Chromium is a metal and an essential trace mineral. Chromium is found in some foods, such as meats, animal fats, fish, brown sugar, coffee, tea, some spices, whole-wheat and rye breads, and brewer's yeast. It is marketed in supplement form (capsules and tablets) as chromium picolinate, chromium chloride, and chromium nicotinate.
Summary of the research findings
There are scientific controversies about the use or need for chromium supplementation by persons with diabetes. First, it is difficult to determine, including through tests, whether a person has a chromium deficiency. Second, it is not known whether it is beneficial to take chromium supplementation in diabetes, and there is a lack of rigorous basic science studies to explain or support any evidence of benefit. In sum, there is not enough evidence to show that taking chromium supplements is beneficial for diabetes.
Side effects and other risks
At low doses, short-term use of chromium appears to be safe in the general adult population. However, chromium can add to insulin in its effects on blood sugar; this might cause the blood sugar to go too low. Possible side effects at low doses include weight gain, headache, insomnia, skin irritation, sleep problems, and mood changes. High doses can cause serious side effects. The foremost concern for persons with diabetes who use chromium is the development of kidney problems. Other possible effects include vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding into the gastrointestinal tract, and worsening of any behavioral or psychiatric problems.
- There is limited scientific evidence on the effectiveness of dietary supplements as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)A group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine. Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine, and alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. for type 2 diabetes. The evidence that is available is not sufficiently strong to prove that any of the six supplements discussed in this report have benefits for type 2 diabetes or its complications. A possible exception may be the use of omega-3 fatty acidsEssential nutrients that the body cannot make on its own but can obtain from foods such as fish and flaxseed, or from dietary supplements. to lower triglyceridea levels.
- It is very important not to replace conventional medical therapy for diabetes with an unproven CAM therapy.
- To ensure a safe and coordinated course of care, people should inform their health care providers about any CAM therapy that they are currently using or considering.
- The dietary supplements reviewed in this section appear to be generally safe at low-to-moderate doses. However, each can interact with various prescription medications, affecting the action of the medications. People with type 2 diabetes need to know about these risks and discuss them with their health care provider. Prescribed medicines may need to be adjusted if a person is also using a CAM therapy.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Research Report: Treating Type 2 Diabetes with Dietary Supplements (PDF). (Accessed 5/7/08.)
Reviewed by Susan Weiner, R.D., M.S., C.D.E., C.D.N. 10/08
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