Insulin is the hormone which regulates the body's burning of sugar. Insulin doesn't do the job alone, however. Chromium helps. Without chromium, insulin can't do the job at all. In addition to its role as cofactor for insulin, chromium also plays a role in the metabolism of fats, proteins, and nucleic acids (DNA, RNA).
Experiments with chromium revealed that a severe deficiency caused impaired glucose tolerance as serious as mild diabetes, and corneal opacities.
Chromium deficiency has also been found to raise blood levels of cholesterol and produce a high incidence of plaques on the aorta (main artery from the heart). Chromium may also be a cofactor for certain parts of the protein transport process. And high concentrations of chromium are found in nucleic acids, leading investigators to speculate that chromium is important in their synthesis, too. In animals, low-chromium diets result in depression of growth rate, shortened life span, and reduced ability to withstand stress. Adding extra chromium to animals' drinking water, however, resulted in higher growth rates and sharply reduced death rates. In fact, the chromium-supplemented mice and rats set records for longevity by living an average of ninety-nine days longer than the animals not receiving chromium supplements. Furthermore, the supplemented rats and mice were free of aortic plaques, while twenty percent of the un- supplemented rats had such lesions, though they were supposed to be receiving "adequate" chromium.
At this time, there is no RDA for chromium, even though many scientists recognize that it is essential. The National Research Council only "suggests" that an intake of .05 to .2 mg. per day is "adequate" and "safe."
Brewer's yeast (not torula) is the best known source of GTF (Glucose Tolerance Factor) chromium. Whole grains (except rye), blackstrap molasses, black pepper, liver, cheese, sea food, meat, and nuts are also good sources. Supplements of chromium are available. GTF chromium from brewer's yeast is preferable to inorganic chromium salts, since it is better absorbed and utilized.
Where is chromium found?
The best source of chromium is true brewer's yeast. Nutritional yeast and torula yeast do not contain significant amounts and are not substitutes. Chromium is also found in grains and cereals, although it is lacking when these foods are refined. Stainless steel scrapings from pots and pans provide much of the chromium in many people's diets. Some brands of beer contain significant amounts.
Who is likely to be deficient?
Most people eat less than the U.S. National Academy of Science's recommended range of 50-200 mcg per day. The high incidence of adult-onset diabetes suggests to many doctors of nutritional medicine that most people should be supplementing small amounts of chromium.
How much to take?
A daily intake of 200 mcg is recommended by many doctors of nutritional medicine.
In supplemental doses (typically 50-300 mcg per day), chromium has not been linked consistently with human toxicity. One study suggested that chromium in very high concentrations in a test tube could cause chromosomal mutations in ovarian cells of hamsters. This risk, however, has not been demonstrated in humans. There is one report of severe illness (including liver and kidney damage) occurring in an individual who was taking 1,000 mcg of chromium per day. However, chromium supplementation was not proven to be the cause of these problems.
Two single, unrelated cases of toxicity have been reported. A case of kidney failure appeared after taking 600 mcg per day for 6 weeks; and a case of anemia, liver dysfunction, and other problems appeared after 4 to 5 months of 1,200-24,000 mcg chromium picolinate per day. Whether these problems were caused by chromium picolinate or, if so, whether other forms of chromium might have the same effects at these high amounts remains unclear. No one should take more than 300 mcg per day of chromium without the supervision of a nutritionally oriented doctor.
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