Chromium picolinate (chromium tripicolinate) is a unique form of chromium produced in the late 1970's at the United States Department of Agriculture's Human Performance Laboratory in North Dakota. Of unknown benefit, the compound was patented by the USDA and almost forgotten.
In the mid 1980's, interest was renewed by anecdotal reports that chromium picolinate might reduce serum cholesterol levels and increase muscle bulk in weight lifters. Although scientific studies confirmed the reported benefits of this substance in the late 1980's, these preliminary clinical trials await corroboration.
A number of supplement manufacturers now offer chromium picolinate supplements in microgram capsules. At present, the right to distribute chromium picolinate to supplement manufacturers has been granted to Nutrition 21 (Los Angeles, CA) by the US government.
Chromium picolinate is prepared by dissolving 512 milligrams of Crcl3 6H2O (100 mg. Cr) and 750 mg. picolinic acid in 4.0 milliliters of deionized water. Crystals of chromium tripicolinate [Cr(PA)3] are formed after 24 hours.
More recently, another version: chromium poly-nicotinate, has been recommended.
Method of Action
Picolinic acid is a naturally occurring pyridine-2-carboxyl metabolic derivative of the amino acid tryptophan. It forms stable complexes with transition metal ions. Picolinic acid combines with trace metal ions in the intestines and blood. The bioavailability of these transition trace elements (e.g. zinc, iron, chromium, copper, manganese and cobalt) is enhanced in the process.
Experimental work with animals has shown chromium works closely with the hormone insulin to facilitate glucose's transport into and metabolism within cells.
In humans and animals, chromium deficiency can compromise effectiveness of insulin, resulting in glucose intolerance, a diabetes-like condition. In its later stages, chromium deficiency is manifested by an abnormal metabolism of glucose and lipids, and the appearance of nervous disorders.
Depleted tissue levels of chromium in humans have been linked to adult-onset diabetes and growth failure in children suffering from protein-calorie malnutrition. Chromium deficiency has been shown to impair carbohydrate metabolism in the elderly.
It has been established chromium picolinate is more assimilable than chromic chloride, the inorganic form of chromium commonly used in nutritional supplements. Studies are underway to compare the efficacy of chromium picolinate versus other forms of chromium, such as the glucose tolerance factor.
Chromium picolinate seems to be a nontoxic alternative to anabolic steroids, based on two double-blind placebo-controlled trials on adult athletes. This is encouraging in light of the dangers associated with the abuse of anabolic steroids.
Anabolic steroids are derivatives of a male sex hormone testosterone that can increase the size and strength of muscles. Many physicians and sports medicine specialists have reported steroids can exact serious physical problems.
In men, steroids can cause a decrease in sperm production, increase breast development, and shrink the testes. In women, steroids cause clitoral enlargement, menstrual irregularity, excess facial and body hair and a deepening of the voice.
In both sexes, use of steroids can result in liver damage, hypertension, atherosclerosis and aggression. Studies at Mclean Hospital in Boston have shown anabolic steroids can induce psychosis, unexpected mood swings, hyperactivity and near-manic behavior. Some of the worst psychiatric cases have occurred when athletes "stack" five or more injectable or oral steroids at one time.
In an effort to increase body mass, athletes have even resorted to taking human growth hormones or L-Dopa, a drug prescribed in Parkinson's disease.
These drugs can produce devastating side-effects, such as enlargement of the hands, jaw, and forehead, while increasing the risk of serious damage to tendons and ligaments under stress from the enhanced effort of steroid-enlarged muscles.
To test the potential effectiveness of chromium picolinate as an anabolic steroid substitute for athletes, two double-blind studies have been conducted. In the first study, 10 young college men were placed on an exercising program for 40 days and given either 1.6 milligrams of chromium picolinate (200 micrograms of chromium) or a placebo. Those taking the chromium picolinate gained significantly more lean muscle than those taking the placebo.
In the second study, chromium picolinate was given to conditioning athletes in a double-blind placebo-controlled study to see if it would enhance their strength, increase muscle size and reduce body fat. Either 1.6 milligrams of chromium picolinate a day or the placebo was given for 42 consecutive days to 31 athletes in a supervised weight training program. Thigh, abdomen, biceps, calf circumferences, and chest skinfold measurements were taken of each subject on a regular basis.
