The Hard Facts on the Benefits of Chromium – Chromium via Diet and Supplements– and the link with Glucose Tolerance Factor

Benefits of Chromium – Why the fuss about a trace mineral

Chromium is an essential mineral that you either need to get from diet or supplements.  It’s a trace mineral, so you don’t need a lot but you need enough, lest you become vulnerable to a cascade of health problems.

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Unfortunately, many people are chromium deficient, especially those who eat a diet heavy in refined foods. The problem is there are no reliable tests for chromium deficiency.

The hard facts on the benefits of chromium and blood glucose regulation. You can get chromium via diet and supplements.

Benefits of Chromium - What is Glucose Tolerance Factor (GTF)?

The most celebrated benefit of chromium is as a building block of glucose tolerance factor (GTF). Why care about GTF?

GTF influences your sensitivity to insulin the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. This is important because the hallmark of type II diabetes is insensitivity to insulin.

When your system no longer responds to insulin, because of inadequate GTF or other reasons, insulin levels, along with blood sugar, rise. High circulating levels of blood sugar can damage tissue throughout your body. This puts you at risk for the cascade of symptoms of diabetes and pre-diabetes (aka insulin resistance)  – the result of which can be vascular and nerve damage which, in turn, increase risk for  blindness, heart disease, high blood pressure, liver problems and more…. Whoah!


Producing enough GTF and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels are reasons enough to make sure you get enough chromium via food or chromium supplements. …. but wait, there are other benefits of chromium that should prompt you to make sure you don’t run low in chromium stores.


What is GTF and how it relates to Chromium SupplementsGTF is glucose tolerance factor. Chromium and Vitamin B3 (Niacin) are key components of GTF along with the amino acids glycine, glutamic acid and cysteine. Without enough of these nutrients, you may not produce enough GTF and you may risk becoming insensitive to insulin. This can lead to blood sugar problems like insulin resistance and Type II diabetes. Supplementing chromium along with a B complex can improve production of GTF.

Benefits of Chromium – additional benefits

Aside from chromium’s role in GTF and its part in blood sugar regulation, there are other possible benefits of chromium. While all studies are not conclusive, there is evidence for the following benefits of chromium.

  • Chromium may help fat metabolism and decrease blood triglycerides – a good thing when it comes to avoiding heart disease, stroke and hypertension;
  • Chromium has been found to increases the amount of circulating high density lipoprotein (HDL), the good cholesterol - a positive thing when it comes to lowering heart attack risk:
  • Chromium supports immune function by reducing cortisol levels and increasing immunoglobulin levels – a good thing when fighting infection and dealing with physical and emotional stress.
  • Chromium may help regulate body fat and increase lean muscle mass – a good thing when trying to lose weight and get fit.


How to get the Benefits of Chromium

So what’s the problem?

Eat enough chromium rich foods listed below and be done with it, you say.

That’s all well, good and doable, if you source the right chromium rich foods.  Following a healthy balanced diet with an emphasis on whole grains and some beef on the menu will get you there easily. The problem is that many people don’t get this, especially non-red meat eaters who eat a diet heavy in refined foods.  


The typical North American diet with its emphasis on processed and fast foods, especially those made with refined grains, is a ticket to chromium deficiency.  A 1993 survey of the USDA confirms this indicated that the average US diet is low in chromium. While the situation has improved becuase many have embraced better diets in the name of health; subsets of the population remain at risk for missing the benefits of chromium.


Getting the Benefits of Chromium - Factors that help chromium absorption

 Another piece of the chromium pie (Okay, good for metaphor but not eating) is that the gut doesn’t absorb chromium well. Scientists estimate that you absorb only between .4% and 2.5% of the chromium you ingest. The rest is excreted in feces.

Ensuring absorption of the chromium you consume is important to enjoy the benefits of chromium.

The following improve chromium absorption:

  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin or Nicotinic Acid) 
  • Complex Starch (Carbohydrate foods) excluding simple carbs like sucrose and fructose that inhibit chromium absorption.
  • Adequate stomach acid – You need sufficient hydrochloric acid in your tum to absorb the chromium you get via food or supplements. Stomach acid levels can decrease with use of antacids or with age. Getting enough is key to enjoying the benefits of chromium.


Benefits of Chromium – What Hinders Chromium Absorption

The following can prevent chromium absorption:

  • Too much zinc : zinc is an antagonist to chromium so if you supplement too much zinc without any chromium, you may decrease chromium stores. Another reason to get your minerals from diet or via a mineral complex and not from single nutrient dosing.   
  • Antacids which lower stomach acid.
  • Simple carbs or sugars 
  • Vitamin C deficiency
  • Corticosteroids
  • H2 blockers and Proton pump inhibitors for acid reflux and other gastro-intestinal problems that diminish stomach acid.


So nix the junk food especially white bread and foods laden with added sucrose and fructose (usually junk or highly processed grub anyway) and check with your doctor about the effects of medication on chromium absorption.

Instead, go heavy on the whole grains and fruit and veg and, if you eat meat, throw in the occasional bit of lean beef.


Benefits of Chromium – Situations that put you at risk for chromium deficiency.

Certain situations can decrease chromium stores more than normal and put you at risk for chromium deficiency and missing the benefits of chromium.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding, along with infection, strenuous exercise and physical injury can deplete chromium levels.

