Encyclopedia / C / Chromium



Chromium is an essential trace mineral, of which the human body requires small amounts. It is found in drinking water and a wide variety of foods, such as whole grains, brewer's yeast, prunes, nuts, peanut butter, meats, seafood, potatoes, and fortified cereals. Small amounts of chromium may also leach into foods when they are cooked in stainless steel pans.


Many believe that chromium will reduce blood cholesterol, prevent or cure diabetes, reduce body fat and build muscle. Promotional literature from supplement manufacturers claim that it will do all these things and more. Chromium picolinate, which is supposedly more easily absorbed than chromium alone, is one of the fastest moving items in the health-food marketplace.

Necessary for many bodily processes, chromium is important in the burning of carbohydrates and fats in the body, and in the proper functioning of insulin. That is, it helps insulin to do its work of making blood sugar available to the cells.

It is difficult to say how much chromium a given food contains because amounts vary, and some chromium in foods is not bioavailable to the body. No one knows how much chromium we need to be healthy, but an intake of 50 to 200 micrograms has been proposed by the National Academy of Sciences.

It is not certain how much the average person gets. There are, in fact, few documented cases of chromium deficiency. One sign of it can be high blood sugar and glucose intolerance (known as insulin resistance, meaning that cells do not respond to insulin by using glucose as they should). These are also symptoms of diabetes, but diabetes is not caused by chromium deficiency, and taking chromium will not cure diabetes.

Chromium has been heavily promoted to athletes as a "safe" alternative to anabolic steroids for building muscle mass. Yet there is no reason to suppose that chromium would build muscle without a rigorous training program.

According to one leading endocrinologist and researcher at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, there is very little evidence that people are chromium-deficient. Chromium is everywhere - in the water, in beverages, and in foods. Taking chromium supplements is not likely to help anyone.

Chromium (VI) compounds have the potential to cause lung cancer in up to 22 percent of workers exposed to levels currently allowed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for a working lifetime.

Compounds containing chromium (VI) - the most hazardous form of this metallic element - include chromic acid, an orange-red crystalline compound used in chrome plating; potassium dichromate, a bright red crystalline substance extensively used in chemistry and industry, and lead chromate, a bright yellow substance used as a pigment, among others.

More than 200,000 workers are exposed to these chemicals in the workplace every year. There is no doubt that hundreds, if not thousands, of preventable lung cancer deaths have already occurred in chromium (VI)-exposed workers, with more fatal cancers developing each year.


Is there any indication that I am chromium-deficient?

Should I take chromium supplements?

What is the evidence for this?

What is the recommended daily intake?

How can this be obtained?

Am I being exposed to chromium as a carcinogen?

Will I get cancer?