This will sound controversial but I believe chromium supplements for weight loss are one the biggest scams in the last 25 years. I also believe that supplement companies should denounce it for the fraud that it is. Unfortunately, they don't and continue to add it to weight loss supplements in spite of the overwhelming evidence that it doesn’t work. So, I'm going to show you what they won't —the actual scientific studies on chromium and weight loss – so you will know the real facts and be better able to tell if a weight loss supplement works or doesn't.
Chromium Weight Loss Research
Chromium —including its most popular form, chromium picolinate —was heavily marketed as a weight loss miracle since the 1990s, marketing that I believe still reverberates in the minds of people to this day.
That stops now.
I'm going to show you the facts the supplement companies don’t want you to know about. I'm going to not only link to those studies (so you can see them yourself) but also show you exactly how I found them, so you can do your own research to corroborate my findings if you like.
Let's do that now…
I searched the National Library of Medicine, a database of millions of peer reviewed clinical studies from around the world, for the following search terms:
- Chromium weight loss
- Chromium overweight
- Chromium picolnate weight loss
- Chromium picolnate overweight
I looked for only human studies. If chromium helps weight loss, the answer should be found within these search terms. Keep in mind as you read the research that the RDA for this mineral is about 30-35 micrograms (mcg) per day. Weight loss studies usually use much more than this, usually in the 200 mcg to 600 mcg range.
I found the following relevant studies:
A 2013 study titled Chromium picolinate supplementation for overweight or obese adults. In this investigation, researchers looked at other studies, using between 200 micrograms and 1000 micrograms per day to see if it had any effect on weight loss. They found no good proof chromium helps people lose weight.
A 2013 study titled A double-blind, randomized pilot trial of chromium picolinate for binge eating disorder: results of the Binge Eating and Chromium (BEACh) study. This study involved 24 people and lasted 6 months. The researchers noted that 600 to 1000 micrograms of chromium significantly lowered blood sugar levels but did not have a significant effect on binge eating, body weight or depression.
Chromium may be added to weight loss supplements to stabilize blood sugar. This effect is well noted. The idea is that better stabilized blood sugar will reduce over eating. This study casts doubts on that idea.
A 2013 study titled Chromium supplementation in overweight and obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. In this study, researchers looked at previous weight loss studies. They found 11 studies finding that chromium worked. For the record, I did not find those 11 studies when I looked. Results: These researchers stated that while chromium resulted in a “statistically significant reductions in body weight” they also said that “the magnitude was small and clinical relevance uncertain.” In other words, most people might not notice a difference.
A 2010 study titled A pilot study of chromium picolinate for weight loss. This study involved 80 healthy, overweight adults and lasted 24 weeks. People were given either a placebo or 1000 mcg of chromium picolinate. Results: Chromium didn’t work.
A 2008 study titled Chromium picolinate and conjugated linoleic acid do not synergistically influence diet- and exercise-induced changes in body composition and health indexes in overweight women. This study lasted 3 months, involved 35 women and combined chromium picolinate (400 mcg) and CLA (another supplement said to help weight loss. Results. Chromium didn’t work.
A 2007 study titled Chromium picolinate supplementation in women: effects on body weight, composition, and iron status. This study involved 83 women, used 200 mcg chromium and lasted 12 weeks. Results: Chromium didn’t work.
A 2004 study titled Dietary supplements for body-weight reduction: a systematic review. This was a review study that looked at previous investigations of several weight loss supplements, including chromium. Results: The research conclude the evidence for chromium (and the other supplements) was “not convincing.”
A 2003 study titled Chromium picolinate for reducing body weight: meta-analysis of randomized trials. This was a review of previous studies and included 10 clinical trials. Results: While this study did find chromium helped weight loss (about 2.2 pounds difference compared to placebo), the researchers felt this effect may have been due to a single trial which pushed the results into the “win” column.” These researchers felt the “clinical relevance of the effect was debatable.”
A 2001 study titled Effect of chromium supplementation and exercise on body composition, resting metabolic rate and selected biochemical parameters in moderately obese women following an exercise program. This study involved 44 women, using 400 mcg of chromium picolinate for 12 weeks. Results: Chromium didn’t work.
A 1999 study titled Effects of niacin-bound chromium supplementation on body composition in overweight African-American women. This study involved 20 overweight women who used 200-600 mcg of chromium or placebo along with a diet an exercise program. Results: during one part of the study, chromium worked while at another point in the study it didn’t work.
A 1997 study titled The effectiveness of long-term supplementation of carbohydrate, chromium, fibre and caffeine on weight maintenance. This study involved 33 overweight women, 200 mcg chromium picolinate (along with caffeine and carbs) and lasted 16 months. The results: chromium didn’t work.
