Chromium for Diabetes: Evidence of Benefits Grows

Healthnotes Newswire (October 19, 2006)—Has chromium finally achieved mainstream acceptance?

For over 150 years, evidence of the benefits of chromium—a nutrient found in brewer’s yeast—in treating diabetes has been steadily accumulating. In people with most types of diabetes, chromium has been shown to improve the way the body handles glucose. Supplementing with chromium may also reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels in people with diabetes, reducing their risk of blocked arteries (atherosclerosis).

Despite an abundance of evidence, however, many diabetes experts have been reluctant to recommend chromium supplementation. According to the most recent 2006 Clinical Practice Recommendations from the American Diabetes Association, “The existence of a relationship between chromium picolinate and either insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes [is] highly uncertain.”

“The controversy surrounding chromium supplementation stems from the lack of definitive randomized trials, the lack of ‘gold standard’ techniques to assess glucose metabolism in the studies reported, the use of differing doses and formulation, and the study of heterogeneous study populations,” said William T. Cefalu, MD, the Douglas L. Manship Professor of Diabetes and Professor/Chief of Nutrition and Chronic Disease at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. “To provide a comprehensive clinical evaluation of chromium, we conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in subjects with type 2 diabetes over a ten-month period, and used established techniques to assess changes in insulin sensitivity, body composition, and blood sugar control.”

The people in Dr. Cefalu’s study had type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes and were being treated with medications (the sulfonylurea drug glipizide) at the time chromium supplementation was added. The results could change chromium skeptics’ minds.

Compared with those who took glipizide and placebo, people taking glipizide plus chromium (500 mcg twice a day as chromium picolinate) experienced multiple benefits, including significantly improved insulin sensitivity, less weight gain, less abdominal fat, lower percent body fat, and lower glycohemoglobin (an indicator of sugar-induced damage to tissues caused by diabetes).

One of the key differences between this study and previous studies of chromium picolinate for diabetes is the amount used. Many previous trials have used 200 mcg per day, but not all of these have demonstrated benefit. The amount of chromium used in this study is very high. Since this study and previous trials have found that chromium can enhance the activity of blood sugar–lowering drugs, there is a risk of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) when these treatments are combined. For this reason, people taking blood sugar–lowering drugs should consult their doctor before adding chromium. There have also been isolated case reports of adverse effects occurring in people taking large amounts of chromium (such as 600 mcg per day or more), although some researchers have questioned whether these negative effects were caused by the chromium.

“Our study demonstrated that chromium picolinate supplementation significantly lessened body weight gain and undesirable body fat distribution changes in type 2 diabetes,” concluded Dr. Cefalu. “It improved blood sugar control and enhanced insulin sensitivity. The mechanisms for these findings are not precisely known, but research is ongoing.”

(Diabetes Care 2006;29:1826–32)

Jeremy Appleton, ND, CNS, is a licensed naturopathic physician, certified nutrition specialist, and published author. Dr. Appleton was the Nutrition Department Chair at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, has served on the faculty at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, and is a former Healthnotes Senior Science Editor and a founding contributor to Healthnotes Newswire. He has worked extensively in scientific and regulatory affairs in the supplement industry and is now a consultant through his company Praxis Natural Products Consulting and Wellness Services.

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