Chromium is a mineral our bodies use in small amounts for normal body functions, such as digesting food. Chromium exists in many natural foods including brewer's yeast, meats, potatoes (especially the skins), cheeses, molasses, spices, whole-grain breads and cereals, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Drinking hard tap water supplies chromium to the body, and cooking in stainless-steel cookware increases the chromium content in foods.
You can buy chromium supplements alone in tablets or capsules or as part of a multivitamin. But because the human body needs very little chromium, most people get enough in their regular diet and do not require dietary supplements. Those at risk for chromium deficiency include people with diabetes and the elderly.
Chromium helps to move blood sugar (glucose) from the bloodstream into the cells to be used as energy and to turn fats, carbohydrates, and proteins into energy.
The chromium found in foods will not hurt you. But taking excessive chromium supplements can lead to stomach problems and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Too much chromium from supplements can also damage the liver, kidneys, and nerves, and it may cause irregular heart rhythm. But side effects from taking chromium supplements are rare.
Antacids (including calcium carbonate) interfere with the absorption of chromium.
Being exposed to high levels of chromium on the job (such as in metallurgy and electroplating) has been linked not only to kidney damage but also to lung and other cancers as well as skin conditions such as eczema and other inflammations of the skin.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements in the same way it regulates medicines. A dietary supplement can be sold with limited or no research on how well it works or on its safety.
Always tell your doctor if you are using a dietary supplement or if you are thinking about combining a dietary supplement with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on a dietary supplement. This is especially important for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
When using dietary supplements, keep in mind the following:
Other Works Consulted
- Chromium (2009). In A DerMarderosian et al., eds., Review of Natural Products. St. Louis: Wolters Kluwer Health.
- Murray MT (2013). Obesity. In JE Pizzorno, MT Murray, eds., Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th ed., pp. 1638–1650. St. Louis: Mosby.
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Current as ofJune 4, 2014
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