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What is the Relationship Between Chromium and Diabetes?

By Toni Henthorn
Updated May 17, 2024
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Chromium is a lustrous silvery metallic mineral found plentifully within the Earth's crust, but it is also an essential component of the human diet because it enables normal sugar and fat metabolism. For years, scientists have believed that chromium is a component of a protein complex called glucose tolerance factor (GTF), which researchers believe binds to insulin receptors and stimulates body cells to remove glucose from the blood stream. Chromium deficiency, similar to diabetes mellitus, leads to impaired glucose tolerance, weight loss, and peripheral neuropathy. Diets that are high in simple sugars with lots of sweets tend to deplete the body's chromium by increasing the movement of chromium out of the body through the urine. All of these factors lead scientists to assume a relationship between chromium and diabetes, but clinical studies have not yet substantiated that link.

Scientists first isolated glucose tolerance factor when they discovered that combinations of yeast extracts with insulin were more effective than insulin alone in lowering blood sugar. GTF consists of a protein chain, chromodulin, joined to four trivalent chromium ions. When GTF binds to an insulin receptor on the surface of a cell, the complex enhances the ability of the insulin receptor to induce glucose uptake. Because diabetes mellitus type 2 relates to faulty insulin receptor signaling, medical researchers have obviously wondered whether chromium supplementation would help treat diabetes. Clinical trials studying the supplementation of chromium and diabetes severity have yielded conflicting results, prompting the American Diabetes Association to conclude that currently there is no conclusive evidence to support the use of chromium supplements for diabetes.

In 2001, the United States dietary guidelines established the recommended daily requirement for chromium at 30 to 35 micrograms for adult males and 20 to 25 micrograms for adult females. Only about two percent of supplemental chromium absorbs through the gastrointestinal tract. Diabetics who believe in the link between chromium and diabetes may increase their absorption of chromium by increasing their simultaneous consumption of Vitamin C, niacin, and protein. Patients on liquid diets, patients with liver disease, and carbohydrate junkies may need to increase their chromium intake above the recommended requirements. Diabetic patients can increase their daily consumption of chromium naturally by eating a larger quantity of broccoli, nuts, whole grains, brewer's yeast, and green beans.

Although studies have not proven a direct relationship between blood levels of chromium and diabetes, other benefits from chromium may improve the health of diabetic patients. Animal studies examining others connections besides that between chromium and diabetes indicate that chromium normalizes the blood pressure and lowers both the total cholesterol levels and the amount of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), which increase the risk of atherosclerosis, strokes, and coronary artery disease. Other studies suggest that chromium increases muscle mass and decreases the percentage of body fat, making it a potentially valuable addition to regular exercise and a well-balanced diet for losing weight. Furthermore, chromium increases energy levels and acts as an antioxidant, lessening the detrimental effects of free radicals and toxins in the body.

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