You may have noticed a certain supplement getting a lot of attention lately; its name is chromium and it's been added to multivitamins for years, going largely unnoticed. But now we're seeing it added to protein powders, taken alone, and praised for its ability to help us fight our sugar addiction. It raises the questions: What is chromium, really? And should I be taking it?
Chromium is a trace mineral necessary for the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates at a molecular level. Most chromium can be absorbed from healthy foods like whole grains, spices, fish, corn, potatoes, fresh vegetables, and Brewer's yeast; even your cast-iron skillet provides a small dose of this super nutrient! And while eating a diet full of plant-based and minimally processed foods provides you with chromium and ensures proper absorption of this mineral, there are some people who may benefit from extra supplementation. Here are three reasons to consider a chromium supplement:
1. You have a blood sugar problem.
Chromium reduces blood glucose levels in diabetics. A dose of 1,000 mcg per day showed promising results in studies, and this is due to chromium’s role in enhancing insulin receptor activity. Chromium is a component of low-molecular weight chromium binding substance (LMWCr), which increases signaling from the insulin receptor by improving binding. There is evidence of low levels of chromium are tied to abnormally high blood sugar in some research participants and that restoring this nutrient can bring those levels back down. So if you have a blood sugar problem, you might want to ask your doctor about chromium.
2. You have a hormone imbalance.
Studies have shown that chromium improves glycemic control in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Frequently, patients are diagnosed with both diabetes and PCOS as the two conditions often go hand-in-hand. PCOS causes changes in hormones that lead to metabolic dysfunctions in blood sugar and insulin control, lipid levels, and blood pressure. Women with PCOS who were given 1,000 mcg of chromium per day improved blood sugar control by as much as 30 percent.
3. You have trouble regulating your mood.
Chromium may help with certain types of mood disorders. Studies show that patients with dysthymic disorder and atypical depression responded favorably when given chromium supplements. One theory suggests that because chromium helps cells be more sensitive to insulin, it also allows insulin to transport tryptophan—the precursor to serotonin—across the blood-brain barrier and into the central nervous system. This gives the body the building blocks for producing this feel-good molecule and could help alleviate depression that is associated with low levels of serotonin. Chromium supplementation has been shown to be best suited for atypical depression involving irregular appetite and carbohydrate cravings.
How much chromium does an adult need? The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends:
- males 19 to 50, 35 mcg per day
- males over 50, 30 mcg per day
- females 19 to 50, 25 mcg per day
- females over 50, 20 mcg per day
- pregnant females over 19, 30 mcg per day
- lactating females over 18, 45 mcg per day
Unless you suffer with a condition that warrants the use of extra chromium, eating a well-rounded, minimally processed diet will provide you with the daily chromium necessary for maintaining good health. Since chromium can affect blood sugar levels, patients with diabetes and PCOS should only take chromium under a doctor’s supervision.
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