ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE CABINET
Chromium is a mineral the body needs in small amounts. Its primary functions are aiding digestion, promoting normal growth, and maintaining optimum health. Chromium even helps slow calcium loss associated with aging and enhances the body’s insulin reaction, which helps process blood sugar, fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
According to Andrew Weil, MD, almost half of the US population is mildly chromium deficient. Processed foods—which compose a significant portion of the standard American diet—are generally stripped of their natural chromium, and foods high in simple sugars inhibit the body from processing chromium. Some symptoms of chromium deficiency include anxiety, fatigue, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and prolonged injury recovery time.
No Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) exists for chromium; however, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, the body requires more chromium as we age. Researchers suggest men older than 14 years require 35 μg per day, whereas women older than 14 years require 25 μg.
Several studies are underway that specifically address the effects of chromium. For type 2 diabetes, research focuses on chromium's ability to counteract the body's insulin resistance. Research has also shown that high doses of chromium (150 μg to 1,000 μg) decrease levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol—the bad stuff—and increase concentrations of apolipoprotein A, which is connected to high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol—the good stuff. Chromium also supports immune function by reducing cortisol levels and increasing immunoglobulin levels. Eye health is another important benefit of chromium intake. In fact, research has established a strong correlation between low chromium levels and an increased risk of glaucoma.
Where do we find chromium? It exists naturally in many foods, including brewer's yeast, meats, potatoes, cheeses, molasses, spices, whole-grain breads and cereals, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Broccoli, one of the best sources of chromium, contains approximately 22 μg of chromium per cup. Chromium also exists in unfiltered tap water, and it's released into food prepared in stainless steel cookware. Although the prevalence of chromium is good news, remember that minerals are often difficult for the body to absorb—so consider using chromium supplements.
Chromium picolinate is a common supplement made by combining chromium and picolinic acid, which helps the body absorb the chromium efficiently. Although it is touted as a weight loss supplement, most studies are inconclusive. Other supplement forms of chromium include chromium citrate, chromium chloride, chromium nicotinate, and high-chromium yeast. Further, if your multivitamin contains vitamin C and niacin, it will aid in chromium absorption.
Caution is necessary, however, when taking chromium supplements. Common side effects of too much chromium intake are headache, insomnia, mood changes, and irritability. In addition, please read the supplement label carefully, as it may contain additional ingredients that cause adverse interactions. Also, please advise your doctor if you are taking or plan to take a supplement, because several medications will interact with chromium causing increased stomach acidity—which will prevent absorption.