Chromium is a mineral we need in tiny amounts – only 40 micrograms a day, which is less than one 10,000th of a gram. It’s needed by our body for the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and proteins, and also to help maintain healthy blood sugar levels. One of the best food sources of chromium is broccoli, which can provides around half our daily recommended intake in one serving.
Primary functions of Chromium
The only known action of chromium is that it interacts with insulin, the hormone that triggers our cells to take in glucose and remove it from our blood. It is thought to potentiate the action of insulin  – in other words, amplify insulin’s effect on our cells.
Because of this effect on insulin:
- Chromium supports normal blood glucose levels
- Chromium supports macronutrient metabolism. This means it supports the body’s processing of the carbohydrates, fats and proteins that we eat, which also depends on the actions of insulin.
- Chromium may also help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels, through its effects on lipid (fat metabolism). Human studies have indicated that chromium supplementation may lower levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in those with high cholesterol levels.[2,3]
How much do we need?
The EU nutrient reference value (NRV) for chromium in the UK is 40µg for adults. Nutrient reference values replace the old ‘RDAs’ and refer to the amount needed to ensure that the needs of nearly all the population (97.5%) are being met.
Good food sources of chromium include:
- A cup of cooked broccoli (about 150g) can contain up to half our recommended daily intake of chromium – almost 20 µg – making it potentially the best source. Another great reason to eat more broccoli!
- Liver – especially beef or calves’ liver
- Turkey may contain between around 2 and 10 µg of chromium per 100g.
- Barley and oats can be reasonably good sources, providing around 5 to 8 µg per average serving.
- Other vegetables and fruits – e.g. potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, lettuce, apples and bananas – may contain around 1 to 2 µg per average serving.
Deficiency signs and symptoms*
Deficiency symptoms may include [4,5]
- Poor blood sugar control/glucose tolerance, with symptoms including energy slumps after meals and cravings for sugary foods
- Increased risk of insulin resistance and diabetes
- Increased cholesterol and triglycerides
- Fatigue and anxiety
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Slower healing time after injury or surgery.
*If you experience any of these symptoms, please consult your doctor or health practitioner.
Forms and bioavailability
There are two primary forms of chromium supplement available in the UK:
- Chromium chloride, which is an ‘inorganic’ form of chromium.
- Chromium picolinate, which is an organic form of chromium and the type used in most clinical trials. It may be better absorbed and potentially more effective than chromium chloride, although there is conflicting information on this.
What is ‘GTF chromium’?
Some chromium supplements are labelled ‘GTF Chromium’. GTF stands for ‘glucose tolerance factor’. However, true glucose tolerance factor is actually a complex of molecules found in the body that consists of chromium bound to molecules of glycine, cysteine, glutamic acid and nicotinic acid (vitamin B3). ‘GTF Chromium’ supplements don’t generally include all these constituents; they may actually just be normal chromium picolinate, or chromium combined with other nutrients such as zinc or B vitamins that may work with chromium.
Dosages: Lifestyle Labs’ recommendations
Adults: Chromium supplements for adults typically provide between 100 and 500 µg of chromium per daily dose. The dose we would tend to recommend for long-term use is 100–200 µg. (Up to 200 µg is commonly found in multivitamin and mineral supplements too.) 500 µg may be recommended for someone who needs more intensive support, generally for short-term use. Your practitioner may recommend a higher dose on a longer-term basis.
Children: Chromium is not generally given as an individual supplement to children, although those over 8 years can take up to 100 µg a day. Multivitamin and mineral supplements for children under this age may contain up to around 60 µg a day. More than this may be recommended by a healthcare practitioner.
If you are taking any medications or have any medical condition, please consult your healthcare practitioner before taking chromium.
Because chromium can have glucose-lowering effects, individuals taking anti-diabetes medications or insulin may need to be monitored by a healthcare practitioner when taking chromium.
For most people, chromium is a safe supplement to take on a long-term basis when sticking to the dosage recommendations above.
- Frauchiger MT, Wenk C, Colombani PC. Effects of acute chromium supplementation on postprandial metabolism in healthy young men. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Aug;23(4):351-7.
- Press RI, Geller J, Evans GW. The effect of chromium picolinate on serum cholesterol and apolipoprotein fractions in human subjects. West J Med. 1990 Jan;152(1):41-5.
- Wang MW et al. Serum cholesterol of adults supplemented with brewer's yeast or chromium chloride. Nutrition Research 1989;9:989-998.
- Osiecki, H. (n.d.). The Nutrient Bible. 9th ed. Bio Concepts Publishing, pp.168.
- Haas, E. and Levin, B. (2006). Staying healthy with nutrition. Berkeley: Celestial Arts. p.179.