A) BLOOD SUGAR CONTROL
In order for blood sugar (glucose) to be metabolised efficiently it must be transported into the cells via the action of the hormone insulin. A compound called “glucose tolerance factor” (GTF), of which chromium is a primary component, facilitates this action of insulin. Chromium’s main function in this respect is to increase the sensitivity of cell receptors to insulin, thereby increasing the efficiency of blood glucose metabolism. In fact, a study involving patients taking chromium observed that the number of insulin receptors increased, presumably as a result of the supplementation. Considering the above information, it is not surprising that chromium has a significant role to play in controlling high blood sugar and treating diabetes. This is especially the case in non-insulin dependent diabetes (NIDDM), whereby insulin is being secreted, but the cells are not sufficiently sensitive to it. NIDDM patients are often chromium deficient and studies confirm that chromium supplementation is often effective in helping to normalise blood sugar and increase glucose tolerance in such individuals. Interestingly, chromium also may play a beneficial part in glucose balance in those with low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia). This has been demonstrated in a 3-month trial where hypoglycaemics took 200ug of chromium per day. Supplementation led to both an improvement in both glucose tolerance measurements and subjective symptoms. There are various theories as to how chromium may benefit hypoglycaemia. One of the more frequently discussed is the following: When chromium is deficient, the body becomes insulin resistant and thus cannot efficiently deal with short-term elevations in blood sugar (such as after eating carbohydrates). The insulin that has been released is not being used up, but because the blood sugar remains elevated, the body releases yet more insulin in response. Once the food-derived blood glucose is eventually spent, there continues to be an overabundance of insulin in the body, leading to a crash in blood sugar. (Interestingly, in the studies of diabetics using chromium supplements, it was found that the mineral lead to a reduction in insulin levels.) A crash in blood sugar leads to a craving for quickly-used carbohydrates in order to raise blood sugar. Sugars are eaten to satisfy the craving, and the blood sugar skyrockets and cannot be dealt with properly due to insulin resistance (perhaps due to chromium deficiency). This describes the vicious cycle of blood sugar elevations and crashes that are common in hypoglycaemic people. Chromium supplementation is thought to be a valuable tool in avoiding these severe fluctuations (see Contraindication/Cautions below).
B) CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH
It has been observed in those with insulin resistance that the excessive insulin output (in response to the resistance) leads to an increase in blood lipids such as triglycerides, as well the more dangerous forms of LDL (bad) cholesterol. Some experts estimate that insulin resistance is a causal factor in a significant percentage of those with heart disease – especially in women. In the clinical research involving chromium supplementation in non-insulin dependent diabetics, it was observed that the mineral not only aided blood sugar balance, but also reduced levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. In fact, several studies demonstrated that chromium also lowers total cholesterol and triglycerides in those without diabetes. Supplementation also led to an increase in HDL (good) cholesterol. The greatest improvements were observed in those who initially had the lowest chromium levels. Although chromium-induced changes to cholesterol and triglycerides are not typically large, they are still sufficient to provide a tangible health benefit, particularly in those at risk of cardiovascular disease. Optimally, chromium supplementation should be combined with appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes as well as other nutrients, herbs, etc that are relevant to cardiovascular health. In addition to any cardiovascular benefits from the reduction of blood lipids, chromium can also play a critical role in protecting the integrity of the blood vessels. Blood sugar that is not efficiently metabolised can lead glycosylation (glycation). Glycosylation is the process whereby sugars attach to proteins and damage their structure. This process can lead to significant damage to artery walls. Chromium has been shown to reduce glycosylation.
C) WEIGHT CONTROL
“Syndrome X”, which is the name coined to describe insulin resistance, has been a controversial area c investigation with respect to weight control. Some scientific evidence suggests that obese individuals ar likely to suffer from “insulin resistance” (lowered sensitivity to the action of insulin). However, there ii certain research suggesting that insulin resistance does not cause obesity per se, but rather that obesity can cause insulin resistance. Experts in the field of insulin research have observed that high insulin levels (i.e. due to insulin resistance) can cause the body to store fat. However, they state that this only occurs when calorie intake is in excess of immediate energy needs. In spite of the controversies surrounding the role of insulin resistance in obesity, there is clinical evidence that chromium supplementation can increase the rate of fat loss. For example, one clinical trial showed that 2 V2 months of supplementation with either 200ug or 400ug of chromium lead to a fat loss of 3.31bs and 4.6lbs respectively. Men appeared to experience the greatest benefits and the male participants lost approximately 7 times more fat than those receiving the placebo. In addition, lean muscle mass was increased. Undoubtedly, the weight control benefits of chromium supplementation are mainly due to a combination of lower insulin levels, less insulin resistance and the increased fat burning potential afforded by increased lean muscle mass.
