Chromium picolinate is a fat-loss supplement that is quite popular. Apparently it causes fat loss by controlling appetite and regulating carbohydrate metabolism. However, not much evidence is available for its effectiveness. The scientific community is divided over these alleged actions of chromium picolinate. Furthermore, some believe that it may even put you at risk of getting diabetes. In light of these findings, we suggest it is best to avoid supplements containing chromium picolinate!
Increasing incidence of overweight and obesity has meant that the resulting diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and arthritis are also on the rise. Despite all-out efforts to rein in the obesity epidemic, the march of obesity continues.
Although a number of innovative exercise, diet and pharmacological approaches have been designed and suggested by scientists, compliance with these over long periods of times is not very practical. People have always felt the need for easier and more practical approaches to reduce weight. Availability of supplements to reduce fat, improve body composition and pack on lean muscle mass has provided just such an option.
America supposedly spends $12 billion every year on such dietary supplements; there are in excess of 29,000 nutritional supplements that people can choose from (Gibson & Taylor, 2005; Neuhouser, 2003)! Notwithstanding such a phenomenal rise in the use of dietary supplements over the last few decades, not many of these have proven credentials. Furthermore, very little evidence in support of the safety of these supplements is ever published; weight-loss supplements do not differ much. Tall claims are made by manufacturers-promoters about the fat-loss abilities of their products. However, no trials or scientific studies are conducted for these ‘amazing supplements’ before they enter the market.
Chromium picolinate is one such fat-loss supplement.
We will first have a look at what chromium picolinate is before we proceed to investigate the evidence in support or otherwise of its fat burning abilities.
What is Chromium Picolinate?
Chromium picolinate (Cr(Pi)3 or CrPic) has been around since the 1950s. It is an immensely popular fat-loss agent, consumed by millions for its alleged weight-reducing potential. According to an estimate, chromium picolinate was used by almost 10 million US residents in a single year (Nielsen, 1996). Since then, newer fat-loss agents have entered the market. However, chromium picolinate still seems to have held on to its fan-following.
Commercially available chromium picolinate is produced by combining the naturally occurring mineral chromium with picolinic acid (Anton et al., 2008).
How Does Chromium Picolinate, If At All, Cause Fat Loss?
As opposed to other over the counter weight-loss supplements, some believe that CrPic does work. Reduction of body weight and improved body composition are some of benefits of CrPic supplementation.
A few theories have been proposed for the fat loss actions of chromium picolinate. These are:
- Regulation of neurotransmitters: Chromium picolinate favourably affects the neurotransmitters that control eating behaviour, hunger and satiety (Attenburrow, Odontiadis, Murray, Cowen, & Franklin, 2002; Docherty, Sack, Roffman, Finch, & Komorowski, 2005; McLeod & Golden, 2000). CrPic may also suppress the feeling of hunger during times of caloric restriction for weight loss (Anton et al., 2008).
- Insulin regulation and carbohydrate metabolism: Although the exact mechanism isn’t clear, animal and tissue studies have hinted that CrPic may help regulate insulin levels within the normal range (Shindea, Sharma, Xu, Dhalla, & Goyal, 2004; Cefalu, Wang, Zhang, Baldor, & Russell, 2002; Morris, Gray, & MacNeil, 1995; Kim, Kim, Park, Kang, & Om, 2002). Avoiding high plasma insulin spikes inhibits the conversion of excess carbohydrate and fat calories into fat and its deposition in the body.
Although these hypotheses sound exciting in theory; evidence in support has been inconsistent – with studies showing contradictory finding – especially when it comes to affecting insulin levels – discussed in detail below.
In a nutshell, chromium picolinate allegedly helps weight loss by:
- Controlling hunger and food cravings
- Regulating carbohydrate metabolism
Other Health Benefits of Chromium Picolinate
- Improved blood sugar control in diabetes: Animal studies have suggested that chromium picolinate may improve insulin sensitivity in diabetics (Kim et al., 2002; Morris et al., 1995). Prevention and delay of insulin resistance can be achieved by supplementing with chromium picolinate; some authors opine (Bahijri & Alissa, 2011).
- Improved blood lipid profile: Chromium picolinate has been shown to decrease the total cholesterol and cholesterol: HDL ratio (Cefalu et al., 2002). Elevated level of these in your blood increases you risk of subsequent heart disease.
In short, other supposed health benefits of CrPic supplementation are:
- Improved blood sugar control (opinion divided)
- Improved blood lipid profile
Is There Any Scientific Evidence That It Works?
Scientific evidence in support of chromium picolinate has been inconsistent with some studies suggesting chromium picolinate’s role in causing reduction of body fat while others denying any such findings.
A study published in 2008 reported that chromium picolinate reduced food intake, hunger levels and fat cravings (Anton et al., 2008). However, instead of causing weight loss, chromium picolinate, the authors of the study said, ‘attenuated weight gain’. Other researchers feel that chromium picolinate doesn’t do anything to suppress hunger and food intake (Cefalu et al., 2002).
A recently published meta-analysis of 10 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies reported that CrPic has a modest effect on body weight (Pittler, Stevinson, & Ernst, 2003). Another study reported similar findings – ‘CrPic did not promote weight loss but attenuated weight gain’ (Martin et al., 2006).
Results of studies conducted to investigate the role of chromium picolinate in improving insulin sensitivity have also reported contradictory conclusions (Anderson, 1998; Hellerstein, 1998; Balk, Tatsioni, Lichtenstein, Lau, & Pittas, 2007). While some believe insulin levels are affected favourably, others are of the opinion that chromium picolinate worsens insulin sensitivity at higher plasma levels (Masharani et al., 2012).