In a preliminary report, dated March 21, 1989, to the American Societies for Experimental Biology in New Orleans and summarized in the International Journal of Biosocial and Medical Research, the study's principal investigator, Dr. Gary Evans, reported, "body mass increased significantly after only 14 days" and continued to increase through the end of the study. Total body fat decreased from 15.8 to 12.2%, a loss of 22% of body fat. By comparison, no lean body mass change was seen in the subjects taking placebo, as they experienced only a slight 1.06% decrease in body fat. Similarly, total change in body weight was insignificant. Of particular interest was the finding at the end of the study the chromium supplemented athletes had lost 2.63 pounds in total body weight, yet gained 5.7 pounds of lean muscle mass. This was an increase of 42% more lean muscle mass than measured in the placebo group.
In a separate study at San Diego, California's largest municipal hospital, Mercy Hospital, chromium picolinate was given to patients to evaluate its effects on cholesterol and other lipid fractions (HDL, LDL, VLDL), using a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover design. Serum levels of apolipoprotein A1 (the principal protein of the HDL fraction), total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol were measured at the beginning of the study (day 0), at day 14, and on day 42. A 14 day period off of either placebo of chromium was used in the trial.
At the end of the study it was found total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol had decreased significantly, while HDL cholesterol level was not significantly elevated in the chromium-supplemented group. By comparison, the placebo group had no change in their blood cholesterol or HDL/LDL levels.
In a separate double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study, 11diabetic subjects were given either 200 micrograms of chromium picolinate or a placebo. Glycosylated hemoglobin (Hba1C) and fasting blood glucose were decreased in the chromium picolinate supplemented group, but not in those taking placebo.
Chromium picolinate needs to be tested for its therapeutic effects on glucose tolerance and/or serum lipids following supplementation. Response will depend on the individual's chromium status prior to initiation of supplementation.
However, sufficient evidence exists that chromium supplementation can be beneficial in cases of glucose intolerance or disorders of lipid metabolism to warrant further study with chromium picolinate.
Chromium is considered one of the least toxic trace elements for humans. Although hexavalent chromium is more efficiently absorbed, it is much more toxic than the trivalent form (i.e., chromium picolinate) and should not be considered for supplementation, as less potentially toxic forms exist.Abstracts
Studies with laboratory animals have established the LD50 of trivalent chromium is 156,000,000 micrograms daily (as extrapolated for humans). This compares with the recommended range for chromium of 50 to 200 micrograms a day. In cases of special need, as with diabetics, this recommendation may be increased to 400 mcg.
Anabolic steroids for muscle building, a safer alternative reported: chromium picolinate. Int J Biosocial Med Res., 1989: 11(1); 95-96.
Anderson, R.A. Chromium. - Trace Elements in Human and Animal Nutrition, 5th ed. Vol. 1. Mertz, W. Ed. Academic Press, New York. 1987. pp 225-240.
Anderson, R.A., M. Polansky, N. Bryden, et al. Chromium supplementation of human subjects - effects on glucose, insulin, and lipid variables. Metabolism, 1983. 32; 894-899.
Borel, J.S. Biochemistry of chromium. - Biochemistry of the Elements. E. Frieden, ed. Plenum, New York. 1984.
Evans, G. & R. Press. Cholesterol-lowering effect of chromium picolinate. Western J Med, in press.
Levine, R.A., D.H.P. Streeten & R.J. Doisy. Effect of oral chromium supplementation on the glucose tolerance of elderly human subjects. Metabolism, 1968: 17; 114-125.
Glinsman, W.H. & W. Mertz. Effect of trivalent chromium on glucose tolerance. Metab Clin Exp., 1966: 15; 510-520.
Hopkins, L.L. Jr., O. Ransome-Kuti & A.S. Majaj. Improvement of impaired carbohydrate metabolism by chromium (III) in malnourished infants. Am J Clin Nutr. 1968. 21; 203-211.
Riales, R. & M. Albrink. Effect of chromium chloride supplementation on glucose tolerance and serum lipids including high-density lipoprotein of adult men. Am J Clin Nutr. 1981 34; 2670-2678.
Mossop, R.T. Effects of chromium III on fasting blood glucose, cholesterol and cholesterol HDL levels in diabetics. Cent Afr J Med. 1983. 29; 80-82.
Martinez, O.B., C.A. MacDonald & R.S. Gibson. Western Hemisphere Nutrition Congress VII, Miami Beach, Florida, 1983.
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