Chromium is an essential trace mineral that is found in small amounts in the typical diet. It is a common “no-brainer” ingredient found in many weight loss products. That’s because chromium plays an important part in insulin function – it helps insulin regulate blood sugar levels. It’s also involved in carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism.
While it is a worthwhile ingredient in any fat burner, some of the claims made by retailers touting its benefits are a little on the ridiculous side.
For instance, you may have seen it said that chromium “helps build muscle and improve athletic performance.”
Chromium’s effect on weight loss tends to be exaggerated too. This “analysis of randomized trials” on the effectiveness of chromium picolinate for weight loss (see Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2003 Apr;27(4):522-9) concluded…
In conclusion, our meta-analysis suggests a relatively small effect of chromium picolinate compared with placebo for reducing body weight. The clinical relevance of the effect is debatable and the lack of robustness means that the result has to be interpreted with caution.
This study (J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2000 May;55(5):M260-3) performed on elderly “non-obese” individuals found that…
“Chromium picolinate supplementation alone does not appear to improve insulin sensitivity, serum lipids, or change body composition in nonobese, healthy men and women of advanced age.”
Some studies are a little more positive. This one (see Diabetes Care. 2006 Aug;29(8):1826-32) indicated that…
“Chromium picolinate supplementation attenuates body weight gain and increases insulin sensitivity in subjects with type 2 diabetes.”
And this one, performed on individuals with atypical depression (see J Psychiatr Pract. 2005 Sep;11(5):302-14) found that chromium picolinate supplementation had a positive effect on carbohydrate craving and appetite regulation.
One study (see Diabetes Obes Metab. 1999 Nov;1(6):331-7) performed on African American women with niacin bound chromium (or chromium polynicotinate — a highly bio available source of chromium) found…
“Niacin-bound chromium given to modestly dieting-exercising African-American women caused a significant loss of fat and sparing of muscle compared to placebo.”
As you can see, the data validating chromium’s effects are a little bit inconsistent. Nonetheless, I believe it’s a helpful supplement for individuals who are insulin resistant, or hypoglycemic. Basically, this means the body has difficulty dealing with vast amounts of blood sugar that are released quickly into the bloodstream as a result of the typical North American diet — one filled with refined sugars and flours, saturated fats, and highly processed foods.
This means the body is primed to store calories/glucose as fat.
One “sign” of hypoglycemia or insulin resistance is intense CRAVINGS for sweets as well as wildly vacillating energy levels.
There are two things you can do about this… first, eliminate junk foods, processed foods, and highly refined foods (including white breads, pastas, sweets etc.), and replace them with high fiber grains, beans, and vegetables. Eat many small meals throughout the day, and always include a lean protein source (like chicken, turkey, fish, lean beef) with each meal. Many of these whole foods are good sources of chromium (along with other healthful nutrients).
The other is to implement a chromium supplement into your diet (I personally found this very helpful for killing sugar cravings, although now I prefer supplements like l-glutamine or alpha lipoic acid to do the job instead!). Chromium polynicotinate is probably your best bet. And it’s cheap too. Just don’t overdo it: even though it’s a healthful nutrient, large amounts are not needed and are potentially risky (see, for example, this report of chromium toxicity).
Bottom line on chromium?
A very useful supplement, especially if you have intense sugar cravings. But its effects have been largely exaggerated by the supplement industry.