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What are the Pros and Cons of Chromium Supplements?

By Donn Saylor
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments

By irontoenail — On Feb 11, 2012

@KoiwiGal - In fact, the average person exceeds the daily recommended amount of chromium needed so I don't think it should be an issue for most people. It's found in quite a few common foods, including broccoli, dark chocolate, grape juice and red wine.

It has been found to help balance out insulin levels though and they really don't understand how it works or how much a person should have. The recommended daily amount is probably quite conservative.

As long as people keep to the limit suggested by the bottle of supplements I don't see the harm in it.

By KoiwiGal — On Feb 10, 2012

@indigomoth - While there has been some positive research involving chromium, people should also bear in mind that it's not considered an essential nutrient in the human diet.

When I looked it up, only a few people have ever been reported as having chromium deficiency and they were all being drip fed in the hospital.

Which is not to say that adding it as a supplement to the diet might not help you out somewhat when it comes to weight loss. But supplements aren't a miracle cure and it sounds like people are really talking up chromium as being more essential than it actually is.

The supplements are also quite expensive, so that puts me right off using them when there are other supplements available which have more scientific proof backing them up.

By indigomoth — On Feb 09, 2012

It always kind of annoys me when I see people who have taken huge amounts of a particular supplement, obviously thinking that if a normal dose does good things then a super dose must do even better things.

The human body rarely works that way. I mean, even fat is good in the right kind of doses. These same people wouldn't think that eating a hundred carrots per day would help them, but they'll swallow multiple pills, ignoring the warnings on the pack.

The thing is, with vitamin supplements, you probably have no idea how much of the particular vitamin you are already eating every day. Chromium is found in several common foods, so if you happen to really like those foods you could be putting yourself at risk by going even slightly over the recommended limit.

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