printable article

Originally published December 5 2008

Only One Chromium Supplement Helps People with Diabetes

by Dr. Phil Domenico

(NaturalNews) Chromium is an essential mineral in humans that helps the hormone insulin function properly. When insulin is functioning well, blood sugar is balanced. The job of insulin is to remove sugar from the bloodstream and to transport it to the tissues for energy. When insulin is malfunctioning, as in diabetes or obesity, high blood sugar can cause damage to the arteries to set the stage for cardiovascular disease. Also, insufficient sugar transport starves the tissues, which promotes hunger. That's why obese people eat constantly and still feel hungry. Chromium is not the only nutrient that supports blood sugar and insulin health, but it can make a substantial difference.

It turns out that the form of chromium makes a big difference as well. A recent study reported that Niacin-bound chromium (Cr-N) provides significantly more heart health benefits than chromium picolinate (Cr-P) in diabetic rats. After feeding rats a diet supplemented with Cr-N, Cr-P, or nothing at all for eight weeks, scientists measured cholesterol, triglycerides, and markers of inflammation linked to cardiovascular disease. They found that both Cr-P and Cr-N significantly reduced cholesterol and triglyceride levels in rats compared to controls, but Cr-N caused greater overall reductions. Additionally, Cr-N lowered levels of inflammatory markers, while Cr-P did not. The chromium dose in the supplements was 400 micrograms per kilogram of body weight.

Unfortunately, this study is misleading in a variety of ways. The scientists involved have been going out of their way for years to try to make Cr-N competitive with Cr-P. They continue to perform dubious studies in animals and in test tubes to show that Cr-N is better than Cr-P. They used a massive dose of chromium in the above study, perhaps to ensure that Cr-N would work. Normal, effective Cr-P doses are close to 50 times smaller. In fact, it may be the high levels of niacin (vitamin B3) in this rat study that reduced inflammatory markers, not the chromium. Furthermore, the quality of Cr-P used by these researchers in this and other studies is suspect. One wonders if these researchers have a vested interest in the commercial success of this Cr-N supplement.

Massive Cr-N doses may be compelling in the lab, but they do not hold water when given to people. In contrast, Cr-P is the supplement of choice in humans. It is the only chromium awarded a qualified health claim from the FDA. It is the chief chromium supplement in numerous studies currently being funded by the National Institutes of Health. And, it is the only one that works unequivocally in humans, particularly for people with sugar problems.

Indeed, all 15 trials using Cr-P for people with diabetes have demonstrated beneficial effects. Fourteen of those 15 clinical studies (including 11 randomized, controlled studies) involving a total of 1,696 subjects reported significant improvement in blood sugar control. All 15 studies showed salutary effects in at least one aspect of diabetes management, including improvements in blood fats. Positive outcomes from Cr-P supplementation included reduced blood sugar, insulin, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and reduced requirements for diabetes medication. Substantial reductions in these parameters equates to a reduced risk for disease complications (Broadhurst & Domenico, 2006).

Chromium picolinate supplementation also provides benefits for healthy people. A recent study showed significant reduction in hunger levels by 24%, food intake by 25%, and reduced cravings for high-fat foods in adult, non-diabetic, overweight women (Anton et al., 2008). In another study, a single dose of Cr-P helped control blood sugar spikes in 2 out of every 3 healthy individuals given large amounts of sugar (Frauchiger et al., 2004). People, who use the glycemic index to lose weight, eat foods high in fiber and low in sugar and starch to help reduce blood sugar spikes. It appears that Cr-P is a useful addition to help improve glycemic control and weight management. Cr-P has also been shown to fight depression and to curb carb cravings, likely by keeping blood sugar at optimal levels (Docherty et al., 2005).

The greater bioavailability (gut absorption) of Cr-P compared to other forms of chromium may explain its superiority in blood sugar control. Picolinate is a natural chelating agent found in breast milk that helps transport minerals from mother to infant. Picolinate holds on to chromium tightly enough to get it through the digestive system intact so as to enable its absorption by the body. Niacin, on the other hand, does not chelate chromium well, and does not support absorption.

Several studies have shown that Cr-P is significantly better absorbed than other chromium forms in animal and human studies (Anderson et al., 2004; DiSilvestro and Dy, 2005). The available data indicate that Cr-N is poorly absorbed. Inorganic forms of chromium, like chromium chloride, have never demonstrated consistent efficacy due to limited intestinal absorption. However, most multivitamins, especially the cheap drugstore type, contain chromium chloride (Again, you get what you pay for). Another chromium complex, chromium histidinate, shows enhanced chromium bioavailability, and is currently being researched and developed (Anderson et al., 2004).

Chromium supplementation is most important for people with diabetes. Many subjects with type 2 diabetes have faulty chromium metabolism, due to inadequate intake, decreased absorption and increased loss. Current data show a strong correlation between diabetes and low levels of chromium in serum, hair, and toenail tissues. For these reasons, chromium supplementation on the order of 1000 mcg per day has been recommended to provide significant clinical benefit in diabetes. The dose for non-diabetic individuals is in the range of 200-500 mcg per day.

Chromium picolinate has also been shown to be safe in humans at the prescribed doses. A recent study showed that Cr-P does not induce toxicity (i.e., chromosomal damage) at doses up to 2000 mg per kilogram of body weight (Komorowski et al., 2008), which is close to 50,000 times the dose recommended for diabetes subjects. The FDA has also recently affirmed Cr-P safety.

No other chromium supplement shows the consistent benefits that Cr-P does, especially at higher doses for subjects with diabetes. Considering its compelling safety profile, Cr-P is an inexpensive and uniquely efficacious supplement to help control the high cost of diabetes treatment. It makes no sense to toy with chromium supplements that have limited research support when the stakes are so high.

Anderson RA, Polansky MM, and Bryden NA. Stability and absorption of chromium and absorption of chromium histidinate complexes by humans. Biol Trace Elem Res 2004;101:211-8.

Anton SD, Morrison CD, Cefalu WT, et al. Effects of Chromium Picolinate on Food Intake and Satiety. Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics 2008;10:405-12.

Broadhurst CL, Domenico P. Clinical studies on chromium picolinate supplementation in diabetes mellitus- A Review. Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics 2006;8:677-87.

DiSilvestro RA and Dy E. Comparison of acute absorption of various types of chromium supplement complexes. FASEB 2005;19:A92-3.

Docherty JP, Sack DA, Roffman M, et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled, exploratory trial of chromium picolinate in atypical depression: Effect on carbohydrate craving. J Psychiat Pract 2005;11:302-14.

Frauchiger MT, Wenk C, Colombani PC. Effects of acute chromium supplementation on postprandial metabolism in healthy young men. J Am Coll Nutr 2004;23:351-7.

Komorowski JR, Greenberg D, Juturu V. Chromium picolinate does not produce chromosome damage. Toxicology in Vitro 2008;22:819-26.

About the author

Dr. Phil Domenico is a nutritional scientist and educator with a research background in biochemistry and microbiology. Formerly an infectious disease scientist, he now works as a consultant for supplement companies and the food industry.

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