Chromium picolinate is the form of the mineral chromium that is normally found in dietary supplements.
It is generally safe to consume at doses of 200 mcg or less, though several studies show no toxicity and much higher levels.
Chromium picolinate is taken to help control the symptoms of diabetes and metabolic syndrome, to promote weight loss, and to improve blood lipids.
In this article, we review the evidence for the use of chromium picolinate and provide information on additional benefits, side effects, and other considerations.
What is Chromium Picolinate?
Chromium picolinate, also found as chromium (III) picolinate, chromium tripicolinate, pyridine-2-carboxylate, or simply chromium, is a form of the mineral chromium. Chromium is naturally found in many foods and in the environment (1).
Certain forms of chromium or chromium in high quantities are found in environmental pollutants, but these mustn’t be confused with the form that is found in dietary supplements (2).
The form of chromium that is used in dietary supplements is safe. It is found in a “trivalent” form, referring to its chemical structure, which is essential for human health (1).
In fact, it is referred to as an “essential” mineral, meaning that our bodies cannot make it, and we must consume it through the diet (3).
In the body, it has an important role in the following (3).
- the breakdown of fats and carbohydrates
- Fatty acid and cholesterol synthesis
- Aids in insulin action and the breakdown of glucose
- Normal brain function and other processes in the body
How Does It Work?
Many biochemicals models have set out to propose the mechanism of action of chromium in the body.
Chromium is found in such low quantities in the blood, is often studied while individuals are on other medications, and may change its effect based on individual genetics, that studies show that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how it works (4, 5).
Despite difficulties in understanding how it works in the body, regarding its role in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism, recent studies show that chromodulin, a peptide (protein building block) can saturate itself with chromium and bind to insulin receptors and amplify insulin signaling (6).
A series of other biochemical reactions occur, eventually signaling an increase of glucose uptake and storage (7).
While it enhances insulin signaling, chromium picolinate may also inhibit the breakdown of proteins (8).
In short, trivalent forms of chromium may improve the use of glucose in the blood for energy while it also helps prevent the body from breaking down proteins, like the ones found in your muscles, for energy.
Is it safe?
Chromium has been scrutinized after studies demonstrated that certain forms of the mineral have toxic effects on humans. However, it is important to note that different forms of chromium are metabolized differently, and thus have different effects on human health (9, 19).
Even so, lab studies have shown that even at several thousand times the upper limit of consumption, supplementation with trivalent Cr is considered safe and adequate (15).
Some studies have suggested that chromium has the potential to generate free radicals in the body, but chromium picolinate is metabolized so quickly (about 1 day) that it minimizes any potentially negative effects over-supplementation may have (16, 17, 18).
Evidence shows that the type of chromium used in nutritional supplements (chromium picolinate) is safe at recommended doses, and is most likely safe at higher doses.
However, it is always important to follow the dosage recommendations and consult with your doctor before taking on a new supplement regimen.
There are several health benefits linked to chromium picolinate supplementation. Some of the most stand-out benefits are detailed below.
Help to regulate insulin action, glucose intolerance, and reduce diabetes symptoms.
One of the best-studied effects of chromium is its effects on insulin action. Chromium boosts insulin action, thus increasing the insulin-signaling pathway, reverses regulators that stunt insulin sensitivity, and increases glucose uptake (10).
There has been so much interest in finding effective treatments to diabetes and metabolic syndrome with few to no side effects that the US government, by way of the NIH U.S. National Library of Medicine has sponsored several clinical trials to explore the effectiveness of Chromium supplementation on the symptoms of diabetes (20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25).
Ultimately, published studies, including systematic reviews, found that chromium supplementation, especially in chromium picolinate form, helps to significantly improve glucose metabolism safely (26).
Promote fat loss and reduction in body weight
One of the most popular benefits of chromium picolinate as a dietary supplement is its ability to promote weight loss.
One study showed that supplementing with chromium picolinate for over two months improved overall body composition, meaning more lean muscle and lower fat percentage (29).
It is important to note, however, that some studies have shown that chromium picolinate for weight loss is ineffective (27)
Help to reduce triglycerides and increase “good” cholesterol
Under normal conditions and at the recommended dose (under 200 mcg per day, but likely up to 1000 mcg per day), there are no side effects when supplementing with chromium picolinate (29).
Some rare side effects include (29) :
- Skin irritation
- Mood changes
- Impaired thinking, judgment, and coordination
Higher doses may have more serious side effects, including blood disorders, liver, and kidney damage, though it is not clear whether chromium causes these side effects (29).
Usage and dosing considerations
Glycaemic control may improve with chromium monosupplementation of more than 200 μg daily (26).
The National Academy of Sciences has established an estimated safe and adequate daily dietary intake range for chromium of 50-200 mcg per day. The average intakes (AI) of chromium in adults range from 25-45 mcg per day (12).
Risks and Precautions
There are some conditions where you should consult with a doctor about taking chromium picolinate supplementation, especially if you are already seeking treatment for these conditions. These include behavioral conditions and diabetes (26).
You should avoid chromium supplementation if you have a chromate or leather contact allergy, kidney disease, or liver disease (26).
How does chromium picolinate help you lose weight?
While the exact mechanism is not known, chromium picolinate likely helps you lose weight by helping to regulate or normalize glucose and fatty acid metabolism.
What time of day is best to take chromium picolinate?
There is no specific time you should take chromium picolinate, but, in general, you should take it at about the same time every day if you are taking it as a daily supplement.
How much chromium should you take a day?
Most research demonstrates that there is no added benefit to taking more than 200 mcg of chromium a day.
Does chromium picolinate lower blood sugar?
Evidence shows that chromium picolinate can, indeed, help lower blood sugar in people who have glucose control issues, like people with metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
Does chromium reduce appetite?
There is no evidence that chromium reduces appetite.
The Bottom Line
Chromium is a mineral that is essential to human health. It takes part in numerous processes but is likely the most important in the metabolism of carbohydrates and fatty acids.
At higher than average doses, chromium picolinate likely helps to regulate insulin and lower blood sugar, lower triglycerides, and increase “good cholesterol”.
Some evidence also shows it has a moderate effect on weight loss and improved body composition.