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Chromium and your health

Chromium (Cr) is nutrient that, according to the DRI (Dietary Reference Intakes, replacing the RDA since 1997), we need in the amount as miniscule as 0.2mg a day. Yet, over 80% of Americans may be deficient in this trace mineral. It is not hard to understand why, knowing that - after soil depletion and food processing loses - chromium absorption from the food is inhibited by sugar, other simple carbohydrates, fats and alcohol. Poor thing doesn't have much of a chance to get to our precious cells.

Should we care? Very much so. Chromium has at least two very important roles in the body: (1) regulating uptake of blood sugar (glucose) by body cells, as a cofactor needed to maintain the sensitivity of cells to insulin (carrying glucose over cellular membrane), and
(2) helping regulate your cholesterol level.

What this translates into is that chromium deficiency is very likely to: (1) cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and (2) can result in elevated total cholesterol.

Its sugar connection is particularly frightening: people that crave sugar have their chromium level lowered by the excessive sugar intake. Lower chromium causes more intense sugar and simple carbohydrate (including white flour) craving, which further worsens chromium deficiency - which in turn makes your sugar craving even more intense. There is no way out without correcting chromium levels.

It is another good reason to make sure your mineral status is OK, because

you don't want to be on that downward spiral, period.

Hypoglycemia, cravings, obesity, mood swings, depression, diabetes, weakened immune system - makes only a partial list of ailments and illnesses related to the chromium deficiency cycle.

If chromium is very low in ratio to its mineral antagonists (copper, potassium and selenium), it can result in a specific form of osteoporosis (loss of trabecular bone - the porous inner core of the bone)18. This is only likely as a consequence of a high long-term intake - especially through selective supplementation - of one or more of the three minerals. Yet another remainder that the ultimate in healthful nutrition is a balanced intake of all important nutrients.

 While it is very important to have as good as possible chromium food intake, for the reasons mentioned in the beginning, it is unlikely to satisfy your body's needs. Supplementation is recommended, with chelated chromium being more desirable supplemental form than chromium picolinate, which has been shown to be both, less effective and more likely to cause side effects. The fact that chromium supplementation significantly prolongs life of laboratory animals seems to be a good enough reason to secure an extra daily doze - at the DRI level - for yourself.

But don't let that tempt you to overdo on chromium. As always, excess intake of a nutrient can be as bad as deficiency, if not worse. Too much chromium can cause spinal and joint degeneration and depressed immune system. Excessive chromium picolinate, in particular, can also cause headache, insomnia, psychotic symptoms, cardiac arrhythmia, weight gain, and other adverse health symptoms.

 Best natural chromium food sources are brewer's yeast, broccoli, grape juice, potato, whole grains, lean meat and orange juice. Red wine can also be a good source. However, even best chromium food sources still contain only a small fraction of needed daily intake. This puts chromium among those essential nutrients most likely to be deficient in your diet.