Are Chromium Supplements Beneficial If You Have Type 2 Diabetes?
The results of two reviews of the effect of chromium supplements in people with type 2 diabetes have provided strikingly different results. Since this mineral has been viewed as a natural treatment option for diabetes for many years, it’s time to take stock of the conflicting information.
Chromium is a mineral that has been shown to boost the activity of insulin, according to the National Institutes of Health, and to play an important role in the breakdown of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Its association with diabetes was first introduced back in the 1960s when scientists discovered it could correct insulin resistance and sugar (glucose) intolerance in deficient mice.
Since then, numerous studies have examined the relationship between chromium and fasting glucose levels, insulin resistance, and other factors associated with diabetes, and many of them have reported positive results. Yet experts still are unsure about the merits of chromium for this disease.
Review says no to chromium
For example, one of the new reviews looked at nearly 30 years’ worth of data from 16 studies. The University of Miami (UM) investigator who conducted the review concluded that supplementation with the mineral is not effective at reducing fasting blood sugar levels in people with diabetes or in healthy individuals.
This conclusion was reached regardless of the type of chromium supplement studies, be it chromium chloride, chromium nicotinate, chromium dinicocysteinate, chromium yeast, or chromium picolinate. A wide range of doses were evaluated, from 200 mg to 1,000 mg.
One reason chromium got a bad grade in this review is that the author, Christopher H. Bailey, a PhD candidate in the Department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences at UM, improved how the data were analyzed, which led to different results. Another possible reason for the differing results could be that previous researchers misinterpreted the impact of other factors.
Bailey noted that even though supplementation with chromium may not reduce fasting glucose levels, the mineral still can provide other health benefits. He also suggested researchers explore the potential for other dietary supplements to help with fasting blood sugar.
Review says yes to chromium
A subsequent review and meta-analysis came to different conclusions. A total of 25 randomized controlled trials were evaluated, and all but three involved use of chromium alone. Two studies involved chromium picolinate plus biotin while one looked at chromium yeast along with vitamins C and E.
The reviewers concluded that chromium alone and in combination provided significant benefits. Specifically:
- Chromium alone significantly increased good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, HDL) and significantly reduced triglycerides
- Chromium picolinate was especially beneficial on glucose and triglyceride levels
- More than 200 micrograms of chromium were associated with an improvement in glycemic control
- Hemoglobin A1c and fasting plasma glucose improved in diabetics who had poor glycemic control at the start of the studies
- Adverse effects were similar between those who took chromium and those who took placebo
More on chromium and diabetes
Some research has looked at how chromium may help with complications of diabetes. For example, a study at the Medical College of Georgia reported that chromium lowered inflammation associated with diabetic kidney disease.
The six-month study, which was conducted in mice, showed that diabetic mice treated with chromium picolinate excreted about 50 percent less albumin than did untreated diabetic mice. The presence of albumin (a protein) is a sign of kidney disease.
After six months, the treated mice also showed lower levels of substances called cytokines, which are associated with inflammation, and an enzyme that regulates cytokine production. Naturally, more investigation is needed into the role of chromium in diabetic kidney disease.
The bottom line
If you have type 2 diabetes, will chromium help you better regulate your glycemic levels? If you have prediabetes, will this mineral help prevent the disease?
Despite the dozens of studies that have tried to answer these and other questions definitively, it still appears experts have not come to a conclusion. Perhaps the ability of chromium to impact glucose and insulin depends on factors not yet understood.
Since it is difficult to accurately determine a person’s chromium status, you should discuss your desire to try chromium supplementation with a knowledgeable healthcare provider. Together you can identify a safe dose of chromium supplement to try and monitor to see if it has any effect on your glucose levels.
Bailey CH. Improved meta-analytic methods show no effect of chromium supplements on fasting glucose. Biological Trace Element Research 2014; 157(1): 1
National Institutes of Health
Suksomboon N et al. Systematic review and meta-analysis of the efficacy and safety of chromium supplementation in diabetes. Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics 2014 Mar 17