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Chromium Picolinate and Weight Loss
by Amanda Allen
Chromium picolinate is a nutritional supplement that works to increase the efficiency of insulin to optimal levels. Gaining increased popularity in the United States, this supplement has been touted a miracle mineral, one advertised to have myriad effects including weight loss, mood enhancement, energy promotion, increase in life span, and even the prevention of acne (Krzanowski, 1996). The most common usage for chromium picolinate is as a weight loss aid; claims that this supplement can melt fat, drastically reduce appetite, and increase metabolism are rampant and account for the popularity of chromium picolinate in our diet-obsessed culture. Recently, the supplement has been marketed as a “safe alternative to steroids,” claiming to increase strength and lean muscle mass (Trent &Thieding-Cancel, 1995). Chromium picolinate is a common ingredient in many herbal weight-loss concoctions readily available for over-the-counter sale at the local drugstore or on the internet. However, because chromium picolinate is a nutritional supplement rather than a prescription drug, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cannot vouch for the accuracy of advertiser’s often remarkable claims (Krzanowski, 1996). Additionally, scientific research is generally unsupportive of the weight loss claims surrounding chromium picolinate; consumers must be aware of these discrepancies when making a decision to take this or any other nutritional supplement.
what is chromium picolinate?
This popular nutritional supplement is a combination of the element chromium and picolinic acid. Chromium is a naturally-occurring mineral, trace amounts of which are found in everyday foods like meat, poultry, fish, and whole-grain breads. When foods are processed, they are stripped of natural chromium, making American diets generally very low in chromium; studies estimate an average daily chromium consumption of 33 mcg. In 1968, it was demonstrated that when animals do not receive adequate levels of chromium, insulin is not optimally effective, and damage to insulin-dependent systems can occur (Schroeder, 1968). This led the FDA to recommend a daily chromium intake of approximately 130 mcg, as infinitesimal amounts of chromium are needed to aid the transport of blood glucose across cell membranes (http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/dp_fnut/_timely/CHROMIUM.htm). Combining chromium with picolinic acid simply aids in efficient chromium absorption, and it is this combined form that is popular on the diet market today.
how does chromium picolinate work?
After eating, the human body secretes the hormone insulin. In general, the primary function of insulin is to transport glucose to the body’s cells in order to provide energy that facilitates cell functioning. It is speculated that chromium picolinate works by stimulating the activity of insulin, thus significantly aiding the body’s glucose and fat metabolism, managing the breakdown of glucose and fat (http://phys.com/b_nutrition/02solutions/08diet/chromium.htm). The exact mechanisms by which chromium improves this insulin efficiency are currently unclear; it has been suggested that chromium somehow works to increase sensitivity of insulin receptors (Krzanowski, 1996). However, because research has yet to produce any definite answers as to the exact function of chromium picolinate, competing theories about its precise effects exist. Some claim that that the improved insulin efficiency causes an increase in the production of seratonin, which subsequently reduces appetite. Still others assert that chromium can regulate the fat-production processes in the body, preventing excess fat from forming. One hypothesis states that chromium picolinate increases protein synthesis, which in turn stimulates muscle growth (http://www.parrillo.com/press/990706.HTM). Heavy marketing of chromium picolinate as a dietary aid focuses on chromium picolinate’s reputed ability to reduce the body’s fat stores while conserving lean muscle mass (http://www.getlean.net/chromium.htm).
claims about chromium picolinate
The internet is littered with sites that laud chromium picolinate as the ultimate weight loss tool. Many of these sites market chromium picolinate as having a very specific effect on the body's energy supply, tagging the supplement “an indispensable biochemical partner of insulin” (http://www.getlean.net/chromium.htm). As such, chromium picolinate will help the dieter burn calories and control their appetite while melting away undesirable body fat. In addition to these appealing claims is the statement that chromium picolinate will increase and even tone lean muscle mass during the weight loss process. The supplement is therefore a vital addition to recent “exercise in a bottle” and herbal fat burner pills. These diet compounds, which are readily available over the internet, often combine chromium picolinate with L-carnitine (http://www.feel21.com/cgi-bin/feel21/131260?7MdTKlR4;;22), with guarana and ma huang (http://www.headstartvitamins.com/metabolite.html), or with dangerous diuretics (http://www.click-here-now.com/vitaminpower/nutratrimplus.htm). Such combination tablets are risky, as any interactions between chromium picolinate and other supplements remain unknown at this time (http://phys.com/b_nutrition/02solutions/08diet/chromium.htm). Nevertheless, chromium picolinate continues to appear as an ingredient in products with promising names like “Ripped Action,” “Fat Burner Bars,” and “Ripped Fast,” alluding to the spectacular results that a dieter might expect from chromium picolinate (http://www.bodybuilding.com/store/hp/picolinate_page.html). Weight loss is not the only effect that one can expect from chromium picolinate, however. One bodybuilding site even refers to uncited “evidence” that chromium picolinate can expand the life span via “age-slowing effects” while as improving circulation. The site’s concluding statement on the potency of chromium picolinate is simply: “whoa, that is powerful!!” (http://www.bodybuilding.com/store/hp/picolinate_page.html)
does chromium picolinate effectively aid weight loss?
