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On Nutrition

The Jury's Still Out on Chromium Picolinate

July 20, 1998|ED BLONZ

Dear Dr. Blonz: Lately, there's been a lot said about chromium picolinate. It is supposed to cause you to lose all your unwanted poundage, make your skin as soft and new as a baby's, rev up your metabolism and make you feel calm and serene. What do you think of the chromium craze? Is there anything to it?

--A.R.

Dear A.R.: Chromium is an essential nutrient required primarily for the proper metabolism of sugar (blood glucose), but it's also involved with fat and protein metabolism. Chromium picolinate is a popular supplement form that combines the mineral with picolinic acid to help make it more available to the body.

The recommended level of intake is small, ranging between 50 and 200 micrograms per day. Chromium is found in meats (especially organ meats), brewer's yeast, wheat germ and some fats and vegetable oils. Chromium can also be found in some unrefined grains, but the amount depends on the level in the soil.

There are a number of claims floating around that chromium is useful for diabetics or those with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). It is also claimed that chromium lowers blood cholesterol, helps you lose weight and helps increase muscle mass. Some preliminary research studies support the claims, but not all studies are positive. There are few long-term studies.

In my opinion, while the research on chromium is exciting, some aspects of the chromium "craze" are misleading. I say this because, as a supplement, this mineral isn't likely to produce the range of beneficial effects in people who already have an adequate intake.

This being said, however, we have to consider the fact that the vast majority of people do not get enough chromium from their diets. A 1991 article in the Journal of the American Dietetic Assn. said that as many as 90% of U.S. adults don't reach the government's suggested minimum of 50 micrograms per day.

Consider too that we are seeing an increased incidence of obesity and adult-onset diabetes. Could an endemic chromium deficiency be playing a role? If so, does this mean that we all would benefit from taking chromium supplements? The answer, unfortunately, is unclear. It's essential that we focus on whole foods and better food choices rather than pills to get our nutrients.

For those interested in taking chromium supplements, keep in mind that they won't benefit everyone. I could find no evidence, however, that supplements within the recommended range of 50 to 200 micrograms per day were harmful. Because chromium can potentially affect the efficiency with which insulin works in the body, those with diabetes or hypoglycemia should consult their health professionals.

*

Ed Blonz is the author of the "Your Personal Nutritionist" book series (Signet, 1996). Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Newspaper Enterprise Assn., 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016 or e-mail to: ed@blonz.com. Personal replies cannot be provided.

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