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Product Review: Chromium Supplements

Initial Posting: 6/27/14  Last Update: 1/27/15 Chromium Supplements Reviewed by 

Sections: Jump to a section by clicking on its name. What It Is:
Chromium is an essential trace mineral, meaning that your body needs small amounts of it.

What It Does:
Chromium is important for insulin function. Chromium picolinate may help some people with type 2 diabetes decrease fasting blood glucose levels as well as levels of insulin and glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c). Chromium may also produce modest weight loss, although the evidence is mixed. (See Review of Weight Loss Supplements for other ingredients used for weight loss).

Chromium may increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) ("good cholesterol") levels when these levels are lowered by use of beta-blockers.

A small, placebo-controlled study found that chromium (1,000 mcg daily from chromium picolinate) did not improve learning and memory, nor depression scores, in older adults with early memory decline. However, among those receiving chromium, there was a slight reduction in the substitution of incorrect, but related terms (such as recalling "celery" instead of "cabbage" on a recall test) and some increased activation in certain brain regions seen on functional MRI scans ().

Quality Concerns and What CL Tested For:
Neither the FDA nor any other federal or state agency routinely tests supplements for quality prior to sale. Yet, there are potential problems that can exist with chromium supplements:

Amount of key ingredient:
It is important to know that a product contains the ingredients that it claims. Too little and you may not get the expected effect and waste money. Too much, and you may experience negative effects (See Cautions and Concerns). In fact, there have been case reports of toxicity with doses of chromium over 600 mcg per day, and even rare reports at doses over 200 mcg per day. The amount of chromium was measured in all products.

Chromium (VI) (hexavalent chromium)
is a more toxic form of chromium than the one our bodies require, which is trivalent chromium or chromium (III). Hexavalent chromium does not occur in significant amounts naturally but is formed as an industrial by-product. It is used in the chemical and welding industries. Ingesting large amounts of chromium (VI) can cause stomach upsets and ulcers, convulsions, kidney and liver damage, and even death. Chromium (VI) is also a carcinogen — it is the form of chromium implicated as causing cancers in the movie Erin Brockovich. It has been known to occur as a contaminant. All of the chromium products were tested for levels of chromium (VI).

Lead, arsenic and cadmium
are found as contaminants in a small percentage of supplements — particularly those made with mineral or herbal ingredients. In children, infants, and fetuses, even low levels of lead can adversely affect neurobehavioral development and cognitive function. In adults, lead at somewhat higher levels can cause elevated blood pressure, anemia, and adversely affect the nervous and reproductive systems. All of the products were tested for levels of lead. 
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