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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
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Philip Reeves

Recent human studies at the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center show that claims about chromium picolinate causing you to gain muscle and lose fat are not substantiated.

We are constantly bombarded with claims that this nutrient will increase your sex drive, that nutrient will grow hair where hair has never grown before, or this nutrient will cause fat to fall off and you will be thin and beautiful. As the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

A good example of the latter claim is that the trace element chromium in the form of chromium picolinate will miraculously cause you to lose body fat and make your muscles bigger and stronger. You may have seen the late-night TV infomercials excitedly making these claims, and that they have been substantiated with "scientific" research. Unfortunately, when someone is hell-bent on making money, the whole truth might be missing a few parts.

Scientific research must be unbiased and precise. This is especially true when human subjects are involved because the expense of running these studies are immense, and the results may have far-reaching implications.

Fortunately, we have unbiased investigators working in our best interest. Some recent, well controlled, human studies here at the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center have been unable to substantiate the claims of the chromium picolinate pushers that the product will increase muscle mass and reduce body fat of weight lifters beyond what they would normally obtain by just doing the exercises.

Dr. Hank Lukaski assembled 36 UND male student volunteers for the study. He divided them into three equal groups. One group was asked to take a chromium chloride supplement, one group was asked to take a chromium picolinate supplement, a third group was asked to take a placebo, not containing chromium. All men lifted weights to gain muscle. The study was double-blind, meaning that neither the volunteers nor the investigator knew who was getting the supplements and who was not until the end of the study. Only a disinterested party knew the code.

After 8 weeks on the study, there was no indication that chromium supplementation was beneficial for gaining muscle or reducing body fat. However, all volunteers gained muscle mass and lost body fat as a result of lifting weights. This suggests that a good exercise program may be far better for you than the dietary supplement.

We at the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center encourage you to be skeptical when you hear seemingly outrageous claims about what a nutrient supplement can do for you. More than likely, they will be overstated. Before you spend your hard-earned money on something that may not work, we encourage you to ask questions of reputable health providers including nutritionists, dieticians, and physicians trained in the science of nutrition. If you still have questions, call us. We may not have all the answers you want, but we might be able to help you find the answer you need, or we may be able to help you ask the right questions.

We also strongly encourage you to eat a well balanced diet composed of a variety of fresh foods, to keep your caloric intake at a level that meets your needs, and to exercise regularly.

Details of the study cited can be found in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, volume 63, pages 954-965, 1996.

Last Modified: 4/4/2007
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