The Hemp Connection + [whole grains]

Should You Supplement? Chromium

Chromium is a commonly used (or at least recommended) supplement in PCOS. What is it, why is it recommended, and should you be taking it?

Chromium is a metal, just like iron and copper. It's not really needed in large amounts to do its job, which in the body, is to help metabolize sugar and fats.

Some researchers have suggested that chromium supplementation in PCOS can help insulin function. There are two articles in the National Library of Medicine database looking specifically at the use of chromium supplementation in PCOS. One study, using a dose of 200 mcg per day, resulted in improved glucose tolerance but not fertility. The second study bumped the dose up to 1000 micrograms per day, resulting in a 38% better ability to remove glucose from the blood.


There are more than a few articles in the very same database connecting chromium picolinate to DNA damage. The earliest one, for someone writing so much about infertility, really caught my eye, as it was entitled, "Chromium(III) picolinate produces chromosome damage in Chinese hamster ovary cells." Another study reported that offspring of pregnant mice who were given chromium picolinate had an increased incidence of skeletal defects.

In the United States, dietary chromium recommendations have actually been LOWERED.

Because this is such a popular supplement recommendation and I'm sure at least some readers will question this, I've put all the references I found at the bottom of this post.

What I did notice was that over time, articles started to appear that countered this finding. I'm not sure if that means that earlier studies were wrong, if study design was manipulated to generate a different outcome, or if nutrition scientists are still trying to figure out how chromium works in the body.

What I know is, there were enough reports of potential toxicity to cause concern, and I do my best not to make recommendations that future research might force me to backpedal on. The entire model of PCOS intervention promoted by inCYST is about preventing oxidative stress and its associated damage. Chromium picolinate was referred to as an oxidative stress agent in more than one of the cited references, so to encourage readers to supplement with it seemed counterproductive.


First of all, understand what it is that chromium does. The clue lies in the fourth sentence of this post, in which I mentioned that chromium is needed to metabolize sugar and fats. If you're eating less sugar and fat, you need less chromium! So…perhaps one very important thing you can do is create less of a need for chromium by working to reduce your sugar and fat intake. We've talked a lot about strategies for reducing sugar cravings and binge eating, which could be two of your most important chromium-balance strategies.

Know your dietary sources. What you CAN do about the deficiency that previous dietary choices may have created, is to be savvy about what foods naturally contain trace amounts of chromium. These include brewer's yeast, whole grains, liver, bran cereals, potatoes, romaine lettuce, onions, and tomatoes.

Skip the refined foods Part of the reason we may have so much trouble getting chromium in the diet is our love of processed foods. It's especially problematic when we eat a food (such as bread) that is eventually going to require chromium to be metabolized, that has had the chromium processed right out of it.

It's kind of like if your car is running inefficiently. It's blowing through gasoline at a rapid rate. You can keep the car running by putting more and more gasoline in it, or you can get a tuneup to increase your fuel efficiency. Both will work, but one is more likely to cause long term problems.

Lucidi RS, Thyer AC, Easton CA, Holden AE, Schenken RS, Brzyski RG. Effect of chromium supplementation on insulin resistance and ovarian and menstrual cyclicity in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Fertil Steril. 2005 Dec;84(6):1755-7.

Stearns DM, Wise JP Sr, Patierno SR, Wetterhahn KE. Chromium(III) picolinate produces chromosome damage in Chinese hamster ovary cells. FASEB J. 1995 Dec;9(15):1643-8.

Stearns DM, Belbruno JJ, Wetterhahn KE. A prediction of chromium(III) accumulation in humans from chromium dietary supplements. FASEB J. 1995 Dec;9(15):1650-7. Review.

Bagchi D, Bagchi M, Balmoori J, Ye X, Stohs SJ. Comparative induction of oxidative stress in cultured J774A.1 macrophage cells by chromium picolinate and chromium nicotinate. Eur J Epidemiol. 1998 Sep;14(6):621-6.

Kato I, Vogelman JH, Dilman V, Karkoszka J, Frenkel K, Durr NP, Orentreich N, Toniolo P. Effect of supplementation with chromium picolinate on antibody titers to 5-hydroxymethyl uracil. Chem Res Toxicol. 1999 Jun;12(6):483-7.

Speetjens JK, Collins RA, Vincent JB, Woski SA. The nutritional supplement chromium(III) tris(picolinate) cleaves DNA. Mol Cell Biochem. 2001 Jun;222(1-2):149-58.

Bagchi D, Bagchi M, Stohs SJ. Chromium (VI)-induced oxidative stress, apoptotic cell death and modulation of p53 tumor suppressor gene. Mutat Res. 2002 Jan 15;513(1-2):135-42.

Vincent JB. The potential value and toxicity of chromium picolinate as a nutritional supplement, weight loss agent and muscle development agent. Sports Med. 2003;33(3):213-30.

Bailey MM, Boohaker JG, Sawyer RD, Behling JE, Rasco JF, Jernigan JJ, Hood RD, Vincent JB. Exposure of pregnant mice to chromium picolinate results in skeletal defects in their offspring. Birth Defects Res B Dev Reprod Toxicol. 2006 Jun;77(3):244-9.

Stallings DM, Hepburn DD, Hannah M, Vincent JB, O'Donnell J. Nutritional supplement chromium picolinate generates chromosomal aberrations and impedes progeny development in Drosophila melanogaster. Mutat Res. 2006 Nov 7;610(1-2):101-13.
Kim M, Lim JH, Ahn CS, Park K, Kim GT, Kim WT, Pai HS. Mitochondria-associated hexokinases play a role in the control of programmed cell death in Nicotiana benthamiana. Plant Cell. 2006 Sep;18(9):2341-55.

Andersson MA, Petersson Grawé KV, Karlsson OM, Abramsson-Zetterberg LA, Hellman BE.
Evaluation of the potential genotoxicity of chromium picolinate in mammalian cells in vivo and in vitro. Food Chem Toxicol. 2007 Jul;45(7):1097-106.

Hininger I, Benaraba R, Osman M, Faure H, Marie Roussel A, Anderson RA. Safety of trivalent chromium complexes: no evidence for DNA damage in human HaCaT keratinocytes. Free Radic Biol Med. 2007 Jun 15;42(12):1759-65.

Bailey MM, Sturdivant J, Jernigan PL, Townsend MB, Bushman J, Ankareddi I, Rasco JF, Hood RD, Vincent JB. Comparison of the potential for developmental toxicity of prenatal exposure to two dietary chromium supplements, chromium picolinate and [Cr3O(O2CCH2CH3)(6(H2O)3]+, in mice. Birth Defects Res B Dev Reprod Toxicol. 2008 Feb;83(1):27-31.
Komorowski JR, Greenberg D, Juturu V. Chromium picolinate does not produce chromosome damage. Toxicol In Vitro. 2008 Apr;22(3):819-26.

Komorowski JR, Greenberg D, Juturu V. Chromium picolinate does not produce chromosome damage. Toxicol In Vitro. 2008 Apr;22(3):819-26.

Tan GY, Zheng SS, Zhang MH, Feng JH, Xie P, Bi JM. Study of oxidative damage in growing-finishing pigs with continuous excess dietary chromium picolinate intake. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2008 Winter;126(1-3):129-40.

Tan GY, Bi JM, Zhang MH, Feng JH, Xie P, Zheng SS. Effects of chromium picolinate on oxidative damage in primary piglet hepatocytes. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2008 Dec;126 Suppl 1:S69-79.