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Mineral Nutrient :: Chromium


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Content Below: What is Chromium · Benefits · Deficiency Signs · Foods · Supplements · RDA · Toxicity

What is Chromium ?
Chromium is one of the trace minerals needed in very small amounts by the body.  It cannot be made in the body, and must be obtained from the diet or supplements.

Chromium in food is susceptible to damage by commercial food processing. In many cases much of the chromium is lost during refining.  For instance, chromium in whole grains is found mainly in its bran and germ. When grains are milled into flour, the bran and germ are removed, leading to inevitable loss of the chromium.

How Chromium Benefits Health
Chromium has been found to be one of the most important minerals in the body.

It is a key element in the metabolism of carbohydrates and proteins, and promotes muscle tone.  It stimulates cholesterol and fatty acid synthesis, which is needed for brain function and other processes.

Chromium is especially vital for metabolism of glucose, and for maintaining blood sugar balance, due to its role in the formation of a compound known as GTF (Glucose Tolerance Factor).  GTF enhances the function of insulin to push glucose from blood into cells, where it can be used for energy.

Initial studies show that chromium supplementation may improve glucose tolerance in those with Turner's Syndrome. This disease is associated with glucose intolerance, where cells are less responsive to the action of insulin in transporting glucose across cell membranes into cells.

The main ways that chromium benefits the body are summarized here.

:: Chromium Benefits & Functions
1. promotes action of insulin, which is needed for metabolism and storage of protein, carbohydrates and fats, and in glucose utilization and energy release
2. pivotal in normalizing blood sugar levels, and so helps maintain stable blood sugar levels in both diabetics and hypoglycemics (those with abnormally low blood sugar); in some studies, type 2 diabetics were able to lower their insulin intake by supplementing with chromium
3. involved in metabolism of nuclei acid, which are needed to build DNA, the genetic material in cells
4. promotes synthesis of cholesterol and fatty acids, which are needed for brain function and other processes in the body
5. some types of chromium supplements (eg. brewer's yeast that is rich in chromium) were shown in studies to lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and raise “good” HDL cholesterol
6. helps reduce high blood pressure


Chromium Deficiency Symptoms and Causes
The average American diet is deficient in chromium.  This is partly due to lack of chromium in the soils and water supply, and partly to food refining methods that remove much of the chromium in commonly consumed foods.

Researchers estimate that as many as 90% of Americans may have some chromium deficiency.  This shows up as a host of symptoms that include insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, abnormal blood sugar and/or insulin levels, high triglyceride and blood pressure and low HDL cholesterol levels, all of which increase the risk of heart disease.

Severe deficiency is, however, rare.  It is symptomized by weight loss or damage to the brain that results in brain inflammation, or slight numbness and tingling or burning sensations in the hands and feet.

People with diabetes or heart disease, or who have undergone trauma or injury or stress may need higher chromium intake.  These conditions can cause more chromium to be excreted or blood sugar imbalances that raise the amount of chromium the body needs.

Calcium supplements, antacids, and other medication that contain calcium carbonate can also hinder the absorption of chromium.

:: Chromium Deficiency Symptoms
1. insulin resistance or glucose intolerance where cells in the body become resistant to the effects of insulin (in pushing glucose from the blood across cell membranes into cells), which affects the ability of insulin to regulate blood sugar and means higher amounts of insulin are needed
2. leads to high blood sugar levels that may result in type 2 diabetes in older people
3. elevated blood insulin levels (hyperinsulinemia)
4. high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol levels, and/or high triglyceride levels, all of which increase the risk of heart disease
5. high blood pressure


Chromium Foods
There are many foods with chromium, but these mainly have no more than 1 or 2 mcg (micrograms) of it per serving.  Getting enough from a normal diet can therefore be difficult, since there are few foods high in chromium, and much is lost during food processing.

The best food source of chromium is brewer's yeast, but many people find it hard to digest, and it tends to cause abdominal bloating and nausea.

Foods high in chromium are · brewer's yeast · egg yolks · molasses · onions (raw).

Other foods with chromium include · apples, bananas, oranges and grapes · beer · brown rice · cheese · dried beans · liver · meat (beef, chicken, turkey) · mushrooms · oysters · vegetables like alfalfa, broccoli, carrots, green beans, green peppers, potatoes, romaine lettuce, spinach, ripe tomatoes · wheat germ · whole grains (in the bran and germ).


