There are primarily two common forms of chromium; One type of chromium is a toxic waste industrial by-product. The other form of chromium is a mineral nutrient that is essential to proper functioning of many systems in the human body. The body does not produce chromium, so it must be obtained through the diet. This mineral is only needed in trace amounts but can be found in a variety of food sources and supplement forms.
Chromium is an elemental metal that occurs naturally in the world. It is silvery gray color, similar to that of steel. Chemical reactions due to chromium combining with other compounds may result in various colors that can range from green to red. This mineral element is found in trace amounts in both emeralds and rubies, resulting in the vibrant colorings found in these gemstones.
Chromium is found in significant micro-concentrations in the earth's crust and its many bodies of water. Plants and animals also contain small levels of chromium which they have obtained through their diets and growing processes. This makes it fairly easy for humans to obtain the amounts of chromium necessary through a healthy and balanced diet.
Good food sources of chromium include whole grains such as barley and oats, lean meats, green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, and fruits such as apples and bananas. Supplements of chromium are also available in various forms and combinations.
This nutritional element is important in determining how food is processed in the body. Chromium is beneficial in the breakdown and metabolism of foods into energy, especially carbohydrates and fats. This mineral also regulates how excess energy is stored in the body, as well as how insulin is used in the body.
Because of its ability to control metabolism and storage of carbohydrates, this mineral is beneficial in helping the body to use insulin more effectively, which helps to control blood sugar levels in the body. Several studies have been performed to determine the effectiveness of additional chromium for diabetics, but there have been conflicting results. More studies are needed to determine the actual dosage and effectiveness for treatment of diabetes.
Since chromium is beneficial in the metabolism and storage of fats in the diet, it has been shown to help with cholesterol levels in the blood. While studies have been conflicting in the actual effectiveness of chromium to lower total cholesterol levels, this mineral has been shown to raise levels of good, or HDL, cholesterol. More studies are needed to determine the proper dosage required for health benefits.
By regulating blood glucose and cholesterol, chromium may have some protective benefits to heart health. However, some studies have shown that too much chromium by way of supplements can actually harm the heart. Further research is needed.
It seems that just a small percentage of the chromium entering the body through food or supplement sources gets absorbed into the body, however true deficiency in this mineral is rare. Adults should aim for about 25 to 35 mcg. of this element per day, preferably from natural food sources. Diets that are high in sugary and processed foods restrict chromium absorption. Vitamin C helps the body to absorb more chromium.
Supplements are typically in pill or capsule form and may be combined as a part of a multivitamin or other health-enhancing supplement. There are many types of chromium supplements available. Chromium chloride is not as easily digested while chromium picolinate has been associated with more negative health side effects.
Because the absorption rate for chromium into the body is very low, there is little chance of toxicity. In fact, there is no tolerable upper limit set for this nutrient. However, because high doses have been associated with gastrointestinal disturbance, heart rhythm problems, mood disturbances, and damage to kidneys or liver, some researchers recommend setting a limit at 1,000 mcg. per day.
Chromium Supplements may interact with antacids, NSAIDs, corticosteroids, diabetes, and other medications so check with a professional.
Cefalu, William T. MD and Hu, Frank B. MD, PHD. Role of Chromium in Human Health and in Diabetes. Diabetes Care 2004; 27.11: 2741-2751.
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