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After scouring the research on chromium,  the results are for the most part equivocal in terms of fat loss, strength, and muscle mass gain (some positive, some negative). I believe that the effects of chromium depend on several factors including dosage, timing, and type of chromium used.  There is definitely an issue with chromium bioavailability, especially from food sources like brewers yeast, broccoli, and cinnamon.  That is why supplementation with a bound form of chromium is best (this helps form stable chromium complexes).  The two most popular forms of this trace mineral are chromium picolinate (bound to a metabolite of the amino acid tryptophan) and chromium polynicotinate (a special niacin bound chromium).  Although the picolinate form has been used in more studies, the polynicotinate form seems to be better absorbed and safer (although both forms are quite safe).  An animal study shows that the polynicotinate form is better absorbed and retained and a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in 1997 showed that niacin bound chromium caused significant weight loss in obese women when combined with exercise while chromium picolinate actually caused weight gain (not good!).  There was a scare about chromium picolinate being damaging to chromosomes and having mutagenic effects but the studies that showed this were done in hamster ovary cells.  Chromium is a trace mineral and the Estimated Safe and Adequate Daily Dietary Intake (ESADDI) is 50-200 mcg. Chromium is essential for normal protein, fat, and carbohydrate metabolism.  Chromium is important for energy production, and also plays a key role in regulating appetite, reducing sugar cravings, and lowering body fat according to a few studies. Chromium helps insulin metabolize fat, turn protein into muscle, and convert sugar into energy. The primary function of chromium is to potentate the effects of insulin and thereby enhance glucose, amino acid and fat metabolism. Insulin is a key hormone produced by the pancreas that helps regulate blood sugar levels and can help control appetite and nutrient uptake into muscle cells. Chromium enhances insulin sensitivity by improving insulin binding, insulin receptor number, and insulin receptor enzymes. 


What’s interesting is that one recent study published in the Alternative Medicine Review stated that “the beneficial effects of chromium on serum glucose and lipids and insulin resistance occur even in the healthy.” Exercise induces chromium losses in athletes and may lead to chromium deficiency resulting in impaired insulin function. Athletes may have an increased requirement for chromium. Signs of chromium deficiency include high blood glucose levels, increased cholesterol and triglycerides, and decreased HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels. 


The biologically active component of glucose tolerance factor (GTF), which potentates insulin activity and is responsible for normal insulin function, is dependent on chromium. Chromium has been shown to ameliorate type II diabetes, reduce cholesterol levels, help decrease fat mass, and increase lean body mass, as well as reduce weight.  These effects are in conjunction with chromium supplementation AND exercise of course. One study published in the Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism Journal using 600 mcg of chromium (from polynicotinate) daily in overweight women showed significant weight loss and sparing of muscle mass over a two month period without any adverse effects. 

Yet another study published in the Western Journal of Medicine concluded that “chromium picolinate is efficacious in lowering blood lipids in humans.”

A fairly recent study conducted at Georgetown University Medical Center and published in May 2002 showed that chromium polynicotinate can enhance insulin sensitivity and reduce age-related disorders including problems with glucose metabolism. 


One thing to watch out for is taking chromium with iron as they both compete for absorption and binding to transferrin.  Although not conclusive, it may be a good idea to take chromium and iron supplements separately.  Based on the research and my own personal experience, I have found that one of the best times to take chromium is right after a weight training workout with a post workout shake to enhance nutrient absorption. According to most of the research, good dosages range from 400-1000 mcg of chromium in divided doses daily taken with meals (preferably from chromium polynicotinate).


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