Chromium for Weight Loss

Last updated September 27th 2015

Chromium has been said to help to burn fat and suppress the appetite and is unlikely to cause severe side effects. However, evidence on the subject to date is largely inconclusive.

Chromium is a mineral that is required by the human body in trace amounts. The majority of people consume enough chromium in their diet from a range of sources, including meat and vegetables.

There has been suggestion that chromium can help to boost weight loss by helping to burn fat and improve body composition, as well as reduce the appetite by controlling blood glucose levels.

A number of clinical studies have been performed to investigate these potential effects, but results have been varied and inconclusive. So far, it cannot be stated with certainty that chromium works in either of these ways to aid weight loss.

What is Chromium?

Chromium is known as a trace mineral; it is required by humans for general health, but only in very small quantities. It is recommended that adult males (between the ages of 18-50) consume approximately 35 micrograms of chromium per day; this figure is lower for women, and should be around 24-25 micrograms. Precisely what functions it plays in the body is not fully understood, but the mineral is thought to help with digestion and the transportation of blood glucose to the cells that require it for energy.

Most people get plenty of chromium from their diet; it can be found in a great range of foods, including meat, cheese, potatoes, whole-grain foods (such as bread and cereal), fruit, vegetables, and even hard tap water. Since only a very small amount is required by the body, it is rare for an individual to suffer from chromium deficiency, although the risk is higher for those who suffer from diabetes.

Chromium supplements are easily available to purchase from health stores both on the high street and on the internet. These would, of course, be beneficial to those who have a deficiency in the mineral, but chromium has also been suggested to have the potential to help treat a variety of other health conditions.

People with type 2 diabetes sometimes take chromium supplements as the substance is thought to help to control blood glucose levels and thus may act as a herbal remedy for the condition. Clinical studies behind this potential benefit of chromium will be discussed in more detail in the section below. Chromium has also been said to help to prevent conditions of the eyes, including glaucoma, and to prevent bone deterioration in females who are undergoing menopause.

How is Chromium thought to Boost Weight Loss?

In terms of weight loss, chromium is thought to have two different effects. Firstly, the substance is believed to help increase the process of fat burning whilst increasing lean muscle mass, and therefore improving overall body composition. This effect is thought to come about because of chromium’s role in the transport of glucose around the body to the cells that turn it to fat and carbohydrates which can subsequently be burnt for energy. This effect has yet to be proven, but some clinical studies on the topic will be discussed in the ‘Clinical Studies’ section below.

The second method is through its potential impact on blood glucose levels. For the same reasons that chromium is believed to help with the treatment of diabetes, it is also thought to have an appetite suppressing effect. After the consumption of a meal, particularly one high in carbohydrates, blood glucose levels rise sharply – a process known as the postprandial blood glucose spike. The sudden increase in blood glucose causes a corresponding rise in insulin levels, which is believed to trigger hunger cravings, particularly for sugary foods. By controlling blood glucose, and therefore insulin levels, it is possible to reduce this spike and in turn, it is thought to help to prevent these sugar cravings following a meal.

Clinical Studies on Chromium and Fat Burning

A pilot study, published in 1999, investigated the effects of chromium supplementation on weight loss and body composition over a two-month period. The trial involved 20 African-American women, all of whom were overweight and subjected to a moderate diet and exercise programme. The trial was randomised, double blind and placebo controlled; the participants received either a placebo or niacin-bound chromium three times a day for two months at a time. All of the subjects were given both treatments, half were given the placebo first, and the other half were given the chromium first. The results of this study indicated that chromium supplementation could improve fat loss whilst sparing muscle when compared to placebo. Unfortunately the study was only small-scale and so cannot be deemed conclusive.

A second study utilised similar methods. Here, 122 participants were randomly assigned to either a placebo or chromium picolinate group in a double blind fashion. The subjects kept an activity log and recorded their food intake throughout the 90-day trial period. X-rays were used to measure body composition before and after the trial period. The results initially did not show any significant differences between the two groups, but when energy intake and expenditure was accounted for, those in the chromium group were seen to have lost significantly more weight and fat than those in the control group. It was therefore concluded that chromium intake could help to improve body composition.

