Functioning as a glucose tolerance factor, chromium is involved in the important enzyme system which controls the regulation of blood sugar in humans.  Although the human body only contains anywhere from 6 grams to 24 grams of chromium, improper levels can be devastating.  Most chromium is concentrated in the spleen, kidneys, testes and hair.  Trace amounts are also found in the brain, lungs, heart and pancreas.

Sources of Chromium

Chromium can be obtained through beer, meat (particularly liver), cheese, whole grain cereals and breads, and brewer’s yeast.  Brewer’s yeast is perhaps the best source, with an adult requirement of about 2 tablespoons per day (or six tablets). While small amounts of chromium can be found in leafy vegetables, white rice and white bread, all three of these types of foods are poor sources for chromium. The processing of grain and rice takes away over 80 percent of the chromium originally found in it.

Other sources of chromium are wheat germ, tomatoes, oysters, onions, green peppers, eggs, chicken, apples, butter, bananas and spinach.

Hard water typically contains chromium and can even supply up to half of an adult’s daily needs.

Fortunately for humans, chromium is also available as a supplement and as part of many vitamin/mineral daily supplements.  This mineral is produced in many different forms, including chromium chloride, GTF (glucose tolerance factor) chromium, chromium dinicotinate, chromium picolinate and chromium polynicotinate.

Functions of Chromium

The primary role of chromium in the body is its involvement in the activation of enzymes which control the metabolism of glucose and the synthesis of proteins.  Chromium is considered an essential mineral – that is, the body does not make chromium so it must be consumed in the diet or as a supplement.

As people grow older, their ability to respond properly to insulin begins to decrease or fail completely.  This is part of an age-related group of conditions that health care practitioners have come to call “Syndrome X,” and includes cancer, cardiovascular disease, and obesity and eventually can lead to full onset of diabetes.

In many cases, supplements of chromium have been shown to normalize the body’s response to insulin and may keep Syndrome X and its many serious symptoms at bay. As studies continue to be made in the area of chromium and its functions in the human body, there seems to be growing evidence that disorders relating to glucose metabolism (mainly diabetes and hypoglycemia) may simply be caused by chromium deficiencies.

Uses of Chromium

Because it is needed in such small quantities, chromium is considered to be an “ultra trace mineral.”  One interesting fact is that Americans, whose diets usually contain highly-processed foods, have only about 6 grams of chromium stored in their bodies.  However, the people who are native to Asia and Near Eastern countries have up to five times as much chromium in their bodies.  These people have lower rates of hardening of the arteries and diabetes and consume diets which are much less refined.  Some of this may also be due to higher concentrations of chromium in the soil of other countries.

Chromium helps to enhance the effect of insulin in the body.  It is necessary for carbohydrate metabolism to produce energy.  Proper functioning of the glucose tolerance factor is essential because excess sugar circulating through the body can damage the cells, the arteries and the retinas in the eyes.

Recent studies have shown that chromium lowers  bad blood cholesterol while slightly raising HDL or “good” cholesterol.  Other research suggests chromium aids in nucleic acid metabolism.  As nucleic acids are the building block of our DNA, chromium is thought to be a very important component in the body.

In one study in which laboratory rats were fed chromium-rich diets, the rats showed improved longevity and a reduction of atherosclerotic plaque in the blood vessels.

Chromium Deficiency

Deficiencies of chromium seem more common in those with poor diets, which often tend to be the elderly and teenagers.  Symptoms of even mild chromium deficiency can include anxiety and fatigue. 

As people age, their ability to absorb chromium begins to deteriorate.  Diets which are stressful to the digestive system do not tolerate chromium well, and diets with a high fat intake may also be deficient in chromium.  Diabetes is the third leading cause of death among adults.  As research in this area continues, it may come to light that chromium deficiencies play a major factor in the onset of diabetes mellitus.  The high blood sugar levels which are seen in diabetes also contribute to severe progression of cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis.

Diagnosing a chromium deficiency is relatively easy and should be accomplished as soon as a deficiency is suspected to avoid the more serious onset of diabetes if left untreated. Some physicians now believe that chromium deficiency may be the “missing link” as to why some people develop adult-onset diabetes.

Chromium deficiency may also lead to decreased growth in young people and a slower healing time for people who have been injured or are recovering from surgery.

Required Amount

It is generally believed that for optimum health, the daily intake for chromium should be between 20 and 600 mcg.  If certain adverse health conditions are present, the following recommendations for chromium may be followed:

  • Diabetes – 400 to 1,000 mcg
  • Hypoglycemia – 200 to 600 mcg
  • High cholesterol – 400 to 1,000 mcg
  • Impaired glucose tolerance – 400 to 1,000 mcg

However, those individuals who know they have serious medical conditions should always consult a physician before taking supplements.

The only known toxicity for chromium is in the case of industrial exposure and chromium mining, both of which can cause chromium dust to be inhaled.  However, individuals with liver or kidney problems may need to limit their intake of chromium to 200 mcg per day.

It may be wise to avoid sugary food products and beverages and to eat whole grains and unprocessed foods in order to maintain a healthy balance of chromium in the body. Supplements can be an excellent means of obtaining this important mineral for overall good health and to ensure proper glucose levels in the body are consistently met.


  1. Alan H. Pressman and Sheila Buff. The Complete Idiot's guide to vitamins and minerals, Alpha A member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc (2007)
  2. Brewer, S. The essential guide to vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements, Right Way (2010)
  3. Elson M. Haas, Md & Buck Levin, Phd, Rd. Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to diet and nutritional medicine, Celestial Arts (2006)
  4. Holford, P. The optimum nutrition bible, Little Brown Group (2004)
  5. Holford, P & Lawson, S. Optimum Nutrition Made Easy How to achieve optimum health, Piatkus Books (2008)
  6. Lieberman, S. & Bruning, N. The Real Vitamin & Mineral Book, Avery, a Member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc (2003)
  7. Rodale Health Books. Healing with vitamins : the best nutrients to slow, stop, and reverse disease, Rodale, (2009)
  8. Royston, A. Vitamins and minerals for a healthy body, Heinemann Library, (2003)
  9. The National Research Council. Recommended Dietary Allowances, 10th ed, National Academy of Sciences (1989)
  10. Werbach, M. Nutritional Influences on Illness, 2nd ed, Third Line Press (1993)


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