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By Larry E. Johnson, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Geriatrics and Family and Preventive Medicine; Medical Director, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences; Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System

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Only 1 to 3% of biologically active trivalent chromium (Cr) is absorbed. Normal plasma levels are 0.05 to 0.50 μg/L (1.0 to 9.6 nmol/L).

Chromium potentiates insulin activity; however, it is not known whether chromium picolinate supplementation is beneficial in diabetes mellitus. Patients with diabetes should not take chromium supplements unless use is supervised by a diabetes specialist. Chromium supplements do not enhance muscle size or strength.

Chromium Deficiency

Four patients receiving long-term TPN developed possible chromium deficiency, with glucose intolerance, weight loss, ataxia, and peripheral neuropathy. Symptoms resolved in 3 who were given trivalent chromium 150 to 250 mg.

Chromium Toxicity

High doses of trivalent chromium given parenterally cause skin irritation, but lower doses given orally are not toxic. Exposure to hexavalent chromium (CrO3) in the workplace may irritate the skin, lungs, and GI tract and may cause perforation of the nasal septum and lung carcinoma.