Supplement Focus: Chromium

This little-known mineral helps balance your blood sugar, and can help manage conditions from diabetes to depression.

What is it?
Chromium is a trace element, and although we need it only in tiny amounts, it is required for a range of vital body functions. Its main role is to maintain healthy blood glucose levels by enhancing the action of the hormone, insulin. New research shows that blood sugar is involved in a whole range of chronic health conditions not just diabetes, but also heart disease and obesity. It is found in a wide variety of foods, including lean meat, pulses, wholegrains, nuts, fruit and vegetables.

How can it help me?

Insulin resistance/pre-diabetes
Impaired glucose tolerance or insulin resistance occur when the body can’t properly use the hormone insulin to balance blood sugar levels; this can progress to type 2 diabetes, and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. In a US study, taking 200ug of chromium picolinate a day lowered the after-meal blood glucose spike seen with insulin resistance.

Type 2 diabetes
Higher-dose chromium, carefully monitored, could help manage this condition. A review of 15 clinical studies involving 1690 subjects showed that chromium picolinate significantly helped control diabetes, lowering blood glucose, cholesterol and lipids, and reducing the amount of medication needed.

Body composition
Several studies have shown that chromium could help you gain a leaner physique. In a US trial involving 154 volunteers, taking 200ug chromium picolinate for 72 days led to a significant improvement in body composition, with less fat and more muscle. But it would need to be just one element in a generally healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet and plenty of exercise.

How much do I need?
Chromium picolinate is available in capsules up to 200ug (micrograms), and is best absorbed with vitamin C-rich foods or drinks. Tea and coffee hinder absorption, so avoid them if you can.

How should I use it?
It’s always important to stick to the guidelines provided by the manufacturer.  The UK recommended daily allowance for chromium is 40ug.  Taking more than 200ug daily is not usually recommended.

If you have diabetes or are insulin resistant, talk to your doctor before taking chromium, as it affects blood glucose and diabetes medication. 

Carina Norris was the nutritionist for Channel 4’s ‘Turn Back your Body Clock’. As well as writing the book to accompany the series she has also written several other books including four of the ‘You are What You Eat’ series.