The potential value and toxicity of chromium picolinate as a nutritional supplement, weight loss agent and muscle development agent

Sports Med. 2003;33(3):213-30. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200333030-00004.


The element chromium apparently has a role in maintaining proper carbohydrate and lipid metabolism in mammals. As this role probably involves potentiation of insulin signalling, chromium dietary supplementation has been postulated to potentially have effects on body composition, including reducing fat mass and increasing lean body mass. Because the supplement is absorbed better than dietary chromium, most studies have focused on the use of chromium picolinate [Cr(pic)(3)]. Cr(pic)(3) has been amazingly popular with the general public, especially with athletes who may have exercise-induced increased urinary chromium loss; however, its effectiveness in manifesting body composition changes has been an area of intense debate in the last decade. Additionally, claims have appeared that the supplement might give rise to deleterious effects. However, over a decade of human studies with Cr(pic)(3) indicate that the supplement has not demonstrated effects on the body composition of healthy individuals, even when taken in combination with an exercise training programme. Recent cell culture and in vivo rat studies have indicated that Cr(pic)(3) probably generates oxidative damage of DNA and lipids and is mutagenic, although the significance of these results on humans taking the supplement for prolonged periods of time is unknown and should be a focus for future investigations. Given that in vitro studies suggest that other forms of chromium used as nutritional supplements, such as chromium chloride, are unlikely to be susceptible to generating this type of oxidative damage, the use of these compounds, rather than Cr(pic)(3), would appear warranted. Potential neurological effects (both beneficial and deleterious) from Cr(pic)(3) supplementation require further study.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Obesity Agents / pharmacology
  • Body Composition / drug effects
  • Chromium / physiology
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Humans
  • Iron Chelating Agents / adverse effects
  • Iron Chelating Agents / pharmacology*
  • Picolinic Acids / adverse effects
  • Picolinic Acids / pharmacology*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Sports / physiology


  • Anti-Obesity Agents
  • Iron Chelating Agents
  • Picolinic Acids
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Chromium
  • picolinic acid