Chromium Supplements
Taking vitamins and minerals in their correct balance is vital to the proper functioning of all vitamins.  They work synergistically, which means that the effectiveness of any one nutrient requires, or is enhanced, sometimes dramatically, by the presence of certain other nutrients.

For this reason, if you are looking to take supplements for maintenance of optimal health, the recommended approach is to take a multi-vitamin that has the proper balance of all the necessary nutrients your body needs.

For a list of reputable top ranked vitamin and mineral supplements chosen in an independent supplement review, see Best Multivitamin Supplements. Many of these are manufactured to pharmaceutical or nutraceutical GMP compliance, which is the highest multivitamin standard possible.

Keep in mind, however, that while mineral supplements are useful to plug nutritional gaps that are almost inevitable in modern diets, and to ensure we get optimal doses of nutrients, they are no substitute for a good diet. Instead, use them to complement a healthy diet and lifestyle.


Chromium RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance)
The Food & Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, in their 1997-2001 collaboration between the US and Canada, set the daily Adequate Intake (AI) of Chromium as follows.

Life Stage | Gender Chromium Dosage | Day
Infants 0-6 mths 0.2* µg
Infants 7-12 mths 5.5* µg
Children 1-3 yrs 11* µg
Children 4-8 yrs 15* µg
Girls 9-13 Yrs 21* µg
Boys 9-13 Yrs 25* µg
Females 14-18 Yrs 24* µg
Males 14-18 Yrs 35* µg
Females 19-50 Yrs 25* µg
Males 19-50 Yrs 35* µg
Females older than 50 Yrs 20* µg
Males older than 50 Yrs 30* µg
Pregnant Women 14-18 Yrs 29* µg
Pregnant Women 19-50 Yrs 30* µg
Lactating Mothers 14-18 Yrs 44* µg
Lactating Mothers 19-50 Yrs 45* µg

These dosages are the minimum required per day to ward off deficiency. In therapeutic use of this nutrient, dosage is increased as necessary for the ailment, keeping in mind Chromium toxicity levels.


1 µg = 1 mcg = 1 microgram = 1/1,000,000 of a gram
1 mg = 1 milligram = 1/1,000 of a gram

* Indicates AI figures based on Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) figures


Chromium Overdose Symptoms, Toxicity Level & Side Effects
Extensive research has found no adverse chromium side effects from high intake of it.  The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine did not establish a Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for chromium.

However people with kidney or liver disease may be more vulnerable, and should avoid very high intake of chromium above recommended doses, as a precaution.

Chromium taken in extremely high amounts can accummulate in tissue and impair rather than enhance the effectiveness of insulin.  It can also irritate the stomach and cause rapid heartbeat, light-headedness and skin rashes. If you experience any chromium side effects, stop taking the supplement or switch brands.

There have been rare cases of liver and kidney damage due to excessive intake of chromium picolinate supplement.  Other forms of chromium did not cause such problems. As a precaution do not take chromium picolinate in very high doses.  Preferably pick another form, like chromium nicotinate.

Chromium causes blood sugar to drop, as it enhances the effectiveness of insulin in moving glucose from blood into cells.  Hence if you are on insulin or glucose-lowering medication consult your doctor before taking chromium supplements.  You might need to take a lower dosage of your medication, to avoid lowering your blood sugar levels too much.

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1. Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary reference intakes for vitamin A, vitamin K, arsenic, boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, vanadium, and zinc. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2001.

2. U.S. National Libary of Medicine [NLM] & National Institutes of Health [NIH]: MedlinePlus. NLM-NIH home page. <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus>. Use the built-in search function to find specific data. Accessed 2009 March – June.

3. National Institutes of Health, NIH Clinical Center: Office of Dietary Supplements [ODS]. ODS home page. <http://ods.od.nih.gov>. Use the built-in search function to find specific data. Accessed 2009 Mar – Jun.

4. The George Mateljan Foundation: The world's healthiest foods [WHFoods]. WHFoods home page. <http://www.whfoods.com>. Accessed 2009 March – June.

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6. Balch JF, Balch PA. Prescription for nutritional healing: A practical A-Z reference to drug-free remedies using vitamins, minerals, herbs & food supplements. Garden City Park, New York: Avery Publishing; 1990.

7. Ulene A. Dr. Art Ulene's complete guide to vitamins, minerals and herbs. New York, NY: Avery Publishing; 2000.

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