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ARS Scientists Develop More Potent Chromium Supplement

By Judy McBride
July 25, 2001

Numerous studies have demonstrated that taking extra chromium daily in the form of a supplement may improve glucose tolerance in people whose blood sugar levels range from slightly elevated to full-blown diabetes.

Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking a patent on a new chromium formulation that people absorb into the bloodstream better than anything on the market.

The technology is now available for licensing.

Typical Western diets barely supply the new adequate intake (AI) for chromium--35 micrograms (mcg) daily for men, 25 mcg for women. And high sugar intakes, trauma and hard exercise can increase chromium excretion. Because the mineral improves insulin function, a shortfall can impair the cells’ ability to remove excess sugar from the blood stream.

The new formulation, developed by scientists with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, is a complex of chromium and the amino acid histidine. It is absorbed at least 50 percent better than chromium picolinate, according to its developer, Richard Anderson, with ARS’ Beltsville (Md.) Human Nutrition Research Center.

The picolinate formulation, also patented by ARS nearly three decades ago, is the best absorbed and most popular chromium supplement sold today. Histidine (not to be confused with histamine) is one of the “essential amino acids” because the body doesn’t manufacture it. It is found in all meats and protein-containing foods.

In tests at the Beltsville center, men and women absorbed an average 3.1 mcg of chromium from the chromium-histidine complex, compared with 1.8 mcg from chromium picolinate, 0.4 mcg from chromium chloride and 0.2 mcg from chromium polynicotinate. The latter two formulations are also popular supplements.

In studies worldwide, supplemental chromium has improved blood sugar levels or other symptoms in people with glucose intolerance, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, steroid- induced diabetes, and gestational diabetes. However, chromium supplements won’t help people who have high blood sugar in spite of getting adequate dietary chromium.

ARS is USDA’s chief scientific research agency.