1950s. At that time, it was proposed that brewer’s yeast contains a glucose tolerance factor (GTF), which was found in animal experiments to prevent diabetes . This factor was later identified as biologically active trivalent chromium (Cr 3+), which significantly reduces blood glucose levels in diabetic animals .
What is Chromium?
Chromium is a mineral commonly found in the environment and exists in various oxidation states, primarily as metallic chromium (Cr 0), trivalent chromium (Cr 3+), and hexavalent chromium (Cr 6+). Trivalent chromium is present in most foods and is also added to nutritional supplements. It is an essential mineral. On the other hand, hexavalent chromium is highly toxic and has been associated with genetic toxicity and carcinogenicity in humans. Therefore, the required form of chromium for the body is trivalent chromium .
Trivalent chromium is thought to enhance insulin action and play a role in the metabolism of carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins in the body. It’s believed to form a complex with peptides known as chromodulin, which enhances insulin receptor binding and insulin action. Additionally, chromium may have antioxidant properties, and it’s found in highest concentrations in organs like the kidneys, liver, spleen, soft tissues, and bones .
How is “Chromium Nicotinate” Different from Regular “Chromium”?
Chromium nicotinate (Niacin bound Chromium, Chromium(III) nicotinate) is a compound formed by binding chromium with niacin. It’s a source of biologically available trivalent chromium. Chromium(III) nicotinate has three niacin units per chromium ion. According to research, supplementing with this form of chromium generally does not produce toxicity or adverse reactions and is considered safe .
Chromium nicotinate (III) has been shown in many studies to have better bioavailability and effectiveness, particularly in comparison to chromium picolinate . Animal studies have indicated that chromium nicotinate does not induce changes in liver lipid peroxidation or DNA damage, and no adverse effects were observed in organs. Chromium nicotinate is considered safe .
What Are the Benefits of Chromium?
1. Regulating Blood Sugar
Due to its potential to enhance insulin action, numerous studies have explored the relationship between chromium intake and glucose tolerance. Clinical studies divided type 2 diabetes patients into three groups, each receiving different doses of chromium supplementation (1000 mcg, 200 mcg, placebo). The results showed that subjects receiving 1000 mcg of chromium had significantly lower fasting blood glucose compared to the 200 mcg and placebo groups. Both chromium supplementation groups also showed significantly lower post-meal blood glucose and HbA1c levels .
Research has found that chromium supplementation is particularly beneficial for individuals with poor blood sugar control, such as those with higher insulin resistance, elevated fasting blood glucose, and higher HbA1c levels among type 2 diabetes patients. They tend to respond more significantly to chromium supplementation .
2. Improving Metabolic Syndrome
Many scientists believe that chromium supplementation may help improve metabolic syndrome by addressing insulin resistance, which is a risk factor for metabolic syndrome. A prospective study spanning 23 years found that individuals with lower chromium content in toenails had a higher incidence of metabolic syndrome .
In clinical studies, blood chromium levels of patients with metabolic syndrome (characterized by high waist circumference, high triglycerides, and high blood glucose) were compared to healthy individuals. The results showed that patients with metabolic syndrome had significantly lower blood chromium levels, although the exact mechanism is still unclear .
3. Assisting Fat Metabolism
Research has shown a correlation between chromium deficiency and increased blood cholesterol levels. Chromium is thought to assist in blood lipid metabolism, yielding positive effects. Clinical studies found that supplementing type 2 diabetes patients with chromium not only significantly reduced fasting blood glucose but also lowered blood cholesterol levels .
Another animal study discovered that supplementation with chromium led to decreases in total cholesterol, triglycerides, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, along with an increase in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels. This suggests that chromium supplementation benefits fat and cholesterol metabolism .
4. Aiding in Weight Management
As chromium may enhance insulin action and help regulate blood sugar , many studies have also investigated its role in weight management.
Clinical research involving overweight women found that chromium supplementation significantly reduced their food intake, hunger sensations, and desire for fat intake. However, it did not significantly reduce actual body weight. Nonetheless, it did aid in dietary control . Another analysis study found that supplementation with 200 to 1,000 mcg of chromium per day in overweight or obese individuals led to significant improvements in weight, BMI, and body fat percentage, although it did not significantly affect waist circumference or waist-to-hip ratio .
Which Foods Contain “Chromium”?
Chromium is present in various foods, including meats, egg yolks, grain products, fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, brewer’s yeast, beer, coffee, and wine. However, the chromium content in these foods can vary due to local soil and water conditions, as well as agricultural and manufacturing processes used to produce them  . Foods high in sugar and most dairy products tend to have lower chromium content, and the absorption of chromium from the diet is generally low, ranging from about 0.4% to 2.5% . The presence of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and prostaglandin inhibitors (such as aspirin) increases chromium absorption, while oxalates and antacids inhibit absorption .
Who Might Benefit from Supplementing “Chromium”?
Currently, there are no clear reports of chromium deficiency in healthy individuals, so there are no clinical guidelines for supplementation . However, based on current research, additional chromium supplementation has shown positive effects for diabetes patients (especially those with poor blood sugar control)  , individuals with metabolic syndrome, and those aiming to manage weight . Individuals can supplement chromium according to their health needs.
Are There Side Effects or Contraindications for “Chromium”?
Chromium nicotinate has been shown in many studies to be safe, without reported toxicity or adverse reactions, and it has better bioavailability and effectiveness . While choosing a chromium supplement, it’s still important to exercise caution. If you have concerns, it’s advisable to consult with your family physician or a nutritionist before making a decision.