Update 3/10/20. I believe chromium supplements used for weight loss are one of the biggest scams in the last 25 years. I also believe that supplement companies should denounce it for the fraud it is. Unfortunately, they don't and continue to add it to weight loss supplements in spite of the overwhelming evidence that it doesn’t work. So, I'm going to show you the proof they want —the actual clinical studies on chromium and weight loss – so you will know the real facts and be better able to tell if a weight loss supplement works or doesn't.
Chromium Weight Loss Research
Chromium —including its most popular form, chromium picolinate —was heavily marketed as a weight-loss miracle since the 1990s, marketing that I believe still reverberates in the minds of people to this day.
That stops now.
I'm going to show you the facts the supplement companies don’t want you to know about. I looked for only human studies. Keep in mind as you read the research that the RDA for this mineral is about 30-35 micrograms (mcg) per day. Weight loss studies usually use much more than this, usually in the 200 mcg to 600 mcg range.
I found the following human weight loss studies:
A study titled Chromium picolinate supplementation for overweight or obese adults. In this investigation, researchers looked at other studies, using between 200 micrograms and 1000 micrograms per day to see if it had any effect on weight loss. They found no good proof chromium helps people lose weight.
Another study titled A double-blind, randomized pilot trial of chromium picolinate for binge eating disorder: results of the Binge Eating and Chromium (BEACh) study. This study involved 24 people and lasted 6 months. The researchers noted that 600 to 1000 micrograms of chromium significantly lowered blood sugar levels but did not have a significant effect on binge eating, bodyweight or depression.
A 2013 study titled Chromium supplementation in overweight and obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. In this study, researchers looked at previous weight loss studies. They found 11 studies finding that chromium worked. For the record, I did not find those 11 studies when I looked. Results: These researchers stated that while chromium resulted in a “statistically significant reductions in body weight” they also said that “the magnitude was small and clinical relevance uncertain.” In other words, most people might not notice a difference.
A 2010 study titled A pilot study of chromium picolinate for weight loss. This study involved 80 healthy, overweight adults and lasted 24 weeks. People were given either a placebo or 1000 mcg of chromium picolinate. Results: Chromium didn’t work.
A 2008 study titled Chromium picolinate and conjugated linoleic acid do not synergistically influence diet- and exercise-induced changes in body composition and health indexes in overweight women. This study lasted 3 months, involved 35 women and combined chromium picolinate (400 mcg) and CLA (another supplement said to help weight loss. Results. Chromium didn’t work.
A 2007 study titled Chromium picolinate supplementation in women: effects on body weight, composition, and iron status. This study involved 83 women, used 200 mcg chromium and lasted 12 weeks. Results: Chromium didn’t work.
A 2004 study titled Dietary supplements for body-weight reduction: a systematic review. This was a review study that looked at previous investigations of several weight loss supplements, including chromium. Results: The research conclude the evidence for chromium (and the other supplements) was “not convincing.”
A 2003 study titled Chromium picolinate for reducing body weight: meta-analysis of randomized trials. This was a review of previous studies and included 10 clinical trials. Results: While this study did find chromium helped weight loss (about 2.2 pounds difference compared to placebo), the researchers felt this effect may have been due to a single trial which pushed the results into the “win” column.” These researchers felt the “clinical relevance of the effect was debatable.”
A 2001 study titled Effect of chromium supplementation and exercise on body composition, resting metabolic rate and selected biochemical parameters in moderately obese women following an exercise program. This study involved 44 women, using 400 mcg of chromium picolinate for 12 weeks. Results: Chromium didn’t work.
A 1999 study titled Effects of niacin-bound chromium supplementation on body composition in overweight African-American women. This study involved 20 overweight women who used 200-600 mcg of chromium or placebo along with a diet an exercise program. Results: during one part of the study, chromium worked while at another point in the study it didn’t work.
A 1997 study titled The effectiveness of long-term supplementation of carbohydrate, chromium, fibre and caffeine on weight maintenance. This study involved 33 overweight women, 200 mcg chromium picolinate (along with caffeine and carbs) and lasted 16 months. The results: chromium didn’t work.
A 1997 study titled Chromium and exercise training: effect on obese women. The results: No only did chromium (400 mcg per day) not work, it caused weight gain! To my knowledge, this study has never been replicated.
I mentioned this study in the review of chromium polynicotinate and weight loss so see that for more info.
A 1997 study titled Effect of chromium yeast and chromium picolinate on body composition of obese, non-diabetic patients during and after a formula diet. Results: Chromium (200 mcg) didn’t reduce body weight better than chromium from yeast or a placebo in 36 women. Oddly, these researchers noted that after 26 weeks chromium picolinate increased body mass in the overweight people (but chromium from yeast didn’t). The idea here was that chromium increased lean body mass (muscle) although this study tested body fat using skin fold calipers which are less reliable than other methods. Lean body mass could be water.
A 1995 study titled Effects of chromium picolinate on body composition. The study involved 95 sailors and 400 mcg of chromium picolinate or placebo. Results: Chromium didn’t work.
A 1994 study tilted Effects of chromium picolinate supplementation on body composition, strength, and urinary chromium loss in football players. This study lasted 9 weeks and involved 38 football players taking 200 mcg of chromium picolinate. Results: chromium didn’t work.
A 1988 study titled Chromium picolinate effects on body composition and muscular performance in wrestlers. This study lasted 14 weeks and involved 20 college wrestlers who were working out while taking 200 mcg chromium picolinate per day (or placebo). The results: Chromium didn't work.