Other studies however, have not had such positive results. One such trial was undertaken on obese, but otherwise healthy, active-duty Navy personnel to test the effects of chromium picolinate on fat reduction. The subjects (both male and female) underwent a physical exercise programme whilst taking either chromium or a placebo for a period of 16 weeks. The trial was double blind and placebo controlled, and participants kept a log of their exercise. A number of measurements relating to body composition were taken before and after the trial. After 16 weeks, a reduction in body weight and fat was seen in both groups, but those in the chromium group had not lost significantly more body weight or body fat than those in the placebo group. The authors therefore concluded that chromium picolinate supplementation had no benefits for fat reduction.

Another study produced similar results. For this trial, 36 men were given either a chromium supplement or a placebo to take every day for eight weeks, alongside weight training. This study focused not only on fat mass, but also on muscle mass and strength. The results suggested that whilst these measurements all improved throughout the weight weeks, the chromium supplementation did not appear to have any impact on any of the variables when compared to placebo. It was concluded therefore that chromium supplementation did not have any beneficial effects for body composition or strength gain in males.

Clinical Studies on Chromium and Appetite Suppression

A literature review revealed just one scientific study that specifically tested the effects of chromium on the appetite. This study was two-fold; firstly, 42 overweight, female adults who have previously stated that they crave carbohydrates were subjected to an eight-week trial. The participants were randomly divided to receive either 1000 micrograms of chromium or a placebo for the trial period. For the second part of the trial, rats were utilised instead of human subjects. The rats underwent a 24 hour fast before being injected with 0, 1, 10, or 50 micrograms of chromium picolinate per kg body weight. The rats were then given an injection of 0, 0.4, 4, or 40 nanograms of chromium picolinate directly into the brain, and then their food intake was recorded for 24 hours.

The results of the first part of the trial, on human participants, suggested that supplementation with chromium picolinate could have a significant effect on reducing caloric intake, hunger, and fat cravings when compared to placebo. It was also associated with a reduction in body weight. For the second part of the trial, on rats, a slight reduction in food intake was noted only at the highest dose. When injected centrally on the other hand, food intake was seen to be reduced with chromium picolinate supplementation in a dose-dependent manner.

A number of studies have suggested that chromium may have a slight beneficial effect on blood glucose and insulin levels. For example, one study tested the effects of chromium on the control of type 2 diabetes. One hundred and eighty individuals were involved in the trial. They were split into three groups; the first group was given 100 micrograms of chromium picolinate twice a day, the second group was given 500 micrograms of chromium picolinate twice a day, and the third group given a placebo. All groups took the allocated treatments in addition to their usual medications and no diet or exercise advice was given.

After four months, chromium supplementation was found to have had a number of effects. The results showed beneficial impacts on glucose and insulin levels in subjects who had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Results like these could imply that chromium may have a beneficial effect on appetite, which is said to be associated with a reduction in blood glucose and insulin levels. However, results from trials on people without diabetes have not provided any conclusive evidence.

Side Effects and Safety

As chromium is naturally required by the human body, it should be safe for most people to consume when taken in doses below the recommended daily allowance. Even when high quantities are consumed, few serious side effects have been reported. None of the clinical studies that were mentioned in the section above reported any side effects that were associated with chromium supplementation.

WebMD notes that some people have reported side effects that they have associated with chromium supplementation. These include: mood changes, impaired thinking and coordination, headaches, skin irritation, nausea, and dizziness. It has been suggested that high doses of chromium could cause liver or kidney problems and blood disorders, though there is no proof that these effects are the result of chromium consumption.

Chromium can also interact with certain medications. If you are taking any form of medication, it is recommended that you consult a doctor before consuming a chromium supplement regularly. Medications known to interact with chromium include, but are not limited to, antacids, beta-blockers, corticosteroids, proton-pump inhibitors, H2 blockers, nicotinic acid, prostaglandin inhibitors (including ibuprofen and aspirin), and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications.

Those who have been diagnosed with diabetes should consult a doctor before taking chromium supplements. Whilst it is possible that chromium supplementation may be beneficial to blood glucose and insulin levels in these individuals, it is very important that any changes are monitored by a health professional so that your medication can be altered in accordance with any changes.

Conclusion

Chromium is a common addition to dietary supplements as it is believed to have the potential to reduce fat mass whilst maintaining lean body mass and possibly to suppress the appetite. The ingredient is generally thought to be safe for most people, even at high doses, but individuals who are taking any medication or suffer from diabetes should consult a doctor before taking chromium. The ingredient has been the subject of a number of clinical trials, but results of these have been mixed and so no strong conclusions can be reached regarding its potential efficacy for weight loss.

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