Chromium: An Element Essential to HealthAugust 2004
By Dale Kiefer
Safe and Well Tolerated
In light of research by Dr. Anderson and other scientists, the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Board revised the dietary reference intake (formerly the recommended dietary allowance, or RDA) for chromium in 2001. Noting that there have never been any reported adverse effects from high dosages of chromium, the board declined to establish a tolerable upper intake level for chromium. By default, the government has acknowledged that there is no known dose of supplemental chromium that is too high to be safe.
The dietary reference intake level of chromium currently is 35 mcg per day for adult men and 25 mcg per day for adult women. Because pregnancy and lactation are known to deplete chromium stores, taking 30 mcg daily is recommended for pregnant women, and women who are breastfeeding should take at least 45 mcg daily. Dr. Anderson postulates that doses well above these recommended minimum levels may be necessary to treat chronic diseases. Citing a study conducted in China, he notes that patients there received up to 1,000 mcg of chromium per day, a dose that proved “highly effective” in relieving many of the symptoms of type II diabetes.36
Reiterating his conviction that chromium supplementation is safe, Dr. Anderson says, “Chromium is one of the safest nutrients we have.” As further proof, he points to the new government-issued guidelines for chromium consumption. “There’s no upper limit for chromium. At the highest levels tested there’s no toxicity . . . it’s safer than water.” That may sound like hyperbole, but there is an empirical basis for this claim. As Dr. Anderson notes, there is no discernible toxicity when one consumes 100 times the dietary reference intake of chromium. By contrast, consuming 100 times the daily requirement for water, were it physically possible to do so, would certainly be toxic.
Niacin Reinforces Positive Effects
Physicians have known for years that lowering so-called “bad” LDL cholesterol is of paramount importance if one is to avoid heart disease risk. Cholesterol is manufactured by the body and is a necessary and natural component of cell membranes and steroid hormones. It is also present in some foods we consume. But excess cholesterol promotes atherosclerosis, whether it is a genetically determined consequence of cholesterol overproduction by the liver or the result of dietary overindulgence. And atherosclerosis generally yields disastrous health consequences, ranging from heart attacks to stroke.
In 2001, the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) issued NCEP-III, a series of new guidelines for the aggressive management of cholesterol and triglycerides.51 NCEP-III is a clarion call for doctors to treat elevated LDL and triglycerides more aggressively, with prescriptions for diet, exercise, and drug therapy. One of the more striking features of NCEP-III is its reclassification of the status of HDL (high-density lipoprotein). HDL is beneficial because it acts to transport cholesterol out of the arteries and back to the liver where it can be cleared from the body.52 NCEP-III raised the limit at which a person’s HDL is to be considered too low. In effect, NCEP-III placed new emphasis on the importance not only of lowering total cholesterol and LDL, but also of raising HDL.51 Physicians are slowly recognizing that low HDL may be just as unhealthy as high LDL.
The good news is that niacin and chromium both raise levels of “good” HDL while lowering “bad” LDL and triglyceride levels. Niacin alone may raise HDL by as much as 15% while lowering total cholesterol and triglycerides by up to 20% and 40%, respectively.53 While doctors have known this for more than 30 years, some have resisted prescribing therapeutic doses of niacin, probably because of side effects caused by early forms of the vitamin. Some patients have experienced flushing of the face and neck or other side effects from high-dose niacin therapy. But dosing and formulation changes have provided a form of niacin that is both effective and well tolerated.40-42, 47
In fact, the simple nutrient niacin is so good at improving one’s lipid profile that it inspired one researcher to declare: “[Niacin] is the most effective agent available for increasing HDL levels while lowering levels of LDL and triglycerides, and improving other lipid risk factors such as lipoprotein(a).”42 Expensive statin drugs are most commonly prescribed to treat lipid imbalances, but physicians are beginning to recognize that niacin is one of the most effective, inexpensive treatments available for lipid therapy.44,48,49
Chromium clearly plays an important role in normal carbohydrate and lipid metabolism. It is equally clear that many millions of people are likely to be deficient in this essential micronutrient, and would therefore benefit by adding supplemental chromium to their daily diet.
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