How Chromium Functions in the Body

Chromium is among the minerals – zinc and magnesium are others – which the body requires to keep itself in the best of health and to function best physiologically. Humans need trace amounts of chromium. Those who are very active definitely require chromium and other minerals in their diets so that they can be sure they are able to sustain increased levels of energy and work.

Chromium is an essential trace element, the predominant form found in the body is trivalent chromium (Cr3+). Cr3+ can be sourced from many foods. This form of chromium is believed to be involved in normal insulin function. Insulin is key to maintaining the living state and storage of carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins within the human body. The element also exists in another form: hexavalent (Cr6+). But Cr6+, unlike Cr3+, is poisonous and is caused by polluting factories.

History and perspective

Chromium was discovered in the late 1790s. But it was not until the late 1950s that the biological importance of the element caught the eye of scientists. At that time, researchers found that a component found in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, also known as brewer’s yeast, was able to inhibit the aged-based decrease in the ability to preserve regular amounts of blood sugar in rats. Eventually, investigators determined that chromium was the responsible component.

The precise role of a water-soluble compound, which includes chromium and helps insulin maintain proper blood sugar levels, also known as the Glucose Tolerance Factor, is not well understood. However, it is believed that this aids cellular insulin absorption by helping move insulin across the membranes of a cell. The ability to stimulate insulin absorption has led some to believe that chromium plays an anabolic role in the body.

Chromium nourishment for the body

Unlike macronutrients, which are consumed in terms of hundreds of grams each day, micronutrients are consumed daily in terms of micrograms (µg) or milligrams (mg). Chromium helps control whole body metabolism, including how one utilizes energy and how well people function.

In terms of nourishment for the body, nuts, wholegrain cereals, shell fish, eggs, and fruits and vegetables are chromium sources. Some dietary sources of chromium with greater chromium content include:

  • Mussels – 128 µg/100g.
  • Brazil nuts – 100 µg/100g.
  • Oysters – 57 µg/100g.
  • Pears – 27 µg/100g.

The body’s chromium needs can be readily met by consuming a balanced diet which includes meat, grains, fish, and a variety of produce. Chromium supplements also are available, but there is little evidence to support that any advantages are gained by their use. Chromium has no recommended dietary allowance. An adequate and safe intake daily in adults ranges from 50 to 200 micrograms.

Preventing disease

Early research in people who had limited tolerance to glucose has found that supplementing their diets with chromium helped glucose utilization or improved their lipid profiles. Some studies have found that supplementation might lower blood sugar levels, and the levels of insulin which those with diabetes need. However for type 2 diabetes, large-scale randomized controlled trials involving chromium supplementation must be undertaken to determine if chromium can effectively treat the condition. Little evidence exists that could be used to measure the impact that chromium supplementation has on gestational diabetes.

Animal studies have found that blood pressure levels might be lowered with chromium, but the same effect has not been shown to occur in humans. Whether supplementation can lower cholesterol levels in the blood has not been clearly demonstrated.

Overall, ingesting large amounts of chromium does not appear to cause significant negative effects. Despite the fact that the element may be linked to metabolism, investigators still must figure out how extensively it may impact the body. Among the issues facing them are determining who responds well to supplementation; analyzing a food’s chromium content and how extensively chromium is taken up by the circulatory system; and establishing accurate benchmarks that indicate chromium levels.

Reviewed by Angela Garland BEng

Further Reading

Last Updated: Aug 23, 2018

Joseph Constance

Written by

Joseph Constance

Joseph Constance has written about research, development, and markets in the health care and related fields. He has authored a number of articles, and business analysis/market research reports in the medical device, clinical diagnostics, and pharmaceutical areas. Joseph holds an MA from New York University in Communications. He enjoys spending time with his wife, biking, traveling, and learning about different cultures.


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