We’re warned about heavy metals. They can be dangerous for us. This is true, but what if some metals actually benefit the body? Chromium is categorized as a toxic heavy metal that can result in gastrointestinal bleeding, breaking down of red blood cells, acute renal failure, and chronic exposure can even result in lung cancer. These are serious health concerns, but what if chromium could also help with blood sugar control, weight management, and brain health? Here’s an in depth look at chromium health benefits and how much of this metal we should be getting in our diet.
Before we can look at the benefits of chromium, let’s get the health scares out of the way.
There are different forms of chromium, and while some are good for us, others are very dangerous. Trivalent and picolinate chromium have many health benefits (which you can read about below), while other forms of chromium can be deadly.
If you’re familiar with the story of Erin Brockovich, you may remember that hexavalent chromium was released into the drinking water, resulting in a community becoming riddled with cancerous tumours. These are real risks in some of the larger chromium compounds. However, these dangerous metal compounds are not what we’re talking about when we look at chromium in our food. We’re talking about safe nutritional compounds the body needs.
Chromium Health Benefits
Blood Sugar Control
Chromium is an essential nutritional element needed for normal carbohydrate and lipid metabolism. Studies have found a strong correlation with chromium and blood sugar control. As insulin resistance augments, the body needs more chromium to help break down and use the sugars. This isn’t a fix for type 2 diabetics, but it can help. The additional chromium can help insulin do its job, but fixing the underlying problem that is causing insulin sensitivity should be of top importance.
Chromium has a similar effect on cholesterol as with blood-glucose levels. Chromium picolinate has shown to augment lipid metabolism, resulting in a healthier cholesterol profile. As with diabetics, this shouldn’t be used as a cure for patients with high cholesterol. It can be used as a tool, but the true cause of the high-cholesterol has to be addressed to keep cholesterol levels at an optimum level.
The weight management benefits of chromium appear to be more neurological than metabolic. Studies have found that chromium can reduce food intake, hunger levels, and fat cravings. This can result in weight loss and improve healthy weight management. The exact reason for this neurological response is unknown, but chromium has a clear effect on hunger. It also helps that chromium is found in many healthy whole foods (see below).
Chromium picolinate has shown to have a healing, rejuvenating effect on the hypothalamus. This could be one reason for the increased insulin sensitivity, and the change in appetite, as the hypothalamus is responsible for hormone release. Keeping the brain healthy and active is a major benefit. Without the brain functioning at its best, the rest of the body will suffer.
An additional benefit of chromium is its effect on calcium. Proper chromium levels help to slow the loss of calcium from bones and teeth. That means chromium is beneficial for the prevention of osteoporosis.
Chromium Adequate Intake
Health Canada has a relatively low adequate intake of this metal but has no determined upper limit. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t an upper limit, it just means it’s not determinable at this time.
|Chromium mcg/day Adequate Intakes|
|Male 9-13 y||25|
|> 70 y||30|
|Females 9-13 y||21|
|> 70 y||20|
Chromium deficiency is rare, but it can happen. The elderly and diabetics are at a higher risk of chromium deficiency, but even then it is uncommon. While we may not need a lot, we do need some of this metal in our diet. Chromium deficiency can result in:
- Weight change
- Change in appetite
- Mood changes
- Worsening blood glucose control
- Worsening ocular health
- Poor memory
- Wounds healing slowly
- Low energy
Unless recommended by a doctor, chromium supplements should not be taken. Most people can get more than enough chromium from a good whole food diet.
According to the USDA the best sources of chromium are:
|Broccoli, ½ cup||11|
|Grape juice, 1 cup||8|
|English muffin, whole wheat, 1||4|
|Potatoes, mashed, 1 cup||3|
|Garlic, dried, 1 teaspoon||3|
|Basil, dried, 1 tablespoon||2|
|Beef cubes, 3 ounces||2|
|Orange juice, 1 cup||2|
|Turkey breast, 3 ounces||2|
|Whole wheat bread, 2 slices||2|
|Red wine, 5 ounces||1–13|
|Apple, unpeeled, 1 medium||1|
|Banana, 1 medium||1|
|Green beans, ½ cup||1|
While I’d love to say, “Go ahead and get all of your chromium from red wine,” broccoli garlic, basil, turkey, apples, and green beans are probably the overall healthiest options. Not only will the chromium in these foods help with insulin levels, weight management, and brain function, but they also come with a host of other nutrients and antioxidants to optimize our health and help us thrive!