Chromium is primarily known for its role in insulin utilization and blood sugar control. However, chromium is also important for macronutrient metabolism and the circulatory system. Chromium’s role in health has been debated and a group of scientists have looked closer at the link between low blood levels of chromium and global health burdens such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and depression. How do we get enough chromium from the diet and what supplements have the highest bioavailability?
Chromium is found in mussels, fish, meat, almonds, nuts, wholegrains, spices, fruit, and vegetables. The chromium content in the diet varies a lot due to factors like the chromium content in the soil and food refinement.
When dietary carbohydrate is broken down and absorbed in the form of blood sugar (glucose), chromium enters the stage and offers its support in the energy turnover. Chromium is a component of a complex called chromodulin that attaches to insulin and helps it channel more glucose into the cells. That way, chromium contributes to the maintenance of stable blood sugar, which is essential for ensuring that cells get a constant supply of energy and are able to carry out their many different functions in the body.
- Insulin is a hormone that is produced in the pancreas. It works like a key by helping glucose (blood sugar) access to our cells
- Chromium attenuates the effect of insulin by helping it channel more glucose into the cells
- This is the equivalent of improving your car’s mileage
- Stable blood sugar is vital for our mental and physical well-being
Unstable blood sugar sets the stage for cardiovascular disease and diabetes
Modern diets often contain far too many refined carbohydrates in the form white flour, sugar, soft drinks, chips, pizza, and other types of junk-food that spike your blood sugar. Sure, you get a quick “energy fix” but your blood sugar plummets soon after. In addition, there is risk that the excess calories are not metabolized but rather stored as fat, typically visceral fat. In the long run, consuming too many fast carbohydrates can result in insulin resistance where the glucose uptake in cells is impaired. This type of food doesn’t make you feel properly satiated and you develop a craving for more fast carbs.
In addition to leading to insulin resistance, permanently elevated blood sugar levels can cause metabolic syndrome, an early stage of type 2 diabetes. Here, the liver turns into a virtual fat factory that converts excess sugars into triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. The dangerous visceral fat results in inflammation and free radical formation, which attacks the cholesterol and sets the stage for atherosclerosis.
Modern diets often contain far too little chromium, the constant oscillations in blood sugar levels cause further chromium depletion.
Chromium was considered an essential nutrient based on clinical studies that were made around 60 years ago. In the past decade, however, chromium’s role in human health has become a bit more controversial. This is because science has only looked at dietary chromium and not other factors that can affect the body’s status. What is more, most of the research was animal studies. Although research points to chromium as being important for preventing and treating cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and depression, most studies look at chromium intake from the diet or from supplements. In the new study, the scientists therefore wanted to look closer at how chromium in the blood affects the mentioned diseases.
The study sheds new light on chromium’s role in circulatory health, blood sugar, and mood
The researchers based their study on the large American NHANES population study that was conducted in 2015-2016. They recruited 2,984 adults from 50 different states in order to ensure a sufficiently wide representation with regard to ethnicity, age, education, social status etc. They collected data about the participants’ diet habits, health, and BMI. They also took blood tests and urine tests and tested the participants’ vision. Around half the participants had cardiovascular disease, according to the results. Of those with cardiovascular disease, 50 percent had low levels of chromium in their blood. None of them had too high chromium levels. Most participants with cardiovascular disease were also overweight and took different types of medication for their condition. Around 25 percent of the participants had type 2 diabetes. Half of them had too little chromium in their blood. One in five men and one in three women suffered from depression. Of these, 25% had too little chromium in the blood. It appears that people with cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and depression tend to have lower levels of chromium in their blood. Men with low chromium status have a slightly increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes compared with women with low chromium status.
Based on their findings, the scientists suggest that chromium is an essential nutrient that should be included in the official dietary guidelines. Supplements may be necessary as a way of optimizing blood levels of chromium. The scientists also call for additional studies to uncover chromium’s role in physical and mental health and to find out more about how gender, ethnicity, age, and genes can affect our need for the nutrient. The new study is published in Nutrients.
The need for chromium, and the quality of supplements
The official recommendation for chromium in Denmark is 40 micrograms per day. For regulation of blood sugar, experts normally recommend 200 micrograms.
With regard to chromium supplements, always make sure to choose a preparation with good bioavailability. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has stated that organic chromium yeast has up to 10 times better absorption in the body than synthetic sources like chromium picolinate and chromium chloride.
Useful advice on how to stabilize your blood sugar and lose weight
- Adjust your protein intake correctly to each main meal
- Don’t shun fat – but stick with healthy fats
- Reduce your carbohydrate intake and go with wholegrains, instead
- Eat plenty of vegetables but cut back on fruit
- Avoid refined sugar, white flour, and junk-food
- Avoid or limit your intake of liquid calories
- Get exercise and engage in many minor physical activities during the day
- Get plenty of sleep
- Take a supplement of chromium yeast
Jasmine Chen et al. Blood Chromium levels and Their Association with Cardiovascular Diseases, Diabetes, and Depression: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2015-2016. Nutrients 28 June 2022
Sijing Chen et al. Association of plasma chromium with metabolic syndrome among Chinese adults: a case-control study. Nutrition Journal. 2020
Bispebjerg Hospital. Færre kulhydrater forbedrer type-2 diabetikeres evne til at regulere blodsukkeret. Nyhedsbrev 10. august 2019
J. Racek et al: Biological Trace Element Research. 2006
Pernille Lund: Sådan får du styr på dit blodsukker og din vægt. Ny Videnskab 2013
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