A 1997 study titled Chromium and exercise training: effect on obese women. The results: No only did chromium (400 mcg per day) not work, it caused weight gain! To my knowledge this study has never been replicated.
I mentioned this study in my review of chromium polynicotinate and weight loss so see that for more info.
A 1997 study titled Effect of chromium yeast and chromium picolinate on body composition of obese, non-diabetic patients during and after a formula diet. Results: Chromium (200 mcg) didn’t reduce body weight better than chromium from yeast or a placebo in 36 women. Oddly, these researchers noted that after 26 weeks chromium picolinate increased body mass in the overweight people (but chromium from yeast didn’t). The idea here was that chromium increased lean body mass (muscle) although this study tested body fat using skin fold calipers which are less reliable than other methods. Lean body mass could be water.
A 1995 study titled Effects of chromium picolinate on body composition. The study involved 95 sailors and 400 mcg of chromium picolinate or placebo. Results: Chromium didn’t work.
A 1994 study tilted Effects of chromium picolinate supplementation on body composition, strength, and urinary chromium loss in football players. This study lasted 9 weeks and involved 38 football players taking 200 mcg of chromium picolinate. Results: chromium didn’t work.
A 1988 study titled Chromium picolinate effects on body composition and muscular performance in wrestlers. This study lasted 14 weeks and involved 20 college wrestlers who were working out while taking 200 mcg chromium picolinate per day (or placebo). The results: Chromium didn't work.
Summary Of Research
Let’s now compare the studies to each other, taking note of which showed chromium worked vs. those showing it didn’t work:
|2013 study||200 mcg||Didn't work|
|2013 study||600-1000 mcg||Small effect|
|2013 review study||various amounts||Small effect|
|2010 study||1000 mcg||Didn't work|
|2008 study||400 mcg||Didn't work|
|2007 study||200 mcg||Didn't work|
|2004 review study||various amounts||No good proof|
|2003 review study||various amounts||might work. small amount|
|2001 study||400 mcg||Didn't work|
|1999 study||200-60 mcg||Sometimes worked. Other times didn't|
|1997 study||200 mcg||Didn't work|
|1997 study||400 mcg||Didn't work|
|1997 study||200 mcg||Didn't work|
|1995 study||400 mcg||Didn't work|
|1994 study||200 mcg||Didn't work|
|1988 study||200 mcg||Didn't work|
So Why Do They Use Chromium?
Looking at these studies, the evidence for me is clear: it just doesn't work. So why do companies keep putting it in their weight loss supplements? I think they do it out of fear. I think they are afraid you wouldn’t buy their products if they didn’t contain it.
Remember, they marketed the daylights out of this stuff so well in the 1990s that a lot of people still think it works. Ironically, as someone who’s been keeping tabs on the research since the 1990s, I feel just the opposite. I tell people to avoid supplements that contain chromium as a main ingredient because to me, that’s generally a tip off that it probably won’t work.
Chromium Side Effects
Chromium is found in many foods and for healthy people, chromium supplements are generally regarded as pretty safe. Here are some things to keep in mind for those who may have some health issues. When in doubt, ask your doctor about this and how it applies to you.
Chromium supplements might reduce blood sugar levels. As such, this may be an issue for diabetics taking blood sugar lowering medications. Here are the diabetes supplements I've looked at previously.
Chromium supplements may have an anti-depressant effect. This may mean they can interact with antidepressant medications.
Chromium might interact with thyroid medications. Separate them by 2 hours if taking chromium supplements.
Don't take chromium supplements while pregnant/breastfeeding unless your doctor tells you its OK.
Stop all supplements at least 2 weeks before surgery unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
Speak to your pharmasist or doctor if you have a risk of cancer. Dr. Bill Sukala has an interesting review on the chromium-cancer connection.
Does It Work?
Chromium and I have a special bond because if it was not for this mineral, my life might be very different. For one thing, I might never have written my supplements book and if that didn’t happen, this website might never have been created. I say this because chromium was the VERY FIRST supplement I ever investigated, back in the early 1990s when I was still in college. Nostalgia aside, I see no good proof that chromium helps people lose weight. I felt that way when I first looked at the research and I feel the same way now.
If you look at the table above, you'll notice that most of individual studies say it doesn't work. On the other hand, you look at review studies (which group many studies together and crank out statistics), those sometimes find a small effect, but how much of a “real life” effect that would be, I'm not sure but it's probably small. As a rule, I usually discount those small effects as not being noticeable to most people.
All that said, my opinion is to save your money on any weight loss supplement that has chromium (or chromium picolnate) as a main ingredient. You can tell the main ingredients by looking at the labels. The higher up on the label the ingredient is, the more of that ingredient the product contains.
To see what others are saying, here are all the chromium supplements on Amazon.