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Chromium supplements: chromium, diabetes, and weight loss

BOSTON, MA — Most of us think of chromium as the shiny metal in the bumpers of cars. Chrome bumpers are long gone, but the metal plays a crucial role in human health, reports the January 2007 issue of Harvard Men’s Health Watch.

Chromium and cholesterol. In rats, chromium deficiency leads to high cholesterol levels. In humans, the results have been contradictory. With such scattered scientific information, it’s too early to recommend chromium supplements for cholesterol. But there may be an exception to that rule when it comes to low HDL (good) cholesterol. The best ways to boost HDL levels are lifestyle changes such as exercise and diet. But if those don’t help, chromium may be worth a try. Some clinical trials have reported a benefit. Chromium and heart disease. A new study reports a link between chromium levels and heart attack risk: the lower the levels, the higher the risk. The association of low chromium and heart attacks was unrelated to diabetes or diet. Chromium and diabetes. Since chromium influences insulin action and glucose metabolism, diabetes is a logical candidate for chromium replacement therapy. However, studies have yielded conflicting results. The American Diabetes Association states that "at present, benefit from chromium supplements has not been conclusively demonstrated." It’s an invitation for more scientific study. Chromium and weight loss. Despite the popularity of chromium picolinate as a diet aid, scientists agree that chromium supplements are not effective in producing sustained weight loss.

Is chromium right for you? When it comes to dietary chromium, the answer is yes; whole grains, nuts, broccoli, and green beans, which contain the mineral, are all healthful foods. But before you opt for supplements, talk with your doctor.

Also in this issue of the Harvard Men's Health Watch

  • Obesity and prostate cancer
  • Beta blockers for blood pressure: A second opinion
  • Chromium: The forgotten mineral
  • On call: Niacin for cholesterol
  • On call: Blood pressure medication and erections

More Harvard Health News »


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Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.