Summary Of Research
Let’s now compare the studies to each other, taking note of which showed chromium worked vs. those showing it didn’t work:
|2013 study||200 mcg||Didn't work|
|2013 study||600-1000 mcg||Small effect|
|2013 review study||various amounts||Small effect|
|2010 study||1000 mcg||Didn't work|
|2008 study||400 mcg||Didn't work|
|2007 study||200 mcg||Didn't work|
|2004 review study||various amounts||No good proof|
|2003 review study||various amounts||might work. small amount|
|2001 study||400 mcg||Didn't work|
|1999 study||200-60 mcg||Sometimes worked. Other times didn't|
|1997 study||200 mcg||Didn't work|
|1997 study||400 mcg||Didn't work|
|1997 study||200 mcg||Didn't work|
|1995 study||400 mcg||Didn't work|
|1994 study||200 mcg||Didn't work|
|1988 study||200 mcg||Didn't work|
So Why Do Companies Use Chromium?
The evidence for me is clear: chromium just doesn't work. So why do supplement companies keep putting it in their weight loss supplements? I think they do it out of fear. I think they are afraid you wouldn’t buy their products if they didn’t contain it.
Remember, they marketed the daylights out of this stuff so well in the 1990s that a lot of people still think it works. Ironically, as someone who’s been keeping tabs on the research since the 1990s, I feel just the opposite. I tell people to avoid supplements that contain chromium as the main ingredient because to me, that’s generally a tip-off that it probably won’t work.
Chromium Side Effects
Chromium is found in many foods is safe for most healthy people. Here are some things to keep in mind for those who may have some health issues. This list is not complete:
- Chromium supplements might reduce blood sugar levels.
- Chromium supplements may have an anti-depressant effect. This means they might interact with antidepressant medications.
- Chromium might interact with thyroid medications.
- Pregnant or breastfeeding? talk to your doctor first
- Stop taking at least 2 weeks before surgery
Dr. Bill Sukala has an interesting review of the chromium-cancer connection.
Do Chromium Supplements Work?
Chromium was the very first dietary supplement I ever investigated. This is the supplement that started me on my journey of helping people understand what works and what doesn't. In my opinion, the evidence is clear: chromium doesn't work for weight loss.
So what works? Heres my list of weight loss supplements with proof
This is interesting. Chromium may not make you magically lose weight leaving some factors rather same, but if it helps with insulin levels then it can help you better manage diet. Insulin and carb intake have an effect on your appetite and cravings. Also, insulin effects fat metabolism. So if chromium helps control insulin levels then you’d have decreased appetite and better utilization of fat. It comes down to calories too. If there is zero change in diet and exercise then you probably wouldn’t lose weight.
DC, in theory I’d say yes to blood sugar. But if better blood sugar levels really did impact appetite, then one might see weight loss too. While the studies really dont show weight loss, its possible some might see somewhat lower blood sugar.
Vincent Giuliano, M.D. says
I think it is works better as a stabilizer of glucose spikes. Also note that the bioavailability is better IV than oral (I agree the latter is useless). I use it IV in my clinic and it definitely helps serum glucose, probably A1C as well.
Thanks for sharing Dr Giuliano. Good point about IV vs oral chromium.
Wendy H. says
Hello, i took Chromium Picolinate in 1999 in 3 months i lost 26 pounds, i was ASTOUNDED, i did Nothing else, no diet, no exercise, i was a big drinker and maybe was deficient? dont know, but one thing i noticed after taking chromium, i cannot drink like i used to, i have cut cut down by 80 percent and rarely crave sugar.
Hi Wendy, really glad it helped you. I wonder if cutting back on alcohol might have played a role in your weight loss? Either way, I am happy that you lost weight.
Dr Bill Sukala says
Hi Maureen and Joe,
I agree there does seem to be some research to show chromium works for people with blood sugar control issues, but any changes seen in weight loss studies were mostly “academic” and not very practically meaningful for end users. Those differences would probably be washed out by free-living people who are not controlling their diet and exercise in the same way they would be in a strictly controlled research environment.
Regarding safety, there is some preliminary research that is showing the supplements could convert in cells from the safe trivalent chromium to the comparatively more carcinogenic hexavalent chromium (as in Erin Brockovich). I’ve just put up a new post on this topic: http://www.drbillsukala.com.au/health-q-a/are-chromium-supplements-safe/
Keep up the great work Joe.
Bill, thanks for sharing and that is a great review you wrote. YOU keep up the great work too 🙂
Robert L says
Joe, you’re only reviewing this for Weight Loss – Why?
Robert, While chromium is sometimes used to help regulate blood sugar, as far as I can see, weight loss is the main reason it shows up in weight loss supplements. The amount of research I cited backs this up.
I don’t know Joe, maybe the reason for the Cromium in the Slim. Is to lower blood sugars & not meant for the weight loss. Just saying.
Liss, I agree. I’m pretty sure that’s why chromium is in plexus slim.
I have hyperinsulemia (high levels of insulin) without having diabetes or high blood sugar of any kind. It is nearly impossible for me to lose weight. I went on a diet similar to paleo and others recommended for high sugar/insulin and it helped, but adding chromium also made a big difference for me. My cravings and hunger were WAY down and I lost and maintained weight loss.
I’m pregnant now, so I’ve stopped taking it, but will go back to it. When I did stop taking it I experienced severe hypoglycemic episodes for several weeks. It may not work for everyone, but I think that it might help people like me that have issues with high insulin. Plus it’s considered pretty safe and I experienced no side effects.
Maureen, thanks for your feedback. I also think chromium is pretty safe (if it wasn’t people would be dropping like flies). Even though the research does not show it works, I am glad you experienced some benefits. I do feel there is a blood sugar effect to chromium and some research does show this as well.