Chromium is a trace mineral in the body. Its role in maintaining good health was discovered in 1957, when scientists extracted a substance known as glucose tolerance factor (GTF) from pork kidney. GTF, which helps the body maintain normal blood sugar levels, contains chromium as the active component. GTF binds to and potentiates the activity of insulin.

Chromium is necessary for pancreatic beta cell sensitivity (beta cells make insulin), insulin binding, insulin receptor enzymes, and insulin receptor sites. Supplemental chromium tends to balance glucose metabolism, benefiting both hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) and diabetic patients. One explanation for this is that chromium may improve C-peptide levels, leading to enhanced pancreatic beta cell function.

Therapeutic Uses
Supplementing with chromium can lower blood lipids, which may make it beneficial in people and pets with elevated blood cholesterol levels. Chromium's most important function is to help regulate the amount of glucose in the blood. Insulin regulates the movement of glucose out of the blood and into cells. It appears that insulin uses chromium as a cofactor to allow glucose to pass through the cell membrane and enter the cell.

Based on chromium's close relationship with insulin, this trace mineral has been studied as a treatment for diabetes. The results have been positive: chromium supplements appear to improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes. Tissue levels of chromium in people and pets are often low due to limited uptake of chromium by plants as well as limited absorption by people and pets.

Scientific Evidence
Recent evidence also suggests chromium supplements might help dieters lose fat and gain lean muscle tissue, probably through its effects on insulin (by increasing the body's sensitivity to insulin). Since decreased sensitivity to insulin can contribute to weight gain (as often happens in diabetic patients), supplying additional chromium (usually at a dose of 200 to 400 mcg/day) is recommended for weight control in people. Research is needed to determine whether chromium would be of benefit to overweight pets.

As mentioned, it has been theorized many Americans may be chromium-deficient. Preliminary research done by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) found low chromium intakes in a small group of people studied. Although large-scale studies are needed to show whether Americans as a whole are chromium-deficient, we do know many traditional sources of chromium, such as wheat, are depleted of this important mineral during processing. Some researchers believe inadequate intake of chromium may be one of the causes for the rising rates of adult-onset diabetes.

Sources of Chromium
While chromium is found in drinking water, especially hard water, concentrations vary so widely throughout the world that drinking water is not a reliable source. The most concentrated sources of chromium are brewer's yeast (not nutritional or torula yeast) and calf liver. Two ounces of brewer's yeast or four ounces of calf liver supply between 50 and 60 mcg of chromium. Other good sources of chromium are whole wheat bread, wheat bran, and rye bread. Potatoes, wheat germ, green pepper, and apples offer modest amounts of chromium.

Chromium Dosages for Pets
The recommended dosage for the use of chromium in pets with diabetes is 50 to 300 mcg per day. Typically, a dosage of 200 mcg/day of chromium picolinate is recommended. However, since picolinate may cause damage to DNA, research before using. Using the chromium GTF natural supplement would be a safer alternative. But you must work with your veterinarian to determine if chromium supplementation can be used in your pet.

Safety Issues
Calcium carbonate supplements may interfere with the absorption of chromium.

People may have a difficult time absorbing and synthesizing chromium if it is not attached to a substrate such as picolonic acid (chromium picolinate) or nicotinic acid (chromium nicotinate). In people, concerns have been raised over the use of the picolinate form of chromium in individuals suffering from affective or psychotic disorders, because picolinic acids can change levels of neurotransmitters.

There has been the suggestion that chromium picolinate may cause damage to DNA, especially when combined with ascorbic acid. Alternative forms of chromium, such as that in the GTF form that can be extracted from foods such as yeast, contain no picolinic acid and may be safer. Additionally, while many forms of chromium are available, supplementation with an organic form (such as GTF) is recommended as the organically bound form of chromium is absorbed better and is more available to the pet than inorganic forms.

Chromium appears to be safe in people when taken at a dosage of 50 to 200 mcg daily. However, concern has been expressed since chromium is a heavy metal and might conceivably build up and cause problems if taken to excess. There have been a few reports of kidney damage in people who took a relatively high dosage of chromium: 1200 mcg or more daily for several months. For this reason, the dosage found most effective for individuals with type II diabetes, 1000 mcg daily, might present some health risks. Similar concerns are probably applicable for pets.

For pets with diabetes who may respond to chromium supplementation, a decreased dosage of insulin may be needed; medical supervision is essential before decreasing insulin. The maximum safe dosages of chromium for young children, women who are pregnant or nursing, or those with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established; similar concern are probably warranted in pets.

Shawn Messonnier, DVM

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Shawn Messonnier DVM Past Supporting Member, Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians Author, the award-winning The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, The Natural Vet’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs, and Breast Choices for the Best Chances: Your Breasts, Your Life, and How YOU Can Win The Battle!

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