Chromium and Diabetes Management

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There are so many products on the market that promise to cure all of your ailments that it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. For people with diabetes, one particular item that has gained fame over the years is chromium.

Chromium is a mineral that breaks down carbohydrates and fats, and also makes GTF (Glucose Tolerance Factor). Insulin needs GTF to help glucose (sugar) go into the body’s cells. Some claim chromium can increase weight loss, build muscle mass, reduce body fat, lower cholesterol and improve insulin action. That’s a tall order! These claims appeal to most people, and definitely grab the attention of people with diabetes. So should chromium be a part of a diabetes meal plan?


What’s the Evidence for Chromium Supplementation?

Research studies on chromium have shown mixed results. Some studies suggest that chromium can help improve blood glucose levels in those people who have a deficiency in chromium. There is also evidence to suggest that chromium can help lower cholesterol levels. However, studies have shown no significant evidence that chromium helps with weight loss or building muscle mass. Another study reported that people who took chromium and an oral diabetes medication did not see any improvement in their blood sugar level.

How much Chromium is Okay?

At this time there is no specific amount of chromium recommended for people with diabetes. What if you have a deficiency? Most people don’t know if they do or not, since chromium deficiency is rarely measured by healthcare providers.

The DRI (Daily Reference Intake) of chrimoium for adults is between 20 to 35 mcg/day depending on age and gender. However, most dietary supplements sold over the counter contain anywhere from 400 to 800 mcg. There is not enough data to set a Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for chromium. In general, oral intake of chromium has a low level of toxicity, partly due to its very poor absorption. However, studies suggest that people with pre-existing kidney and liver disease may be particularly susceptible to the side effects of excess chromium.

Where is Chromium found?

Rich sources of chromium include meat, peas, beans, and cereals (particularly all-bran cereals). Whole-grains versions generally provides more chromium than refined grains. Here is a list of foods and their estimated chromium content (micrograms per 100 grams):

Common Foods and Chromium Content (mcg):

  • Egg yolk – 183
  • Brewer’s yeast – 112
  • Beef – 57
  • Cheese – 56
  • Liver – 55
  • Wine – 45
  • Bread, whole meal, wheat – 42
  • Black pepper – 35
  • Rye bread – 30
  • Chili, fresh – 30
  • Apple peel – 27
  • Potatoes, aged – 27

Source: The Composition of Foods by A.A. Paul & DAT, Southgate (UK) 1978

The Bottom Line

The hype surrounding chromium may have some truth to it. There have been positive studies about chromium’s role in blood glucose and cholesterol management, and keep your eye out for future studies that may offer recommendations for people with diabetes. If you choose to take a chromium supplement, check with your health care provider to make sure it doesn’t interfere with other medications you’re taking. Include foods in your diet that contain chromium and, most important of all, monitor your blood sugar levels to get the real facts about your diabetes management.


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