D) SPORTS NUTRITION
As well as its influence on transporting sugar into cells, insulin also facilitates the entry of amino acid; into muscle cells. This may account, at least in part, for the influence of chromium on lean muscle ma (see weight control above). Not surprisingly, the research highlighting the ability of chromium supplementation to increase the rate of lean muscle gain and fat loss has raised a great deal of interest in the sports nutrition field. In the clinical trial mentioned above, the participants receiving 200ug of chromium per day for 2 V2 months experienced an increase in lean muscle mass of 1.5lbs. Those takir 400ug per day gained 1.1 lbs of lean muscle mass. These results, combined with the significant fat los (see above) would be of value to both athletes and those involved in more casual exercise.
E) SKIN HEALTH
In addition to the above influences of insulin resistance, it appears that the skin also is adversely affected. For example, in the case of acne, there is evidence that the glucose tolerance of skin tissue ci be significantly impaired, even where the results of standard oral glucose testing methods are normal. Although evidence is limited, chromium supplementation may improve acne in many patients, presumably by helping normalise the glucose tolerance in skin cells.
There has been a great deal of interest and publicity regarding the influence of free radicals in the ageing process, and with great justification. Equally justified, but for the most part unknown outside the scientific field, is the role of sugar in ageing. As mentioned above, blood sugar that is not efficien metabolised can lead glycosylation (glycation). Glycosylation is the process whereby sugars attach to proteins (such as collagen) and damage their structure. There is considerable evidence that glycosylat can significantly damage cells and essential bodily compounds, while accelerating the ageing of body tissues and organs. Chromium has been shown to reduce glycosylation by facilitating blood glucose metabolism, thereby reducing the exposure of cells to high sugar concentrations. Although human longevity studies regarding chromium are lacking, supplementation seems warranted, especially considering the worryingly high percentage of people who are chromium deficient.
- Blood sugar control (general)
- Non-insulin dependent diabetes
- “Borderline” diabetes
- Cravings for sugar and refined carbohydrates
- High cholesterol
- High triglycerides
- Cardiovascular disease (general)
- Weight control
- Sports nutrition
- Body building
- Slowing the ageing process
Typical Supplemental Dosage Range
• 100-500ug per day
Common Supplement Forms/Sources
• Chromium chloride
• Chromium picolinate
• Chromium polynicotinate
• Chromium nicotinate/glycinate
• GTF chromium
• High-chromium yeast
EC RDA (adults)
• None established
Common Food Sources
• Brewer’s yeast
• Whole wheat
• Sunflower seeds
• Beans (especially soy)
• Chromium should only be supplemented in the trivalent form.
• Insulin dependent diabetics should not take chromium supplements unless on the advice and under the strict monitoring of a physician, as the chromium may compound the drug’s effect and lead to difficult management of insulin dosage and even dangerous drops in blood sugar.
• Non-insulin dependent diabetics taking diabetic medication other than insulin should only take chromium supplements on the advice and under the strict monitoring of a physician.
• Non-medicated, non-insulin dependent diabetics patients should only take chromium supplements on the advice and under the monitoring of a physician.
• Individuals with hypoglycaemia should only use chromium supplements on the advice and under the monitoring of a qualified healthcare practitioner. Some hypoglycaemics will experience severe drops in blood sugar as a result of chromium supplementation.
• Yeast-derived chromium supplements should not be used by patients taking monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors unless on the advice and strict monitoring of a physician. Yeast-free chromium supplements can be used as an alternative.
• It has been reported that if taken in the evening, chromium may lead to more vivid and colourful dreams and a reduced need for sleep.
Agents/Factors Which Deplete Levels, Impair Absorption and/or Inhibit Activ
• Refined carbohydrates
• Phytates (prominent in cereal grains – especially wheat bran)
• White flour
• Calcium carbonate-containing medications and supplements
• Lack of exercise
Possible Signs/Symptoms Associated with Deficiency
• Insulin resistance
• Poor glucose tolerance
• High blood sugar
• Non-insulin dependent diabetes
• High triglycerides
• High cholesterol
• Cardiovascular disease (general)
• Impaired growth
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