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The Importance of Chromium in Human Health

Brown Fat, Chromium, Chromium Picolinate

According to the USDA, only one in ten Americans gets even the minimum recommended daily amount of 50 micrograms (mcg.) of chromium. The problem is often worsened by the fact that both exercise and high sugar consumption increase the body’s need for chromium. Chromium deficiency can cause serious problems related to weight management, energy and stamina, muscle-building, and much more. The National Academy of Sciences recommends 50 to 200 mcg. of chromium daily.

The Importance of Chromium
Chromium is an “essential cofactor” for insulin, a very important hormone that regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and protein. It is part of the insulin “glucose tolerance factor” (GTF) that acts as a gasket between insulin and the receptor sites on cell membranes and plays crucial roles in sugar utilization and glucose transport into the cells. Chromium is absolutely necessary in order for insulin to do its job, and can be helpful both for people with diabetes or hypoglycemia. It is also vital in the synthesis of cholesterol, fats, and proteins. Some studies have indicated that taking chromium supplements may increase longevity and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

Chromium and Weight Loss
With very few exceptions, most people should focus on “losing fat” rather than “losing weight” because most of us have little (if any) muscle tissue they can afford to lose. And unfortunately many weight loss plans result in the loss of far too much muscle and can even diminish heart, liver, and kidney tissue. Chromium picolinate helps a person lose fat while sparing muscle. In fact, in one university study, 200 mcg. of chromium picolinate combined with moderate exercise resulted in a 22 percent loss of body fat and a significant increase in muscle mass. Chromium picolinate further assists weight loss by increasing the metabolic rate and improving the metabolism of “brown fat”. By keeping plenty of glucose available within the body’s cells where it is needed for energy, chromium also seems to suppress appetite–especially sugar cravings.

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Effects of Chromium on Energy Level
Nearly all of the body’s energy is derived from blood sugar. Together, chromium and insulin assure rapid uptake of blood sugar, as well as rapid conversion into glycogen (a special form of glucose that is stored and released as needed for future use.) Once glycogen reserves are used up, the body must switch over to burning fat or protein for energy which is far less efficient. Chromium plays an important role in the efficient uptake of blood sugar and conversion to glycogen, which contributes to improved energy, stamina and endurance.

Chromium Increases Muscle Size and Strength
Numerous studies have now proven that chromium picolinate can substantially increase muscle growth, which is believed to happen because together insulin and chromium ensure that protein gets out of the blood efficiently and into the cells where it can be assembled into new muscle tissue (and new heart, liver and kidney tissue, as well.) According to Dr. Jeffrey Fisher, author of The Chromium Program, chromium can dramatically help build muscle and reduce fat, while significantly contributing to lower cholesterol and improved blood sugar metabolism.

Chromium Deficiency
A deficiency of chromium can cause anxiety and fatigue, as well as increase the risk of arteriosclerosis. The production of chromium in the body decreases with age, especially with adult-onset diabetes. High consumption of refined sugars and carbohydrates steps up insulin production, and increases chromium loss as much as 300 percent. Phosphates in cow’s milk binds with chromium, further depleting the body’s supply. Depleted soils and modern food processing methods (which remove up to 80 percent) also contribute to chromium deficiency, as do injury, illness, infection, surgery, excess heat or cold, trauma and stress. Exercise doubles chromium loss, and carb-loading and eating sugars can triple it.

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Chromium Sources
Chromium is found in the following foods: brewer’s yeast, brown rice, cheese, meat, whole grains, dried beans, blackstrap molasses, calf liver, corn and corn oil, dulse, eggs, mushrooms and potatoes. It is also found in the herbs catnip, horsetail, licorice, nettle, oat straw, red clover, sarsaparilla, wild yam and yarrow. Chromium-fortified yeast-based supplements contain inorganic chromium salts, as do amino-acid chelated products without GTF activity. These forms of chromium are poorly absorbed and can be toxic. Organic GTF chromium, preferably in the picolinate form, is the only safe form of chromium to use.

Warning: Because chromium can make insulin function more effectively, insulin-dependent diabetics should consult with their physician as insulin requirements may be reduced.

Anti-aging Manual: The Encyclopedia of Natural Health, 3rd ed.; Joseph B. Marion; 2005.
Prescription for Nutritional Healing; Phyllis A. Balch, CNC and James F. Balch, M.D.; 2000.