Chromium and Thyroid Health
Published December 31 2012
Note: Most people reading this currently take nutritional supplements, and yet most people don’t have a good understanding about the vitamins and minerals they’re taking. Because of this, what I’ve decided to do is to write some articles that discuss the different roles of each of the vitamins and minerals in the body, and since this website focuses on thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions, I figured it would be a good idea to briefly discuss how they relate to thyroid health. This article will focus on the importance of chromium.
Chromium is an important mineral with regards to helping to keep the blood sugar levels in balance. It does this by playing a role in the metabolism of glucose, and is also involved in the synthesis of protein. I consult with many people who have imbalances of the blood sugar levels, which in turn frequently leads to symptoms such as sweet and carbohydrate cravings, as well as weight gain. These blood sugar imbalances can lead to problems with the adrenals, and eventually can result in conditions such as insulin resistance and diabetes.
To no surprise, many people are deficient in chromium. While sometimes I’ll talk about using an herb such as Gymnema to help address sweet and carbohydrate cravings, the ultimate goal should be to get to the underlying cause of the condition. And while some people can benefit from taking an herb such as Gymnema on a temporary basis, if the main cause of the blood sugar imbalance is a chromium deficiency, then this obviously needs to be addressed. This is usually accomplished through eating well and supplementing with chromium.
How Does Chromium Help To Balance The Blood Sugar Levels?
Once again, chromium is involved in the production of insulin, and it also helps to increase the effectiveness of this hormone. Insulin of course helps to regulate the amount of glucose, and also is involved in intracellular carbohydrate and lipid metabolism. The way that chromium increases insulin sensitivity is by activating an enzyme called insulin receptor kinase.
A chromium deficiency can also contribute to high cholesterol levels in the blood. Of course there can be other factors responsible for this, but it’s something to be considered for those with elevated cholesterol levels. Some sources claim that supplementing with chromium can help with strength gain and fat loss, but as of now no studies I know of prove this to be true.
How Does Chromium Relate To Thyroid Health?
A deficiency in chromium can cause an imbalance of the blood sugar levels, which in turn will affect the adrenal glands. So while this article has focused on the effects of chromium on insulin, problems with the blood sugar levels will also cause the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol. As I’ve stated in past articles, problems with the adrenal glands can directly or indirectly affect the thyroid gland.
For example, compromised adrenal glands can slow down the thyroid gland and thus lead to a hypothyroid condition. In addition, problems with the adrenal glands can in turn affect the health of the immune system, which can potentially trigger an autoimmune condition such as Graves’ Disease or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. While having a chromium deficiency alone is unlikely to lead to an autoimmune thyroid condition, it is a possibility.
In addition, studies apparently show that chromium picolinate can interfere with the absorption of levothyroxine. So those people with hypothyroidism who are taking synthetic thyroid hormone will want to make sure not to take chromium picolinate and thyroid hormone too close together. So if they take levothyroxine first thing in the morning, they ideally will want to wait at least two to three hours before consuming the chromium picolinate. I’m not sure whether chromium picolinate can interfere with other types of thyroid hormone, but to play it safe it’s probably best to wait a few hours to take this after taking any form of synthetic or natural thyroid hormone.
Food Sources of Chromium
Some of the best dietary sources of chromium include Brewer’s yeast, liver, cheese, and whole grains. Of course many people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions need to minimize their consumption of grains, while some will avoid them completely. You can also get some chromium by eating green leafy vegetables. The refining of food can affect numerous minerals, including chromium.
Supplementing With Chromium
As I mentioned earlier, it is common for people to be deficient in chromium. While people with a deficiency will want to try eating foods that are rich in chromium, supplementation is usually necessary. I usually recommend whole food chromium supplements to my patients, mainly because chromium wasn’t meant to be consumed alone, as it needs the presence of other nutrients and coenzymes for maximum absorption and utilization by the body. However, other forms can be taken instead to correct a deficiency. I mentioned chromium picolinate earlier, and this is a common form found in health food stores, although studies done on hamsters have shown chromosomal damage. The RDI for chromium is 120 micrograms. However, higher dosages might be required for those who have a chromium deficiency.
In summary, chromium is one of the minerals that is commonly deficient in people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions. From a symptomatic perspective this can lead to sweet and carbohydrate cravings and/or weight gain, and if unaddressed will ultimately lead to problems with the adrenals, and possibly to conditions such as insulin resistance and eventually diabetes. Chromium picolinate can also interfere with thyroid hormone, and so those taking levothyroxine or another form of thyroid hormone need to keep this in mind.