Your body doesn't need much of this mineral, but a little bit of chromium is crucial to good health because it helps metabolize carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Found in meat, whole-grain foods, and some fruits and vegetables, chromium is also available in supplements, including chromium picolinate and chromium chloride.
How it works
Recent research suggests that chromium may play a role in managing type 2 diabetes because of its positive effect on insulin. Your body uses insulin to shuttle glucose into cells, where it's used for energy. Type 2 diabetes and prediabetes occur when the body stops using insulin effectively. When insulin regulation breaks down, glucose builds up in the blood, starving the body of energy. Chromium may help this situation by making cells respond better to insulin.
A 2002 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reviewed 15 clinical trials and determined that chromium had no effect on glucose or insulin concentrations in nondiabetic subjects and that the data on those with diabetes was inconclusive. But research on animals indicates that chromium might make insulin receptors more efficient, so type 2 diabetics need less insulin to metabolize glucose, says John Vincent, Ph.D., a chemistry professor at the University of Alabama. A study published last year in Diabetes Care found that combining 1,000 micrograms of chromium per day (in the form of chromium picolinate) with a standard diabetes medication, Glucotrol XL (which stimulates the pancreas to make more insulin), significantly improved the body's response to insulin in those with type 2 diabetes.
How to take it
Chromium comes as a singleingredient supplement, in combination formulas, and in multivitamin/mineral pills. Research suggests that chromium picolinate may be absorbed slightly better than chromium chloride. Daily Adequate Intakes (AIs) for adults are 35 mcg for men and 25 mcg for women, which are amounts generally found in multivitamin/mineral products. (AIs decrease for older adults; no safe dose has been established for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or for people with liver or kidney disease.) You can also meet your needs by eating plenty of whole grains, green beans, and broccoli.
Vincent has found evidence of DNA damage in fruit flies exposed to chromium picolinate, but not in those exposed to chromium chloride. In a 2004 statement, the U.K. Department of Health said the balance of research suggests that chromium picolinate doesn't damage DNA. Vincent advises looking for chromium chloride in a multivitamin. Ask your doctor if chromium interacts with any medications you're taking.
The Bottom Line
Chromium may help to control type 2 diabetes in combination with diabetes medication, but more research is needed. Check with your doctor to see if you are a candidate for the supplement.