Role of Chromium in Diabetes

Diabetes effects over a quarter of a billion people worldwide. Since there is no cure for this dreadful disease, preventing diabetes is worth more than treating the disease. Dietary patterns and nutrients may improve the outcome of diabetes.

There is a growing interest in the possible beneficial role of chromium in the treatment, and prevention of complications, in diabetics.


Chromium is an essential trace mineral found in low concentrations in the body. It is involved in normal carbohydrate and lipid metabolism. Total body chromium is only about 4-6 mg and decreases with age.

Role of Chromium in Diabetes

Chromium is known to enhance the action of insulin, a hormone critical to the metabolism and storage of carbohydrate, fat and protein in the body. Chromium forms a complex which helps insulin bind to its receptor leading to the opening of glucose channel for glucose entry into the cell.

When there is not enough chromium in the body, the body cannot use insulin to take up glucose from the blood into the cell. This leads to increase in glucose and insulin levels in the blood which could cause diabetes. Studies have showed a low plasma chromium concentration and increased chromium excretion in diabetic patients.

How much Chromium do we need?

Age ChromiumAmount needed per day
Men 19-50 years 35 mcg
Women 19-50 years 25 mcg
Pregnant  19-50 years 30 mcg
Lactating 19-50 years 45 mcg


Chromium and Diet

Chromium is widely distributed in the food supply, but most foods provide only small amounts (mcg) per serving. Chromium content in food is affected by the agriculture and manufacturing process and therefore cannot be reliably determined.

Good sources include:

  • Meat
  • Whole-grain products
  • Some fruits and vegetables,
  • Spices

In contrast, foods high in simple sugars (like sucrose and fructose) are low in chromium.

Studies showed that consumption of diets low in chromium content may lead to detrimental effects on glucose tolerance, insulin and glucagon levels in subjects with mildly impaired glucose tolerance.  It has therefore been suggested that chromium supplements might help to control type-2 diabetes or the glucose and insulin responses in persons at high risk of developing the disease.

Chromium Supplements

Photo Credit: phanlop88 via freedigitalphotos.netChromium supplementation began getting a lot of attention following a study in 1997 by Dr. Richard Anderson et al. from the USDA. The study demonstrated that people with diabetes who took between 600- 1000 mg / day had a striking reduction in their blood glucose levels and a reduction in cholesterol within six months.

Chromium is available in supplement form as inorganic salts such as with chloride or as an organic complex such as with acetate, nicotinic acid alone or with amino acids, or picolinic acid.

Chromium picolinate is the most common form because it is more bioavailable than other forms of chromium supplements. There are no adverse side effects reported with short term use of chromium picolinate supplements with concentrations of 1.6 mg/day for 3-6 months.

However, not all studies have reported the beneficial effects in subjects with type 2 diabetes. The result showed that chromium supplementation did not improve insulin resistance or impaired glucose metabolism in patients at risk for type 2 diabetes and is unlikely to lower the diabetes risk.

Chromium Deficiency

Signs and symptoms of chromium deficiency included:

  • weight loss
  • peripheral neuropathy
  • High blood glucose
  • impaired glucose  also called insulin resistance
  • metabolic syndrome

Chromium Toxicity

Oral supplementation of up to about 1000 microgram of chromium appears to be safe. No tolerable upper intake level has been established by the Food and Nutrition Board to date. However, chromium picolinate concentrations of 600 and 2400 microgram  has been associated with renal failure and hepatic dysfunction in some animal studies.


Written by Mehwish Naqvi, Certified Clinical Nutritionist. August 8th 2014
Reviewed by Shaistha M Zaheeruddin, Registered Dietitian


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