What a fascinating element chromium is. It’s the 21st most abundant element on Earth, but it doesn’t always seem like it. It isn’t until you start looking for it that you realize how pervasive a substance it is. Even though chromium was technically discovered in the late 1920’s, people had been unwittingly using it for centuries.

In its elemental form, chromium is a bright silvery metallic substance, but in nature it often comes in very bright and colorful compounds such as violet, red, green, and yellow. For much of the late 18th and 19th centuries, chromium compounds were used primarily as paint pigments. Even in the modern era, chromium forms were used for making green glass, and the yellow on school buses. Rubies and emeralds actually get their color from trace amounts of chromium.

The most common purpose of chromium and chromium compounds today is for industrial metals, mostly electroplating and alloy manufacture. As far back as the 3rd Century, chrome has been used to add a protective layering for weapons. Even today, many high standard military weapons use chromium plating as a way to increase the longevity of the functioning metal parts. “Chrome” plating is also used for decorative purposes on vehicle parts like motorcycle engines and car rims. Chromium is also added to steel in order to make “stainless steel”.

While chromium has been used in a variety of ways to improve our quality of life, it is important to note that not all forms of chromium are safe. Anyone who has seen the movie Erin Brokovich may remember that the primary toxic culprit was an industrial substance known as hexavalent chromium or chromium 6. Chromium comes in seven categories: 0 – 6. Each category contains different properties and compounds. There is only one type that is both safe and crucial to human health and it belongs to the 3rd category of chromium: trivalent chromium (chromium 3).

In biology, chromium’s primary purpose is to assist and normalize the function of insulin. Insulin is what the body uses to regulate glucose (blood sugar) metabolism in the body. A simple explanation of this system is as follows: when you consume various foods, your body breaks them down into usable nutrients. The most common nutrient is glucose. This is the primary energy molecule of the cells. There is such a thing as too much, or too little glucose in the blood stream. When there is too much glucose in the blood stream, insulin prevents the glucose from bombarding the cells or from being processed out. This way the cells can consume the glucose at a safe pace and still have glucose available, as they need it.

In healthy individuals, the body produces an appropriate amount of insulin based upon the amount of glucose in the body. Diabetes is when too little insulin is produced. Hypoglycemia is when there is too much insulin relative to the amount of glucose in the body and the cells are being starved. Because of chromium’s role in the regulation process, it may even be possible that these conditions are the result of a chromium deficiency.

One study that seems to confirm this assumption is one in which ten elderly individuals who all showed abnormalities on a glucose tolerance test, which is a test where glucose is given to an individual and a blood test is taken some time later to determine the body’s ability to process it. Each of the elderly individuals was given an identical chromium supplementation regimen. Four of the individuals had a complete reversal and all abnormalities disappeared, while the remaining six were deemed “non-responders.” These six though had much more severe abnormalities in their GTTest and it may simply be that with more time spent on the dosage, or an increased dosage that their symptoms may have improved. Obviously, more research is needed.

While the exact chemical mechanism by which chromium helps monitor and control insulin is not fully understood yet, current research suggests that it is done through a special protein called GTF, which stands for Glucose Tolerance Factor. GTF is chromium that is bound to niacin, glutamic acid, glycine, and cysteine. GTF, as well as other forms of supplemental chromium are widely available, though GTF is it’s most natural form and possibly the most easily absorbed for insulin modulating purposes.

While it may seem that chromium is a vital nutrient that one should only supplement for a Type-II diabetic condition or blood sugar disorder. Chromium, however, has another important role, which is protecting the heart.

Individuals who have difficulties processing and metabolizing glucose must have their body’s cellular energy demands met by a different method. The body’s natural inclination is to metabolize available lipids (fats). While this may sound like smart weight loss strategy, think again. One of the by-products of lipid metabolism is cholesterol, which can increase the development of arthrosclerosis. It is no secret that diabetic individuals have an increased risk of developing heart conditions.

It is also known that when chromium levels in the body are low, the liver is less able to process cholesterol and fatty acids which can also increase atherosclerotic development. In laboratory experiments with rodents, when they are fed a high-fat, high-sugar diet, their cholesterol increases greatly inside the arteries. When this same diet is used with the addition of chromium supplementation, the rats have lower serum cholesterol and less lipid accumulation in the arteries. One of the best forms of chromium that accomplishes this purpose is chromium picolinate.

Women may be more susceptible to chromium deficiency than men due to the great chromium depletion that occurs as a result of pregnancy. With each pregnancy, the chromium levels in white blood cells can decrease by 50%! Children are typically abundant in chromium and it tends to become depleted with age. Most of us have been living off mother’s chromium since birth, and unless it is replenished properly it could create unwanted affects, particularly in late life.

Chromium is a fully consumed nutrient, as far as our understanding goes, there is no process in the human body that recycles chromium and individuals with high insulin activity and excessive carbohydrate intakes tend to excrete larger amounts of chromium, which increases the likelihood of deficiency, such as those living in Western countries. It may very well be true that because of the severely chromium deficient diet of the common American may also be the culprit behind the rapidly increasing rate of Type-II diabetes developing in this country.

While members of the conservative medical community tend to think that chromium deficiency is exceedingly rare, this is because they tend to consider diabetes and hypoglycemia, and their resulting co-conditions as isolated conditions that have more to do with genetic predisposition than diet and environment. The holistic approach is much more workable, logical, and solution oriented.

Besides, supplementing with an absorbable form of chromium, one of the best methods to both prevent and control a medical condition related to glucose metabolism is through proper diet. Completely avoiding foods containing sugar, the white bandit, is among the first and foremost elements of a proper diet. Also, reducing the consumption of refined simple carbohydrates. By both reducing carbohydrate intake, and by sticking to complex carbohydrates helps regulate the release of glucose into the blood stream and can allow the chromium to better assist the body’s insulin functions.

While these are simple recommendations that anyone may follow, it is important to consult a qualified medical professional who is familiar with your medical history and genetic uniqueness before making any serious modifications to your diet, lifestyle, and supplement regimen.