Insulin resistance is one of the often-overlooked pieces of the weight loss puzzle. Chromium is a mineral, an essential micronutrient that can potentially improve your body’s insulin response, lower blood glucose levels, and help you lose weight.
Let’s look at the research to find out whether their are chromium picolinate benefits, if it lives up to the marketing hype, and how you can most effectively and safely use this mineral supplement as part of your weight loss strategy.
What is Chromium (Picolinate)?
Chromium picolinate is a nontoxic form of the mineral chromium. The toxic hexavalent form (Chromium VI) is used in chrome plating and other industrial uses, but the nontoxic trivalent form (Chromium III) is found naturally in small amounts in foods.
The typical dietary intake is from 20 to 30 micrograms daily, according to the National Institutes of Health, with a current daily value (DV) of up to 120 micrograms per day (although this will drop to 35 micrograms when new recommendations go into effect in 2020).
What Does Chromium Do?
Chromium is part of a molecule called chromodulin, which helps the hormone insulin perform its actions in the body. Insulin plays a key role in your body’s processing of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. In people who are overweight, insulin resistance is common.
That is, even though insulin levels are normal—perhaps even higher than normal—the cells are not letting the insulin get inside. If the insulin cannot get inside, cells cannot release the fat and glucose molecules that are being stored. Insulin resistance makes weight loss very difficult.
Chromium is routinely added to intravenous (IV) feed solutions, to prevent diabetes-like symptoms believed to be caused by a chromium deficiency. Most people get enough chromium from the foods they eat, but when someone is fed by IV for a long time (and isn’t eating any food by mouth), supplementation is necessary.
Since Chromium directly influences insulin’s effectiveness, it seems logical to assume that a chromium supplement might help with weight loss. But does it?
Chromium Picolinate Benefits Can You Lose Weight ?
In a study that looked at 425 healthy people found that chromium supplementation did not change blood sugar or insulin levels. Other studies showed improvement of blood sugar control in diabetics, but no effect in those who were obese but did not have diabetes.
Several large studies concluded that dietary supplementation of chromium has moderate effects on insulin resistance in those with diabetes, may prevent diabetes, and has little effect in healthy adults, or in those who are obese without diabetes.
Other studies found that chromium at 600 to 1000 micrograms per day is more effective than a placebo in reducing cravings and hunger pangs.
Bottom line: Chromium is an important micronutrient. Your body needs chromium to do its work. But the weight loss effects are not as dramatic as we might hope.
When used for weight loss, typical doses range from 200 to 2000 micrograms daily. This has raised some concerns about the safety of doses that are so much higher than the DV of 35 to 120 micrograms per day.
Chromium is a mineral, and therefor isn’t as easily excreted (gotten out of the body) as some other nutrients. Most studies for weight loss range from 8 to 26 weeks long, and don’t address the concerns of high chromium levels.
In addition, the form of chromium that is usually found in dietary supplements is chromium picolinate, which isn’t quite the same form as that found naturally in foods. Again, this has raised some concerns about potential toxicity.
Few serious adverse effects have been linked to excess chromium intake, so there is no upper limit advisory (also known as a tolerable upper limit) from the Institute of Medicine.
However, there is an additional wrinkle in this puzzle. The trivalent form of chromium that is found naturally in food is not quite the same thing as the chromium picolinate that is most often used in supplements, especially in supplements intended for weight loss.
Chromium picolinate has a single chromium molecule bound to three molecules of picolinic acid. In its natural trivalent form, chromium is very poorly absorbed by the human digestive system—as little as 2% of what we ingest is absorbed. Adding picolinic acid improves this abysmally poor absorption rate, but it comes at a cost.
Because of the way chromium picolinate is processed in the body, a compound called hydroxyl radicals is produced. Hydroxyl radicals can damage of the cells and DNA. In one case, severe kidney damage was reported in a woman who had been taking 1,200 to 2,400 micrograms of chromium picolinate for weight loss.
All this means that the safest form—although not the best absorbed form—of chromium is the trivalent form that naturally occurs in foods, not the chromium picolinate form. Read my recommendation on one of the best weight loss supplements on the market today.
Bottom line: Chromium picolinate supplementation at dosages higher than 35 to 120 micrograms per day are NOT recommended, based on current research.
Potential Medication Interactions
Some medications may interact with chromium supplements, by blocking or increasing absorption, increasing excretion, or may have their effects enhanced if taken with chromium. Please check with your healthcare provider before using chromium if you are taking any of the following medications.
- H2 blockers (such as cimetidine, famotidine, nizatidine, and rantidine)
- Proton-pump inhibitors (such as omeprazole, lansoprazole, rabeprazole, pantoprazole, and esomeprazole)
- Beta-blockers (such as atenolol or propanolol)
- Nicotinic acid
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
- Prostaglandin inhibitors (such as ibuprofen, indomethacin, naproxen, piroxicam, and aspirin)
Using Chromium Safely and Effectively for Weight Loss
The key is to get chromium through foods, to use supplementation only for a short period of time, to use low doses, and to make chromium part of a weight loss plan that includes good nutrition, portion control, and exercise.
Foods that are relatively high in chromium include
- Whole grains
The goods news is, these foods are nutrient dense and should already be part of your weight loss plan.
Effective Weight Loss Plan
This section gives you the tools you need to put your body in a place where insulin resistance won’t be an issue and you are getting enough chromium in the foods you are eating, so that you can avoid the potential DNA damage from the supplement form.
Get most of your chromium from real foods. Limit chromium picolinate supplementation to the recommended 35 micrograms per day.
Eat several servings of fruit daily, and make sure at least one of them is an apple or an orange, for the chromium content. Choose organic for best results, since this means the fruit will have been grown in healthier soil, with a higher natural chromium content.
Throw in some hearty exercise. Even 10 minutes of walking every day will start to build lean muscle mass if you’re out of shape, and that will automatically start curbing some of those cravings and reducing hunger—HUGE win here! The biggest effect comes from 20 minutes of more intense exercise (enough to increase your heart rate) 3 to 5 times a week.
Get into a calorie deficit. Although weight loss is a lot more complex than simple calories-in-calories-out, this is still an important part of the equation. If you are taking in more energy in food than what your body can work off, you will gain weight.
If you are taking in less energy than what your body is working off, you will lose weight. The simplest way to move in the direction of a calorie deficit is to cut out snacks between meals, and limit desserts to once or twice a week.
Get hydrated. Drinking plenty of pure water helps your body flush out some of the fat cells that have been released, improves metabolism, decreases appetite, curbs cravings, lifts brain fog makes you feel better, and gets rid of toxins, among other good things.
Did we mention that it also flushes out fat molecules?! Drink water! Of course, you can drink too much water… A good general guideline is to drink your body weight in ounces. For example, someone weighing 150 pounds should be aiming for up to 150 ounces of water.
Ditch the fast food. Between high fat ingredients, non-food ingredients (aka fillers), and ginormous portion sizes, fast food is a fast track for weight gain. Brown-bagging won’t cost more, and your body will thank you for it.
Choose a few simple changes that you are willing and able to make today and get started. Your body will thank you for it, and you will save money by not buying the hyped-up weight loss supplements (or at least using them responsibly and safely).
What are your thoughts on chromium picolinate benefits? Are you using any supplements at this time for weight loss? Share your thoughts below as well as this article. Be Well!