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Supplementation with Chromium Picolinate: Therapeutic for Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes

Supplementation with a form of the trace mineral chromium called chromium picolinate is prudent nutritional therapy for your patients with diabetes and pre-diabetes.

To give you an overview of why I say this, most of the studies involving supplemental chromium for type II diabetes have shown positive results of one type or another. However, when chromium picolinate, which is the most bioavailable form, has been used, all of the studies have yielded positive results (in blood sugar, blood insulin and/or blood lipid [cholesterol and triglyceride] readings).[i]

One of these studies, a 1997 study involving 180 type II diabetes patients in China, is a classic: it documented “spectacular” results in diabetes patients who took 500 mcg chromium picolinate twice daily. After four months, nearly all of the diabetes patients no longer had traditional signs of diabetes. Their blood sugar and insulin levels dropped to near normal—something that medications could not achieve. Even more importantly, the “gold standard” diagnostic measure of diabetes—blood levels of hemoglobin A1c (sugar-damaged proteins that age cells)—also dropped to normal.[ii]

A follow-up study by some of the same researchers monitored 833 type II diabetes patients who took 500 mcg chromium picolinate twice daily: a significant reduction in fasting blood sugar levels and in post-meal blood sugar levels was found during the ten months of the study. No negative side effects were shown from taking the supplements. In addition, more than 85 percent of the patients reported improvements in the common diabetic symptoms of excessive thirst, frequent urination and fatigue.[iii]

Although the incidence of type II diabetes is increasing in record numbers, many people don’t yet have diabetes but are at high risk for developing it. Chromium supplements can help in these cases, too. A study directed by William Cefalu, M.D., of Wake Forest University, monitored individuals at risk—people who were moderately obese and had a family history of diabetes. Some people received a placebo; others, 1,000 mcg of chromium picolinate daily. After four months of treatment with chromium, insulin resistance was reduced by 40 percent.[iv] Chromium supplements, therefore, help reverse the underlying disease process that leads to type II diabetes. In other words, they help both prevent and reverse Type II diabetes

Chromium picolinate’s benefits for other types of diabetes patients
Many diabetes patients who inject insulin—both type I diabetes patients, and type II diabetes patients who are in more advanced stages of the disease—respond positively to chromium picolinate supplementation. About 70 percent of both types of diabetes patients show improved insulin responsiveness after taking 200 mcg supplemental chromium per day. Some experience such improved insulin sensitivity that they are able to reduce the amount of insulin they inject or the amount of other blood-sugar-lowering medications they take.[v]

Chromium supplementation has been found helpful for still other types of diabetes. Gestational diabetes is a transitional diabetes that develops during pregnancy and can cause numerous health problems, including loss of the child. It’s the most common medical complication of pregnancy today. According to one study, just eight weeks of supplementation with chromium picolinate can significantly improve glucose intolerance and reduce blood sugar and insulin levels in those with gestational diabetes, thereby reducing the risk of health trouble for both mother and child.[vi]

The use of certain pharmaceutical drugs, such as corticosteroids or Thiazide diuretics, lead to significant chromium losses and can also sometimes induce diabetes-like conditions. Fortunately, chromium supplementation can lead to improvements in the body’s handling of blood sugar in both cases. In one study, steroid-induced diabetes was ameliorated in 38 of 41 patients following supplementation of 200 mcg of chromium three times per day. This occurred even though blood-sugar-lowering drugs were reduced 50 percent in all patients who were given chromium supplements.[vii]

Basics about Chromium and Supplementation Dosages
Although researchers still don’t know exactly how chromium does its magic, chromium helps insulin work more efficiently to allow blood glucose to move from the blood into the cells. The Recommended Daily Allowance Committee recommends 50-200 mcg of chromium per day. This amount seems reasonable for the average healthy person, but higher amounts are needed for people with conditions involving insulin resistance, such as type II diabetes and pre-diabetes. Type II diabetes patients who have taken chromium picolinate in low doses—200 mcg per day—have had some improvement in their condition; however, they have not the same spectacular results as type II diabetes patients who have taken 1,000 mcg per day.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans doesn’t obtain even the minimum 50 mcg of chromium from their daily diets. Research from the USDA found that men average 33 mcg of chromium per day in their diets and women average 25 mcg per day.[viii] Even diets, designed to be well balanced by nutritionists, almost always contain less than 50 mcg of chromium.[ix]

