Chromium picolinate does not make you thinner, more muscular, stronger, or give you more energy.
Chromium is an active component of the glucose tolerance factor, which facilitates the action of insulin. Chromium supposedly increases muscle mass, decreases body fat, and promotes weight loss. The success of chromium picolinate is due to a well-orchestrated marketing campaign initiated by both Nutrition 21 (a supplement company in San Diego, CA) and their consultant chemist, Gary Evans, Ph.D (author of the book Chromium Picolinate).
Nutrition 21 holds the chromium picolinate patent, but patenting laws do not require that claims for health products be valid. Independent research by the USDA Human Nutrition Research Centers in Beltsville, MD and Grand Forks, ND do not support the marketing claims made by Evans or Nutrition 21.
In November of 1996, the Federal Trade Commission ordered Nutrition 21 to stop making unsubstantiated weight loss and health claims for chromium picolinate.
Animal studies on chromium and its ligands have found increased lean body mass, decreased fat mass, decreased growth of tumors, improved insulin activity, and increased life span in rats fed high doses. The same effects can be induced in animals by placing them on moderate calorie restriction. In humans, chromium picolinate and other salts have phenformin-like activity, but only in those with insulin resistance; no improvement is seen in glucose uptake in normal persons. The role of chromium supplements in individuals with deficiency or glucose intolerance remains to be defined.
High-output endurance athletes may need supplemental chromium, but the amounts found in standard over-the-counter multivitamin and mineral supplements are probably sufficient. Brewer's yeast is an excellent natural dietary source of chromium, but it causes abundant and foul flatulence. In a well-controlled, randomized trial in collegiate weightlifters, supplemental and placebo groups engaged in an intensive program of weight training. The two groups had no evidence of differences in body composition after the training period.
The presumed safety of chromium picolinate and picolinic acid has been questioned in a recent paper. Chromosomal damage was induced both by the chromium picolinate salt and the ligand in hamster ovary egg germ cells, raising the possibility of mutagenesis and carcinogenesis. The effects were seen with concentrations that were achievable in the serum of humans who take the current recommended doses; they were not seen with chromium nicotinate. Patients should be informed of this report.
A possible side effect, especially if you're a woman, is that the supplement may make you anemic if you take if for longer than several months. Females should not take the supplement unless they are physically mature (stopped growing and have a menstual period).
At this time, chromium supplements appear to have no documented clinical utility in normal adults.
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