USDA Press Release


San Francisco, CA (June 9, 1996)- People in China with type II diabetes had marked reductions in their blood sugar and insulin levels after two to four months of taking chromium picolinate supplements. And the most sensitive measure of diabetic control-hemoglobin A(ic)-dropped to normal, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study presented June 9 at the annual scientific meeting of the American Diabetes Association.

Chromium expert Richard Anderson of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service said that “the results are preliminary and need to be reproduced in the United States before chromium can be recommended for the treatment of diabetes. But they’re better than we had hoped for. Even those getting 200 micrograms (mcg) of chromium daily improved in several indices of diabetes.” That’s the upper limit of the estimated safe and adequate intake.

In the U.S., it’s possible that people with diabetes would need higher levels of chromium to realize similar improvements because Americans are larger than the Chinese and eat more fat and sugar. All of these factors raise the requirement for chromium. “No other studies have seen consistent improvements with 200 mcg.” He noted that some people with diabetes won’t respond to chromium supplements at all for reasons that are still unclear.

Anderson and Nanzheng Cheng, a physician, spearheaded the four-month study. Cheng–a former visiting scientist in Anderson’s laboratory–and her sister Nanping Cheng, a physician in Beijing–recruited 180 people with type II diabetes through three Beijing hospitals and assigned them to three groups of 60 each. All of them produced insulin; none was in an advanced stage of the disease.

One group got 100 mcg of chromium as chromium picolinate at two different times each day, while a second group got 500 mcg twice daily. Dividing the supplement into two doses allows the body to absorb more, Anderson explained, because the two don’t saturate the system as much as a single dose. A third group got look-alike placebos. To ensure objectivity in the study, neither the volunteers nor the researchers knew who got which capsules.

The volunteers getting a total of 1000 mcg–or one milligram (mg)–daily improved significantly compared to the placebo group after only two months, Anderson said. By the end of four months, their average hemoglobin A(ic) was 6.6 percent compared to 8.5 for the placebo group. A normal level is usually less than 6.2 percent. The value is a measure of how much hemoglobin has sugar bound to it he said. It’s considered the “gold standard” of diabetes tests.

The low-chromium group–those volunteers getting a total of 200 mcg daily-ended the study with a hemoglobin A(ic) level of 7.5 percent–also significantly below the placebo group. But there was no significant difference in blood glucose between the low-chromium and placebo groups.

In the high-chromium group, however, blood glucose after an overnight fast was down to 129 milligrams per decaliter (mg/dL) versus 160 mg/dL in the placebo group. And it averaged 190 mg/dL two hours after eating a meal versus 223 mg/dL in the placebo group. In nondiabetic people, blood glucose is around 100 mg/dL after fasting and 120 mg/dL after a meal, said Lois Jovanovic-Peterson, a physician specializing in diabetes and a senior scientist at the Sansum Medical Research Foundation in Santa Barbara, Calif.

“These are improvements to the level of good control,” she said. “It’s as good as what we currently have available–oral hypoglycemic agents, diet and exercise. If further research confirms these numbers, chromium supplements could be an add-on therapy to current treatments to further lower blood glucose.”

In addition to improvements in blood glucose, the high-chromium group had a significant drop in total cholesterol. And both the high- and low-chromium groups had a significant drop in plasma insulin just two months after beginning the supplements and a further drop at four months. People with type II, or maturity-onset, diabetes produce more insulin than normal in the early stages of the disease, Anderson explained, because the hormone is less efficient at clearing glucose from the blood. Chromium apparently makes the hormone more efficient.

“We controlled diabetes with a nutrient–given at higher levels than can be gotten from the diet,” said Anderson. He said people with type II diabetes absorb more chromium. But they also excrete more, so their tissue levels are lower, indicating that the body has trouble using what it absorbs.

Anderson also said he has maintained rats on daily doses of chromium picolinate or an inorganic form of the mineral several thousand times above the highest suggested intake for humans with no adverse effects on the sensitive organs.

There is no Recommended Dietary Allowance for chromium. The estimated safe and adequate dietary intake is between 50 and 200 mcg daily. Most Americans consume less than 50 mcg, Anderson said. He has analyzed well-balanced diets prepared by dietitians and found them to contain only about 33 mcg per day.


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