Organic or inorganic chromium
Chromium is an element and a metal. To humans, it is also an essential micronutrient in the form of so-called trivalent chromium. Chromium also exists as divalent and hexavalent chromium but these forms are toxic. All approved chromium supplements contain trivalent chromium. The various chromium forms can bind with a variety of chemical compounds to form other substances.
Chromium contributes to the body's metabolism of macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein, and lipids). However, chromium is better known for its role in regulating blood sugar levels. Without chromium, insulin is ineffective. Chromium's influence on macronutrient metabolism and blood sugar levels are approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The ability to absorb and utilize elements is not very good in humans. The elements in our diet are embedded in food molecules. In food supplements, however, it is common practice to bind elements to various organic or inorganic compounds for increased absorption. Chromium is one of the nutrients which is most difficult for the body to absorb, even in situations where a person is chromium deficient. Chromium has poor bio-availability.
Organic chromium yeast is the most bio-available
Chromium supplements can be either organic or inorganic. Chromium from food contains a mixture of organic and inorganic chromium compounds. Organically bound minerals, including chromium, are generally more bio-available than those which are inorganic. When a compound is organic it contains carbon. "Organic" may, however, also refer to substances that are made from living matter, as opposed to synthetically manufactured substances. Inorganic chromium has low bio-availability (only 0.1 - 2 %), whereas with organic chromium you get up to 10 times better absorption.
One of the main reasons why chromium has such poor bio-availability is that chromium compounds are normally not water-soluble. Only very few water-soluble chromium compounds are known and none of them are used in food supplements. Therefore, it is extremely important what kind of chromium compound a food supplement contains, as you can see below:
Overview of the bio-availability of different approved chromium compounds:
- Chromium chloride: An inorganic chromium compound with very poor bio-availability (0.1 - 2 %)
- Chromium picolinate: A synthetically manufactured, organic chromium compound that is frequently used in food supplements. It is lipid-soluble which, in theory, should make it less bio-available than water-soluble chromium compounds. Nonetheless, EFSA writes that the bio-availability of chromium picolinate is equal to or possibly slightly higher than what you get with other chromium forms - which means around 2%. Studies conducted with chromium picolinate have produced conflicting results with regard to health and safety.
- Chromium nicotinate (chromium polynicotinate): Organic chromium compound with inferior bio-availability (0.5 - 2%, according to EFSA)
- Dietary chromium: Consists of a blend of organic and inorganic chromium compounds. Surprisingly, the bio-availability of dietary chromium is quite low (between 0.5 and 3%)
- Chromium yeast: Organic, natural, trivalent chromium compound with the highest level of bio-availability on the market. The bio-availability of chromium yeast is up to 10 times higher than what you get with chromium chloride and chromium picolinate.
The manufacturing of chromium yeast
- Live yeast cells are fed with inorganic chromium chloride
- Chromium is incorporated and integrated in the cell walls of the yeast cells, making it a part of its proteins. Thereby the chromium chloride is converted to natural, organic chromium yeast.
- The chromium yeast is pasteurized, killing the yeast cells
- The chromium-rich yeast cells are cleansed, spray-dried, pulverized, and pressed into tablets.
- When ingested, the chromium-rich proteins in the yeast are broken down to chromium-rich peptides and amino acids in the intestine
- Chromium peptides and amino acids can easily pass through the intestinal wall (which is not the case with chromium chloride and chromium picolinate that are primarily absorbed by means of passive diffusion).
Passive diffusion is not an effective way of absorbing substances, as the molecules move slowly from an environment of high concentration to an area with lower concentration without the cells using energy.
From GTF to chromodulin
For years, we have been told that the most active form of chromium is a component of a complex called GTF (Glucose Tolerance Factor). GTF is believed to consist of three amino acids and a B vitamin.
The problem with GTF is that it is only a partially substantiated theory. Science has never actually proved the existence of the GTF molecule. As a result, chromium researchers have stopped believing in the existence of the GTF molecule.
At the same time, more recent studies have pointed to the existence of a unique chromium-binding molecule called chromodulin which differs slightly from GTF, yet possesses similar properties. When scientists talk about chromodulin instead of GTF, they still refer to the same properties.
In brief, chromodulin is a complex of substances with the ultimate ability to help the body absorb and utilize chromium. It is found naturally in different foods, but yeast cells are by far the best source.
A comparison of GTF and chromodulin
|Glutamic acid||Glutamic acid|
As seen in the above there is no major difference between GTF and chromodulin and the body's ability to handle chromium is even linked to the two complexes in a very similar way.
The yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae has a naturally high chromium content. In addition, yeast contains all the amino acids that are found in GTF/chromodulin. Yeast is ideal as a way to contain chromium, as it virtually "smuggles" chromium into the body in a disguise of amino acids. This natural feature explains why chromium yeast has such uniquely good bio-availability.
Chromium yeast and Candida
Candida albicans is the name of a yeast fungus that naturally inhabits the intestinal system of 80% of the population without causing any harm. In some cases it spreads and causes a disease known as candidiasis. This may happen as a result antibiotic therapy that is known to kill off the gut bacteria that normally control levels of Candida.
Many alternative therapists discourage the use of yeast products among people who are believed to suffer from candidiasis. There is no reason for this, as foods with yeast do not cause candida to spread or multiply in the intestine. On the contrary, the highly bio-available chromium compounds in chromium yeast are found to benefit people with candidiasis by stabilizing their blood sugar, which often fluctuates and is far too high. Chromium yeast does not contain live, prolific yeast cells but rather chromium-enriched protein powder made from yeast cells. Only people who are allergic to yeast may experience a problem with chromium yeast.
What is blood sugar?
Blood sugar is the blood's content of glucose (dextrose). Blood sugar is measured in a unit known as millimole per liter (mm/l). The food we ingest is broken down to glucose, among other things, causing blood sugar levels to rise. The pancreas secretes insulin which, helped by chromium, channels glucose from the bloodstream into the cells. This, in turn, causes blood sugar levels to drop. In a normal, healthy person, blood sugar levels move within a narrow range of around 4-8 mmol/l in the course of the day.
Who may benefit from chromium yeast?
Most modern people can benefit from a daily supplement of chromium yeast. However, it is especially type-2 diabetics, overweight individuals, and people with blood sugar disturbances who are bound to experience improved blood sugar regulation by taking the highly bio-available chromium yeast. Intense physical training increases the body's chromium excretion, a loss which can be compensated for with chromium yeast.
As we age, the body's chromium metabolism is reduced by 25-40%. For that reason, chromium yeast is particularly suited for elderly people because of its good bio-availability. As mentioned in several other places, the bio-availability of chromium yeast is significantly better than what you get with dietary chromium.