Scientific research has been largely unsupportive of the appealing claims made about chromium picolinate’s ability to significantly aid weight loss. Because chromium picolinate professes an ability to reduce fat while maintaining and increasing lean muscle mass, the most relevant studies are those examining body composition. These measurements typically include percent body fat, body weight, and lean body mass. A study by Trent and Thieding-Cancel (1995) examines the effectiveness of chromium picolinate as a fat-reduction aid in an obese subject population. In this particular study, obesity was defined as exceeding the Navy’s percent body fat standards: 22% fat for men and 30% fat for women. Over the course of the study, subjects met three times weekly for at least thirty minutes of aerobic activity; one half of the group received 400 mcg of chromium picolinate to supplement their training, while the other group received a placebo. Height, body weight and percent body fat measurements were obtained at the onset of the study and sixteen weeks later. Results did not indicate any differences in measures of body composition between the experimental (chromium) group and the control (placebo) group. Although the group as a whole lost a small amount of weight, this change was attributed to the implementation of an exercise regimen rather than to chromium supplementation. The authors conclude absolutely no link between body fat, insulin insensitivity, and chromium picolinate, and do not recommend the supplement as a useful aspect of weight-loss programs (Trent & Thieding-Cancel, 1995).
A paper by Grant et al (1997) examined the effects of chromium supplementation in a population of obese women. Subjects took either 200 mcg of chromium picolinate or a placebo with or without exercise training. This particular program that consisted of both cardiovascular and resistance training. In addition, the women were asked not to alter their diets in any way during the course of the study. The dependent measures in the Grant et al (1997) study were body weight, body fat percentage, fat mass, as well as fat free mass. After nine weeks on this program, some interesting findings were revealed. First, the coupling of chromium picolinate and exercise did not produce any significant weight loss as compared to controls, supportive of Trent & Thieding-Cancel (1995) and the general conclusion that chromium picolinate does not enhance weight loss. A second important finding was that chromium supplementation without exercise actually produced a significant increase in body weight. This suggests that chromium picolinate is not only an ineffective tool for weight loss, but may in fact be counterproductive in dieting endeavors (Grant et al, 1997).
A sample of normal males is examined in a third study testing the effects of chromium picolinate on weight loss and body composition (Lukaski et al, 1996). This group was enrolled in a weight training class designed to maximize strength gain in all major muscle groups. Again, the experimental group participated in the exercise program with chromium picolinate supplementation while the control group took a placebo. At the end of an eight week period, both groups were tested for strength, fat-free mass, and muscle mass; while all measures increased as a result of resistance training, there were no significant differences between the experimental and control groups. Additionally, there was no effect on fat loss in either group (Lukaski et al, 1996).
Because chromium picolinate is occasionally marketed to athletes as
a natural alternative to steroids, it is pertinent to consider the effects
of chromium supplementation within an athlete population. Walker
et al (1998) examine body composition and muscular performance of Division
I collegiate wrestlers involved in preseason conditioning. The authors
point out that “during this phase of training, wrestlers are primarily
interested in trying to improve performance…and are not engaged in severe,
acute weight loss practices commonly employed before competition” (Walker
et al, 1998). Athletes participated in a fourteen week resistance
and conditioning schedule. One group’s training was supplemented
with chromium picolinate while the other group took placebo tablets.
In general agreement with earlier studies, chromium picolinate was not
found to decrease body fat or to increase lean muscle mass or strength.
This study specifically refutes claims that chromium picolinate produces
results analogous to anabolic steroids, and discourages the use of the
supplement among athlete populations (Walker et al, 1998).
