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Broccoli salad in a white bowl

Chromium: function, foods & supplements

02 Dec 2022 • 1 min read

Find out all about chromium, including what it does, how much you need, where to find it and who might need to supplement their diet

Written by Carole Beck on January 23, 2019 Reviewed by Dr Sarah Schenker on January 30, 2019

What is chromium and what does it do?

Chromium is a trace mineral, which means your body needs it in tiny amounts.1 It plays an important role in turning the food we eat into energy.2 Chromium can’t be made by our bodies, so we must get it from our food.3 Good sources include broccoli, potatoes and wholegrains. Most people get all they need from their diet.3 Chromium is available as chromium picolinate in tablets, and also often found as part of a multivitamin.

What does chromium do in the body?

Chromium is needed to:4
  • break down protein, fat and carbohydrate into energy
  • control blood glucose levels
Chromium helps regulate blood glucose levels by boosting the actions of insulin – the hormone regulating the release of glucose into your cells, according to a 2012 study by the USA’s University of Wyoming.5

A 2003 study published in Nutrition Research Reviews reported that the type of chromium used in supplements – chromium picolinate – is able to curb insulin resistance, which is linked to the development of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.6

How much chromium do I need?

Adults should have up to 25 mcg of chromium a day, according to the NHS.7

Do children need chromium?

From 7 months until 10 years – 5-15 mcg a day8

Which foods are the best sources of chromium?

Many foods contain chromium, but usually only in small amounts. Some of the best food sources of chromium9 include:
  • broccoli
  • grape juice
  • turkey
  • potatoes
  • garlic
Other plant sources of chromium10,11 include:
  • wholegrains
  • lentils
  • nuts
  • bananas
  • green beans

What are the symptoms of a chromium deficiency?

As chromium is found in such a range of foods, deficiency is extremely rare.12 A diet that is skewed towards refined carbohydrates and sugar is more likely to be linked to low chromium levels – this is because these foods do not provide chromium and also encourage chromium usage.13 Chromium deficiency causes impaired glucose tolerance in people. Symptoms include:14
  • high blood glucose levels
  • weight loss
  • raised blood cholesterol

What happens if I consume too much chromium?

There currently isn’t enough scientific evidence to show how much is too much chromium for humans, so no upper limit has been set.15 But the NHS recommends getting no more than 10,000mcg (10mg) a day.16 However, excessive intakes of chromium supplements can cause the following symptoms:17
  • stomach upsets
  • low blood sugar
  • kidney and liver problems

Chromium supplements

When should I take chromium supplements?

You can get all the chromium you need from eating a balanced diet. If you have diabetes or insulin resistance, only take chromium supplements under medical supervision as it may change how much insulin you need.18

Should children take chromium supplements?

Children eating a healthy, balanced diet should be getting all the chromium they need.19 If you’re worried they’re not, talk to your GP before giving them supplements.

Should women take a chromium supplement during pregnancy?

Chromium supplements are not advised during pregnancy, unless recommended by your doctor or midwife.20

What are the potential benefits of chromium?

Scientists think low chromium levels may impact on cholesterol levels in the body. In a 2018 study, Chinese researchers reported that people with higher chromium levels were more likely to have healthy levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.21 So, chromium may help protect your heart, too.
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