The amount of chromium that people need varies. It depends primarily on their intake from foods and their state of health. Those who are most lacking in the nutrient need it the most.[x] It’s also important to understand that type II diabetes patients have altered chromium metabolism—greater excretion of chromium, lower tissue levels of chromium, and less of an ability to convert chromium into a usable form in the body.

In animal experiments, chromium has demonstrated a lack of toxicity at extremely high levels—levels several thousand times the estimated safe and adequate daily dietary intake (ESADDI) limit of 200 mcg per day. There is no evidence of toxic effects related to chromium supplementation in chromium supplementation in humans or animals.

For all of these reasons, I think supplementation with chromium picolinate is a must to try with diabetes patients. It’s a prudent, safe, well-tested nutritional approach that more often than not will offer your patients impressive benefits in their condition and their symptoms.

Adapted from excerpts from Basic Health Publications User’s Guide to Chromium (Basic Health Publications, North Bergen, New Jersey, 2002) by Melissa Diane Smith.

Melissa Diane Smith is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from the University of Arizona, earned a diploma in nutrition and Graduate of the Year honors from the American Academy of Nutrition, and has received advanced nutrition training from the Designs for Health. She is the author of User’s Guide to Chromium (Basic Health Publications, 2002) and Going Against the Grain (McGraw-Hill/Contemporary Books, 2002) and co-author of the national best-selling Syndrome X: The Complete Nutritional Program to Prevent and Reverse Insulin Resistance (John Wiley & Sons, 2000). Melissa combines the investigative research skills she honed in journalism school with her nutrition training and clinical experience working with clients to provide clients with personalized nutrition advice. To contact Miss Smith directly please email her at info@melissadianesmith.com

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[i] Anderson, RA. Chromium, glucose intolerance and diabetes. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 1998; 17: 548-555.

[ii] Anderson RA, Chen N, Bryden NA, et al. Elevated intakes of supplemental chromium improve glucose and insulin variables in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes, 1997;46:1786-1791.

[iii] Cheng N, Zhu X, Shi H, et al. Follow-up survey of people in China with type 2 diabetes mellitus consuming supplemental chromium. The Journal of Trace Elements in Experimental Medicine, 1999; 12:55-60.

[iv] Cefalu WT, Bell-Farrow AD, Stegner J, et al. Effect of chromium picolinate on insulin sensitivity in vivo. The Journal of Trace Elements in Experimental Medicine, 1999; 12: 71-83.

[v] Ravina A, Slezak L, Rubal A, et al. Clinical use of the trace element chromium (III) in the treatment of diabetes mellitus. The Journal of Trace Elements in Experimental Medicine, 1995; 8: 183-190.

[vi] Jovanovic-Petersen L, Gutierrez M, Peterson CM. Chromium supplementation for gestational diabetic women improves glucose tolerance and decreases hyperinsulinemia. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 1995; 14: 530.

[vii] Ravina A, Slezak L, Mirsky N, et al. Reversal of corticosteroid-induced diabetes mellitus with supplemental chromium. Diabetic Medicine; 1999; 16: 164-167.

[viii] Anderson RA, Kozlovsky AS. Chromium intake, absorption and excretion of subjects consuming self-selected diets. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1985; 41: 1177-1183.

[ix] Anderson RA, Bryden NA, Polansky MM. Dietary chromium intake. Freely chosen diets, institutional diet, and individual foods. Biological and Trace Element Research, 1992; 32: 117-121.

[x] Anderson, 1998.