What you need to know:
Studies have been mixed, with some finding that chromium may help people lose weight and build muscle
“Nutritional supplement chromium burns fat while building muscle” was the headline in a magazine I recently picked up. In modern-day society where we’re always looking for a quick-fix, the message seemed promising. Encouraged by a number of hopeful clients, I decided to investigate.
But first the science bit. What exactly is chromium and what does it do in the body? An essential trace mineral, chromium is needed to break down sugar in the body. Without it, the hormone insulin is less effective in controlling blood sugar levels. What does this mean in practice? If insulin isn’t working in the way it should, it makes it harder to burn off what you eat, so that more may be stored as fat.
When chromium is taken as a supplement, it seems to improve insulin efficiency, which some claim causes an increase in the production of the feel-good hormone serotonin, which subsequently reduces appetite.
So supplementing with chromium packs a double whammy – it both reduces appetite and hunger pangs and improves fat metabolism (the rate at which fat is burned in the body). One study showed that people who took chromium over a ten-week period lost an average of 1.9kg (4.2lb) of fat while those who took a placebo (dummy tablet) lost only 0.2kg (0.4lb).
What should you look for in a supplement? The most common chromium supplement is called chromium picolinate and is actually a combination of the element chromium and picolinic acid - combining these two nutrients simply aids in efficient chromium absorption. Chromium polynicotinate is also a good form as it contains vitamin B3 which works in synergy with chromium.
The best time to take chromium is with your breakfast as it can energise you - 200mcg works well for most people. If you forget to have it with a meal, make sure you have it with a full glass of water to reduce stomach irritation. It’s also best taken with foods rich in vitamin C (like citrus fruits, berries and green leafy vegetables) as it is absorbed better.
And if you needed any more reason, chromium also helps to break down fats, so it may reduce “bad” cholesterol (LDL) while increasing “good” cholesterol (HDL), thus lowering the risk of heart disease. Furthermore, studies have shown that low chromium status is associated with an increased likelihood of Type 2 (adult onset) diabetes, and subsequent research suggests that chromium may be able to restore blood-sugar balance in diabetics.
A miracle mineral indeed.
If you are on any medication, please consult a doctor prior to taking a chromium supplement. In the case of diabetics, chromium is so effective, you may find that you have to reduce your medication to avoid suffering from hypos (low blood sugar).
Can you tell me which foods I can get chromium from?
Brewer's yeast, an active yeast used to make beer, is a particularly good source of chromium, as it’s in a form that makes it at least ten times more effective than the kind of chromium obtained from other food sources. Brewer's yeast, which is different from baker’s yeast, can be bought as powder or flakes and is easily added to fruit smoothies. Whole grains, seafood, green beans, broccoli, prunes, nuts, peanut butter, and potatoes are also rich in chromium.
In contrast, most refined carbohydrates have little chromium content and people eating processed foods (white flour has 98% of its chromium removed) will have low intakes. In general, the more carbohydrate you eat, the more chromium you need.