Chromium picolinate no wonder drug

ON CALL

September 12, 1995|By Dr. Simeon Margolis | Dr. Simeon Margolis,Special to The Sun

Q: Several of my friends are taking chromium picolinate and have urged me to begin taking it too. My health is excellent, but there is a history of diabetes in the family. Do you think it is worthwhile for me to use this supplement?

A: No. Chromium picolinate has become a best seller among dietary supplements. It is promoted for the prevention and treatment of diabetes, loss of weight and body fat, building muscles and lowering cholesterol.

The body does need small amounts of chromium; the exact amount has not been specified among the required daily allowances spelled out for vitamins and other minerals. Chromium is found in water and a wide variety of foods and beverages, and there are only a few cases of a proven chromium deficiency. Chromium is not easily absorbed from the intestine, however, and it is probably true that its absorption is improved from the chromium picolinate preparation.

Although chromium is needed for insulin to function properly in making blood sugar available to body cells, there is no convincing evidence that a deficiency of chromium makes diabetes worse or that taking chromium picolinate will improve diabetes or prevent its occurrence. Results of studies on the effects of chromium picolinate on loss of fat and building muscles have been inconsistent, and a recent study found that chromium pills did not build muscle or cause fat loss among football players. Claims that chromium picolinate lowers cholesterol are based on poorly controlled research studies.

My local pharmacy sells 100 pills of chromium picolinate for $5.99. The bottle recommends no more than one pill a day and indicates that the product should not be taken by diabetic patients without their doctors' knowledge. It is doubtful that one pill of chromium picolinate dialy will have any ill effects and is not expensive; but only the manufacturer is likely to benefit.

Dr. Margolis is professor of medicine and biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

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