Thus, opinion widely varies not only regarding the fat-burning abilities of CrPic but also its hunger suppressing and insulin regulating actions.
Is It Safe to Consume?
As opposed to popular belief, chromium picolinate is not safe for use!
It may increase your chances of getting diabetes (or worsen existing diabetes). It has been proven that high levels of chromium picolinate in your blood may be responsible for reducing insulin sensitivity and ‘it is possible that the widespread use of chromium may be contributing to, rather than ameliorating, insulin resistance in the population’ (Masharani et al., 2012).
Chromium Picolinate – The Verdict
To conclude, although chromium picolinate has been always been thought to cause fat loss, there is very little evidence in support of such a notion. Controversy also surrounds its use as an anti-diabetic drug. It is interesting to note here that even the American Diabetes Association feels that ‘chromium supplementation has no known benefits’ (American Diabetes Association, 2001).
In light of these findings – chromium picolinate doesn’t cause fat loss but worsens insulin resistance – we suggest it is best to avoid supplements containing chromium picolinate!
- American Diabetes Association (2001). Nutrition recommendations and principles for people with diabetes mellitus. Diabetes Care, 24, S44-S47. Online Resource
- Anderson, R. A. (1998). Chromium, glucose intolerance and diabetes. J Am Coll.Nutr., 17, 548-555. Online Resource
- Anton, S. D., Morrison, C. D., Cefalu, W. T., Martin, C. K., Coulon, S., Geiselman, P. et al. (2008). Effects of chromium picolinate on food intake and satiety. Diabetes Technol.Ther, 10, 405-412. Online Resource
- Attenburrow, M. J., Odontiadis, J., Murray, B. J., Cowen, P. J., & Franklin, M. (2002). Chromium treatment decreases the sensitivity of 5-HT2A receptors. Psychopharmacology (Berl), 159, 432-436. Online Resource
- Bahijri, S. M. & Alissa, E. M. (2011). Increased insulin resistance is associated with increased urinary excretion of chromium in non-diabetic, normotensive Saudi adults. J Clin Biochem.Nutr., 49, 164-168. Online Resource
- Balk, E. M., Tatsioni, A., Lichtenstein, A. H., Lau, J., & Pittas, A. G. (2007). Effect of chromium supplementation on glucose metabolism and lipids: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Diabetes Care, 30, 2154-2163. Online Resource
- Cefalu, W. T., Wang, Z. Q., Zhang, X. H., Baldor, L. C., & Russell, J. C. (2002). Oral chromium picolinate improves carbohydrate and lipid metabolism and enhances skeletal muscle Glut-4 translocation in obese, hyperinsulinemic (JCR-LA corpulent) rats. J Nutr., 132, 1107-1114. Online Resource
- Docherty, J. P., Sack, D. A., Roffman, M., Finch, M., & Komorowski, J. R. (2005). A double-blind, placebo-controlled, exploratory trial of chromium picolinate in atypical depression: effect on carbohydrate craving. J Psychiatr.Pract., 11, 302-314.
- Gibson, J. E. & Taylor, D. A. (2005). Can claims, misleading information, and manufacturing issues regarding dietary supplements be improved in the United States? J Pharmacol.Exp.Ther, 314, 939-944. Online Resource
- Hellerstein, M. K. (1998). Is chromium supplementation effective in managing type II diabetes? Nutr.Rev, 56, 302-306. Online Resource
- Kim, D. S., Kim, T. W., Park, I. K., Kang, J. S., & Om, A. S. (2002). Effects of chromium picolinate supplementation on insulin sensitivity, serum lipids, and body weight in dexamethasone-treated rats. Metabolism, 51, 589-594. Online Resource
- Martin, J., Wang, Z. Q., Zhang, X. H., Wachtel, D., Volaufova, J., Matthews, D. E. et al. (2006). Chromium picolinate supplementation attenuates body weight gain and increases insulin sensitivity in subjects with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care, 29, 1826-1832. Online Resource
- Masharani, U., Gjerde, C., McCoy, S., Maddux, B. A., Hessler, D., Goldfine, I. D. et al. (2012). Chromium supplementation in non-obese non-diabetic subjects is associated with a decline in insulin sensitivity. BMC Endocr.Disord, 12, 31. Online Resource
- McLeod, M. N. & Golden, R. N. (2000). Chromium treatment of depression. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol., 3, 311-314. Online Resource
- Morris, B., Gray, T., & MacNeil, S. (1995). Evidence for chromium acting as an essential trace element in insulin-dependent glucose uptake in cultured mouse myotubes. J Endocrinol., 144, 135-141. Online Resource
- Neuhouser, M. L. (2003). Dietary supplement use by American women: challenges in assessing patterns of use, motives and costs. J Nutr., 133, 1992S-1996S. Online Resource
- Nielsen, F. (1996). Controversial Chromium: Does the superstar minearal of the mountebanks receive appropriate attention from clinicians and nutritionists? Nutr Today, 31, 226-233. Online Resource
- Pittler, M. H., Stevinson, C., & Ernst, E. (2003). Chromium picolinate for reducing body weight: meta-analysis of randomized trials. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord, 27, 522-529. Online Resource
- Shindea, U. A., Sharma, G., Xu, Y. J., Dhalla, N. S., & Goyal, R. K. (2004). Insulin sensitising action of chromium picolinate in various experimental models of diabetes mellitus. J Trace Elem.Med Biol., 18, 23-32. Online Resource