Chromium is a trace mineral that our bodies require in order to promote the normal activity of insulin, the hormone produced in our pancreas that manages levels of glucose in our blood, and also to promote a healthy immune response. Chromium is often included in supplements marketed to people looking to lose weight, though according to the body of research on this mineral, the jury is still out as to whether it’s weight-loss effects are clinically significant.1 However, it may exert modest weight-loss effects by facilitating insulin activity and promoting the metabolism of protein, carbs, and fats. It also facilitates the entry of glucose into cells, where the glucose can be used for energy production.
Chromium and the Immune System
Despite the attention given to chromium regarding weight loss, my main reason for discussing chromium here has to do with my interest in chromium’s effects on the immune system, specifically in cases of bacterial and fungal illnesses.
Chromium plays several roles in promoting a healthy immune system. As I mentioned above, chromium helps move glucose into cells. The cells of our bodies that need to be able to take in glucose most rapidly are immune cells. Immune cells require glucose to produce reactive oxygen species (ROS) for killing bacteria and fungi. Therefore, immune cells also have a direct need for chromium in order to produce reactive oxygen species. Without sufficient chromium, immune cells’ ability to kill pathogens is impaired.2
Another significant finding – chromium is directly toxic to fungi!3 Chromium may therefore be a key supplement to use in protocols for yeast overgrowth, and also for people overcoming mold-related illnesses such as exposure to Stachybotrys chartarum, also known as black mold.
While on the subject of mold, I wanted to mention that impaired glucose tolerance is often a symptom for people struggling with mold-related illness. Chromium could therefore serve two key functions for such people - first, by increasing insulin sensitivity so that glucose is better utilized and tolerated, and secondly, by acting as a directly fungicidal (fungi-killing) substance to the fungi that is causing toxicity symptoms within a person's body.
Finally, a deficiency of chromium has been shown to impair the humoral immune response, which is the branch of the immune system that is regulated by large molecules called antibodies (among many other types of macromolecules). The humoral immune response is required for defending the body against pathogens such as bacteria and fungi. Therefore, a deficiency of chromium can be immunosuppressive to the body.4
Dietary and Supplemental Sources of Chromium:
In terms of foods, chromium is plentiful in beef, chicken, broccoli, eggs, and potatoes. However, chromium content can vary widely from one batch of food to the next, depending on factors such as the chromium content of the soil in which food (or feed for animals) was grown. For this reason, supplementing with chromium can be helpful.
Chromium picolinate is the type of trivalent chromium that is most often studied for its impacts on human health. Supplemental chromium does not appear to have much potential for toxicity, even at high doses of 1,000 mcg sustained for several months. However, I think erring on the conservative side with supplement dosages is often the best choice. My favorite brand of chromium picolinate is from Pure Encapsulations, and comes in 200 mcg capsules. I personally take 200 mcg of chromium picolinate about three or four times a week.
Pittler, M.H., & Ernst, E. (2004). Dietary supplements for body-weight reduction: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr, 79(4): 529-536. Retrieved from http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/79/4/529.full.
Jaminet, P., & Jaminet, S.C. (2012). Perfect health diet: Regain health and lose weight by eating the way you were meant to eat. New York: NY: Scribner.
Poljsak B et al. Interference of chromium with biological systems in yeasts and fungi: a review. Journal of Basic Microbiology 2010 Feb;50(1):21–36. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19810050?dopt=AbstractPlus.
Terpiłowska, S., & Siwicki, A.K. (2011). The role of selected microelements: selenium, zinc, chromium and iron in immune system. Centr Eur J Immunol. 36(4): 303-307. Retrieved from http://www.termedia.pl/-Review-paper-The-role-of-selected-microelements-selenium-zinc-chromium-and-iron-in-immune-system,10,17949,0,1.html.