Chromium is an essential trace element. It exists in several forms in nature, but trivalent chromium is the only one that can be used in the body.

Why you need it

Chromium is needed in trace amounts to form an organic complex known as the Glucose Tolerance Factor (GTF). This complex also contains vitamin B3 (niacin) and three amino acids. It interacts with the pancreatic hormone, insulin, to regulate the uptake of glucose by cells. Low levels of chromium have been linked with poor glucose tolerance and diabetes. GTF also encourages the production of energy from glucose, especially in muscles, increases protein synthesis and lowers blood fat levels, including harmful LDL-cholesterol. It may also suppress hunger pangs through a direct effect on the satiety center in the brain. In general, the more carbohydrate you eat, the more chromium you need.

Recent advances in chromium research strengthen the theory that chromium deficiency is a risk factor of maturity-onset (insulin independent) diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Interestingly, chromium levels are highest just after birth, then rapidly decrease especially after the age of ten. Some experts believe this finding reflects a widespread nutritional deficiency of this important trace element.


When supplements providing 200mcg chromium per day were given to diabetics, almost half needed less insulin or blood sugar-lowering tablets. The effects were twice as good in those with non-insulin dependent diabetes than in those with insulin dependent diabetes. Some trials have found little improvement in glucose tolerance when chromium was given to elderly people with stable insulin independent diabetes, however.

Chromium may help to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by lowering blood levels of harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and raising levels of beneficial high density (HDL) cholesterol.

How much you need

There is currently no EC RDA set for chromium. Intakes of 50-200 micrograms per day are considered both safe and adequate.

Chromium deficiency is thought to be common. One estimate suggested that 90 per cent of adults are deficient as most people get less than 50mcg from their diet, and only around 2 per cent of this is in an absorbable (trivalent) form.

Intestinal absorption is low (0.5-2 per cent) except where chromium is present in the form of GTF.

Supplements provide trivalent chromium which is non-toxic at recommended doses. Do not exceed the stated dose.

The hexavalent forms of chromium (used in industry) are toxic and can cause skin and mucus membrane ulceration, gastro-enteritis, liver and kidney problems. Contact leads to dermatitis while inhalation can trigger asthma, perforation of the nasal septum and even cancer.

Symptoms that may be due to chromium deficiency include

  • poor glucose tolerance with either raised or lowered blood sugar levels
  • poor tolerance of alcohol
  • abnormal blood fat levels
  • hunger pangs and weight gain
  • nervousness
  • irritability
  • frustration
  • confusion
  • depression
  • thirst
  • decreased sperm count and impaired fertility

Foods containing chromium include

  • brewer's yeast
  • egg yolk
  • red meat
  • cheese
  • fruit and fruit juice
  • whole grains
  • honey
  • condiments e.g. black pepper, thyme
  • vegetables

The chromium found in brewer's yeast is already in the form of GTF which is 50 times more effective than other sources. Yeast derived GTF is ten times more active than that from any other food and special chromium-enriched yeast strains have now been developed.

Most refined carbohydrates have little chromium content and people eating processed foods will have low intakes.

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