Chromium supplements have been shown to possess a number of benefits as well as some distinct dangers. Healthier sugar metabolism, lowered cholesterol, enhanced fat metabolism, and improved muscle mass are among the reported advantages of chromium supplements. There are also some potential drawbacks to taking this mineral; these include possible kidney or liver problems, increased risks of cancer, and muscle breakdown.
Chromium is identified as an essential trace mineral, signifying its importance, in small amounts, for proper overall functioning of the body. It specifically helps in supporting healthy glucose levels and in properly metabolizing carbohydrates and fats. These functions can be hindered by a chromium deficiency, which is caused by a lack of trivalent chromium, the nutritional aspect of the mineral. A deficiency can be treated by either eating chromium-rich foods — grains, cereals, and brewer's yeast are the most common — or with the appropriate dosage of chromium supplements.
One of the most widely reported advantages of chromium supplements is an increased ability to metabolize sugar and insulin. Studies suggest that chromium breaks down the body's resistance to insulin and can help diabetics maintain healthier glucose levels. It also aids in transporting sugars more efficiently through the system so they can be turned into energy; similarly, chromium supports the flow of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to also be transformed into energy.
Due to its role in synthesizing cholesterol, some advocates believe chromium supplements are important to lowering and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. This can also assist in weight loss and in the building of muscle mass. Though no definitive scientific conclusions have been reached on this subject, many have experienced these benefits of taking chromium supplements.
Chromium is not without its potential risks, however. Though there are few — if any — side effects, chromium supplements may have links to some serious medical conditions. In one highly publicized case, a user taking chromium supplements suffered kidney and liver damage as well as anemia. It should be noted, though, that the user was ingesting 6–12 times the daily recommended dose.
An elevated risk of cancer is another often-cited danger of chromium. This was first recognized in the 19th century, when workers at a chromate dye company developed various types of cancers at an alarming rate. Modern research has indicated the possibility that chromium may activate the production of damaging free radicals in the body. Yet just as there has been little scientific research into the benefits of chromium supplements, there has also been scant research into any possible drawbacks.