Who are at risk for missing the benefits of Chromium?
  • pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • the ill or injured
  • the aged
  • athletes and
  • the emotionally stressed
should make sure they get enough chromium rich food to avoid risk for chromium deficiency conditions.

Benefits of Chromium - How much chromium is enough?

There are no Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for chromium or tolerable upper intake levels (UL) for chromium. However, the NIH suggests a range for chromium intake among healthy adults and adolescents between 50 mcg and 200 mcg.

 In 2001, the government set daily minimums [adequate intakes (AI)] for chromium, below which you shouldn’t dip, lest you get start suffering chromium deficiency conditions.

 See National Institute of Health Dietary Fact Sheet for Chromium for more details on these figures.

Adequate Intake Levels per day

  • Babies age 0 to 6 months - .2 mcg
  • Babies ages 7 to 12 months - 5.5 mcg
  • Kids ages 1-3 - 11 mcg
  • Kids ages 4-8 - 15 mcg
  • Boys ages 9-13 - 25 mcg
  • Men ages 14-50 - 35 mcg
  • Men over age 50 – 30 mcg
  • Girls ages 9-13 - 21 mcg
  • Girls ages 14-18 - 24 mcg
  • Women 19-50 – 25 mcg
  • Women over age 50 – 20 mcg
  • Pregnant women over age 18 – 30 mcg
  • Lactating women over age 18 – 45 mcg

Benefits of Chromium - Who is at risk for chromium deficiency?             

Looking at the AI levels, it’s not surprise who is routinely on the deficiency list when it comes to chromium.

  1. Pregnant and breastfeeding women especially those with many pregnancies.
  2. The elderly whose stomach acid levels and overall digestion may be impaired.
  3. Those who have a junk food diet or consume predominately refined grains including white bread.
  4. The ill or injured,
  5. Athletes
  6. The emotionally or physically stressed.
Top Three Chromium Foods – Gram per gram, these foods are stellar choices for getting the benefits of chromium:

  • Whole wheat bread
  • Beef
  • Beef Liver

Benefits of Chromium - Signs of chromium Deficiency

After the discussion of chromium’s effect on insulin sensitivity, it’s no surprise that two of the key signs of chromium deficiency are  

  1. high insulin levels;
  2. high blood sugar levels.


The problem with the above symptoms is that you need to test them – You may have no overt signs of chromium deficiency and its attendant knock on effects on low GTF and high insulin and blood sugar levels.


In fact diabetes and other blood sugar conditions are known as the silent killers because many people can have the disease but not know it…… According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), while 18.5 million  have been diagnosed with diabetes, 7 million have diabetes but don’t know it. 35% of the US population over age 20 and 50% of those over age 65 are estimated to have pre- diabetes, which is a blood glucose level that, while not at diabetic levels, are higher than they should be. With its effects on insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels, the benefits of chromium are obvious.

While there are blood tests for insulin and blood glucose levels, there is no accurate test for chromium levels.


The Benefits of Chromium - Chromium Rich Foods.

Provided you don’t fall into the risk groups for chromium deficiency, it’s not hard to get enough chromium via diet, so long as you make sure you absorb the chromium you get.


The most generous dietary sources of chromium are whole grains and meats with a few surprises thrown in.

Top Chromium Foods

Mcg per 100 g

  • Brewers yeast – 112
  • Beef - 57
  • Calf’s liver - 55
  • Whole wheat bread - 42
  • Wheat bran - 38
  • Rye bread - 30
  • Fresh chili- 30
  • Oysters- 26
  • Potato- 24.

Many other foods contain some chromium including broccoli, turkey, red wine, basil, garlic and apple. A varied diet high in whole grains, fruit and veg with some meat will likely give you all the chromium you need.

Chromium supplements can help especially if you fall into one of the risk groups for chromium deficiency including the ill, the aged and those who are under intense physical or emotional pressure including the injured and elite athletes.


The Scoop on Chromium Supplements

Chromium supplements come in several forms. The most prevalent are the following:

  • Chromium chloride,
  • chromium nicotinate,
  • chromium picolinate,
  • high-chromium yeast, and 
  • chromium citrate.

Some experts consider chromium nicotinate superior to chromium picolinate, the last which studies have linked to psychiatric problems and DNA damage. Chromium nicotinate is bound to Niacin (Vitamin B 3) and for this reason has better absorption than most other forms of chromium.

Chromium chloride is very poorly absorbed and, for this reason, is not the best supplement option when it comes to getting the benefits of chromium.

While supplemented alone, often chromium is part of a multi-mineral, weight loss or performance complex. 200 mcg per day is a common supplemental amount.

While there is no upper limit for chromium, use common sense. Remember that supplementing too much of any mineral is not wise and can lead to health effects as well as deficiencies in other minerals. In the case of too much chromium, you may become zinc deficient especially, if you’re not eating enough zinc –rich foods. Press here to read more about the benefits of zinc and zinc rich foods.


Benefits of Chromium – Drug Interactions

Chromium can affect the function of several drugs, vitamins and hormones including enhancing their effects.

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and prostaglandin inhibitors like ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen and piroxicam can become more effective with chromium.
  • Corticosteroids can work better or worse in the presence of chromium.
  • Insulin can be more effective.
  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin) enhances the function of chromium and vice versa.

So, when supplementing chromium, always check with your doc about the effects on other meds. One benefit of chromium may be that you need less of a meds.


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