One study did reveal chromium picolinate as an effective aid for weight loss. Harris et al (1998) examined dietary supplementation with Chroma Slim?, a combination pill that includes chromium picolinate and lipotropics such as L-carnitine. The combination of supplementation and exercise significantly increased fat loss as compared to the control group. At present, the results of this study were available only in abstract form and offered only these promising preliminary results (Harris et al, 1998). Several studies using animal subjects also assert fat loss and muscle growth (i.e. Mooney et al, 1995; Lindemann et al, 1995). However, evidence that chromium picolinate can accomplish the same feat in humans is rare, and overwhelmingly indicates that chromium picolinate is simply not effective for human weight loss.
The majority of scientific evidence suggests that chromium picolinate is neither a helpful nor beneficial part of weight loss programs. In the absence of exercise, it may even cause weight gain. An important side note is the fact that all groups involved in chromium picolinate studies, particularly those groups of obese subjects, managed to lose body weight and fat when enrolled in exercise training programs. While chromium picolinate did not enhance weight loss as expected, participants still lost weight and gained muscle by exercising. Although not the easy solution desired by many American dieters, exercise is a proven and safe method to lose weight, to gain muscle, and to improve general health.
does chromium picolinate have any adverse effects?
Chromium picolinate, though not a proven method of weight loss, remains among the most popular dietary supplements available over the counter. Because it is taken daily by millions of Americans, it is important to evaluate any potential risks involved in chromium supplementation. Unfortunately, there is a scarcity of research concerning these side effects. Several case studies reporting subtle behavioral changes as a result of chromium picolinate are scattered throughout the literature. For example, one patient took chromium picolinate on three separate occasions and had three distinct episodes of “progressively worse cognitive, perceptual, and motor changes” (Krzanowski, 1996). These episodes included sensations of “feeling funny” to reports of mental “short circuiting” and even a complete disruption of motor abilities (Krzanowski, 1996). Other sources report vague symptoms including “irregular heartbeat,” leading the FDA to cite “safety concerns” (http://www.vitawise.com/threehot.htm).
should you take chromium picolinate?
Despite rampant claims that chromium picolinate is a weight loss miracle
that will melt fat, improve metabolism, and increase muscle mass, scientific
evidence overwhelmingly indicates that the supplement does nothing of the
kind. When combined with exercise, chromium supplementation does
nothing to enhance weight loss as compared to exercise alone, in study
after study. The case of chromium picolinate should caution consumers
against believing miracle weight loss claims. When advertised on
the internet, chromium picolinate is presented as a reliable, safe, and
fast way to reduce body fat: actual evidence presents a very different
picture of this supplement. Taking a daily dose of chromium picolinate
will not likely produce any drastic results, and certainly will not produce
effects that could not be achieved with exercise alone. Consumers
should always be wary of dietary supplements touted as “miracles,” and
investigate the truth behind flashy claims before deciding to take any
Grant, K.E., Chandler, R.M., Castle, A.M., & Ivy, J.L. (1997).
and Science in Sports and Exercise, 29(8), 992-998.
Harris, C, Hoeger, W., Long, E.M., Welch, M., Hafner, T.L., Kjorstad,
& Hopkins, D.R. (1998). Twenty five days of dietary supplementation
with chroma slim augments body fat reduction. Medicine and Science
in Sports and Exercise, 30(5), 62.
Krzanowski, J.J. (1996). Chromium picolinate. Journal of the Florida
Association, 83(1), 29-31.
Lindemann, M. D., Wood, C. M., Harper, A. F., Komegay, E. T. & Anderson,
(1995). Dietary chromium picolinate additions improve gain-feed and carcass characteristics in growing finishing pigs and increase litter in reproducing sows. Journalof Animal Science, 2, 457-465.
Lukaski, H.C., Bolonchuk, W.W., Siders, W.A., & Milne, D.B.
supplementation and resistence training: effects on body composition, strength,
and trace element status of men.American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 63, 954-
Mooney, K. W. & Cromwell, G. L. (1995). Effects of dietary chromium
on growth, carcass characteristics,and accretion rates of carcass tissues in growing-finishing swine. Journal of Animal Science,73, 51-57.
Schroeder, H.A. (1968). The role of chromium in mammilian
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 21, 230-244.
Trent, L.K, & Theiding-Cancel, D. (1995). Effects of chromium picolinate on body composition.. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 35(4), 273-280.
Walker, L.S., Bemben, M.G., Bemben, D.A., Knehans, A.W. (1998).
picolinate effects on body composition and muscular performance in
wrestlers. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 30(12), 1730-1737.
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