Chromium Picolinate Worsens Insulin Sensitivity in Healthy, Non-Diabetic, Non-Obese Individuals by Up to 25%

The more supplements you take the more likely you are to get way more than the 200mcg of chromium of which previous studies have shown that they are useless for healthy people, but at least not detrimental (cf. Lukaski 1996 & 2007; Vincent. 2007). Especially people who like the  'poly-supplementary' approach are yet at risk of getting so much of a this trace mineral that it will hamper not improve their insulin sensitivity.
I don't have to tell you that you would already be dead if you were following all the bro-scientific advice that's out there on the Internet and still I usually recognize a certain reluctance to give up on what X suggests and Y has tried an what has worked so well for Z. One of the instances, where I have hitherto been missing a 100% convincing argument to argue that this is just another instance where common wisdom would in fact be better called "common stupidity" is the "insulin mimetic" or "insulin sensitizer" (or whatever your favorite bro-expert may call it) chromium picolinate. With the recent publication of the result of a study on the effects of chromium supplementation in healthy individuals there is now finally a human study that confirms that chromium, which has never been an "insulin sensitizer", but rather an "insulin release amplifier" that reduced blood glucose in diabetics by simply having them produce even more insulin is not a supplement any healthy man or woman, let alone athlete should consider a staple of his or her regimen.

The long and short: Chromium hampers insulin sensitivity in normoglycemic individuals

For their experiment lead author Umesh Masharani and his colleagues from the UCSA recruited a group of 27 non-obese, non-diabetic, healthy subjects between the ages of 20 and 50 with a body mass index of less than 27 kg/m² and <24 kg/m² for subjects with Asian heritage (the cut-off limits were set so that they would be below a BMI that has not yet been shown to be an independent risk factor for insulin resistance; cf. Clausen. 1996; Newell-Morris. 1998).

To evaluate whether chromium picolinate (ChrPic) supplements, which contributed with $150,000,000 to the revenue of the supplement industry in 1996 (Nielsen. 1996), could come up to the claims that they would exert beneficial effects on glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, the study participants were randomized to take either a placebo or a high dose 500µg CrPic supplement twice daily for 4 months (the dosage was selected in view of previews studies reporting greater benefits of 1,000 vs. 200mcg of CrPic in - you already guessed it - diabetic subjects; cf. Morris. 2000).
Figure 1: Insulin sensitivity measured by euglycemic clamp before and after the 16 week intervention (left); change in insulin sensitivity of the individual subjects plotted against serum chromium levels at the end of the study (Masharani. 2012)
As the data in figure 1 goes to show, the results of the CrPic intervention were more or less the exact opposite of what the ~10 million US consumers of respective supplements probably expect from the pills many of them are taking almost religiously. Despite the fact that all subjects had very low chromium levels at the beginning of the study, the previously non-significant minimally benificial relation between both serum and urinary chromium, on the one hand, and insulin sensitivity (r = 0.24, p=0.1; r=0.08, p=0.79 respectively), on the other hand, had turned into a very significant negative correlation between high(er) urinary and serum chromium concentrations and lower insulin sensitivity at the end of the 16 week intervention period (figure 1, right).
"Due to the apparent variation in the degree of chromium absorption between subjects, we examined the relationship between serum chromium and change in insulin resistance. After controlling for baseline patient characteristics, results of a multiple regression analysis showed a strong association between serum chromium and worsening of insulin–mediated glucose disposal (β= -0.83, p<0.01), where subjects with the highest serum chromium had a decline in their insulin sensitivity. To further explore the association between chromium absorption and insulin resistance, patients within the chromium group were divided (based on  a medial split at 3.10 µg/L) into a high (n=6) and low (n=8) serum chromium group [...] There were no group differences at baseline; however, at post-assessment participants in the high serum chromium group (> 3.1  µg/L) were more insulin resistant than participants in the low serum chromium group (≤3.1  µg/L) or the placebo group (p=0.02, p=0.05 respectively) (Figure 3)." (my emphases in Masharani. 2012)
Due to the fact that the scientists did not observe any differences between the placebo and low serum  chromium groups (on a side note, contrary to many other studies insulin Masharani et al. measured the insulin sensitivity in a very reliable way with an euglycemic hyperinsulinemic clamp; cf. Defronzo. 1979), the scientists also conducted a post-hoc analysis to identify potential confounding factors that may have influenced the outcome of the trial. Neither changes in triglycerides levels LDL, BMI, or truncal fat were yet associated with the differences they observed between the supplemented and non-supplemented participants. Interactions that would reduce the significance of the observed correlations were likewise absent:
"Furthermore, when changes in triglycerides, LDL, BMI, and truncal fat were individually added to the model, none were independent significant predictors of change in insulin sensitivity, and chromium absorption remained a significant predictor of reduced insulin sensitivity in each model." (Masharani. 2012)
Against that background the scientists conclude that there must be a "direct effect of chromium on changes in insulin action". A mechanism, by the way, which is totally independent of classic markers of insulin resistance such as high serum lipids and abdominal / truncal adiposity .

Being healthy is a good predictor of increased chromium absorption and more pronounced negative effects, so if you are healthy and want to stay this way don't even think of taking high dose chromium supplements.

Despite the fact that the changes in insulin resistance did not depend on changes in serum lipids and other markers of metabolic health, Masharani and his colleagues were able to show that the increase in chromium levels in response to supplementation did. With the already mentioned statistically significant correlation between increases in serum chromium levels (higher response to supplementation = higher increase), on the one hand, and the worsening of insulin sensitivity, on the other hand, this means that the healthiest subjects, namely ...
"[...] subjects with lower triglycerides, and those with lower levels of homocysteine [who had] a greater likelihood of being in the high absorption group" (Masharani. 2012)
... were at the same time those who were at the greatest risk of the ill side-effects high dose chromium supplements exert on the insulin tolerance of healthy, non-diabetic, normal-weight individuals.

No matter if it may have helped you produce insulin back in your obese days, once you have accomplished this you better avoid high dose or multiple (hidden) sources of supplemental chromium like a plague - unless you can't afford new jeans, of course ;-)
Bottom line: Unless you are not a type II diabetic or feel the urgent desire to become one, you better steer clear of exuberant amounts of supplemental chromium the RDA is enough. This is particularly true, if you are already taking a multi (which is almost guaranteed to have 200mcg in it), or any BB-style supplements. After all, "broscience" wants it that chromium is in everything that's even remotely related to insulin / nutrient uptake or whatever. With the use of only one of these products and 200mcg of supplemental dietary chromium per day, you may still argue that it probably won't do much harm. When you add another 200mcg from your "nutrient partitioner" on top of the 200mcg you get from your multi and the 200mcg of which you probably did not even realize yet that they are part of your pre-workout supplement, however, you can hardly complain about simply not being able to tolerate carbohydrates - I mean, what's your body supposed to do if you are dumb enough to believe in the promises of fat loss and lean mass increases that have been debunked in the late 1990s, already (cf. Lukaski 1996 & 2007; Vincent. 2007), and simply chose to ignore the latest scientific evidence that chromium picolinate supplements are not just useless, but actually detrimental to your health?

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