Chromium is a chemically a metal, and its uses are varied. It is however rarely studied and considered as a source of nutrition. Research has revealed that chromium is in fact essential to the human body for performing certain important metabolic functions. Earlier, not much importance was given to the studies of utility of chromium for carrying out the normal physiological functions of human body. Now however it is being revealed that though it is needed only in minute quantity, the importance of chromium cannot be overlooked.
Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are the major macronutrients and the main source of energy for the human body. Carbohydrates constitute up to 80% of the total energy source for the human body. But just their consumption is not enough. Unless the proper breakdown and absorption of these carbohydrates does not occur, they are of no use to the human body. An external agent is needed to facilitate this function. Chromium aids partly in performing this function. Insulin is needed to keep the glucose level in the blood normal. In case of absence of the essential quantity of chromium, insulin action also suffers. Thus the digestion of glucose suffers and this leads to hyperglycemia. This is a pre-diabetic condition.
Fats, like carbohydrates are a major source of energy for the human body. Our diet consists of many complex forms of fats like triglycerides, phosphor lipids, fatty acids etc. These are converted into a simpler version that is easy for digestion. A study was done where some people were given chromium rich diet while some were not. It was observed that people who received chromium, had lowered serum cholesterol levels, thus indicating that chromium is responsible for digestion of fats, while people who did not have enough chromium in their diet, had trouble controlling their cholesterol levels. These people are potential candidates for developing heart diseases, and blockage of the coronary vessels due to cholesterol deposits.
Proteins are not exhausted like carbohydrates and fats daily. But they are the building blocks of the body. Muscles, cartilages, ligaments, are all comprised of proteins. Chains of different types of amino acids lead to the formation of proteins. Each amino acid individually performs certain important functions. Proteins need to be broken down into their simpler forms for the amino acids to be utilized for other functions. Chromium facilitates this breakdown, thus helping in protein digestion and at the same time, making amino acids available.
The female reproductive system also benefits from chromium as a source of nutrition. PCOS is a fairly common condition seen in many females now-a-days. Insulin functioning and overall hormonal balance gets very much disturbed in this condition. Since chromium plays a role in the utilization of insulin for glucose digestion, it has a curative effect to an extent on PCOS symptoms as well. It has been noticed that women suffering from PCOS who consumed chromium supplements, were more responsive to the treatment given as compared to women who lacked adequate chromium levels.
Despite having such important functions to perform, chromium is not needed in huge quantities. The daily requirement of chromium for an adult human being is roughly 50-200 micrograms per day. However, it is not synthesized in the body and hence falls under the category of essential nutrients. To fulfill the daily requirement of chromium, one must include foods that are rich in chromium, in daily diet. These foods include milk and milk products, bananas, apples, potatoes, beans and most of the grains and cereals. Brewer’s yeast is said to be a rich source of chromium. For non vegetarians, chicken is a good source of chromium. However, chromium is absorbed very poorly in the intestines. Majorly it is absorbed from the small intestine and stored in the liver. Because of poor absorption capacity, chromium deficiency may be seen despite of its consumption in adequate quantity. Therefore, chromium supplements have gained importance. They are, at times needed even by people whose diet gives them enough chromium. These supplements are available in the form of powders and capsules.
It has been widely proven that patients, who are admitted in the hospital and receiving parenteral nutrition, tend to be chromium deficient. Chromium deficiency is at times manifested as glucose intolerance, mostly following intravenous nutrition for a long time. Chromium supplements have been known to show drastic improvement in glucose metabolism. Chromium deficiency is also known to develop during pregnancy, which makes the pregnant woman more at risk to develop infections. Hence pregnant women must take special care to include chromium supplements along with other supplements during pregnancy.
It must be remembered that though chromium is very essential for the metabolic functions, great care has to be taken not to consume it in excess. Over consumption of chromium is at times known to trigger cancerous changes in the human body.
Chromium has been ignored as a source of nutrition, but its utility is great. Chromium must be consumed regularly by everyone to maintain good health in long run. It is very essential to make people aware of its side effects as well, since they can be fatal. Awareness about its importance has to be increased amongst common people.
- M.N.Chatterjee: Textbook of Medical Biochemistry, 8th Edition pdf
- Davidson’s Principles and Practice of Medicine, 21st Edition
- Harper’s Illustrated Chemistry, 29th Edition pdf
- ABC of Nutrition, 4th Edition pdf