Heart Attack Risk Linked to Low Chromium
Men with low chromium intake may be at increased risk of suffering a heart attack, reports the American Journal of Epidemiology (2005;162:157–64).
Chromium is an essential trace mineral that aids in blood sugar regulation. As a component of glucose tolerance factor, chromium enhances insulin’s activity and improves insulin sensitivity in the body. Severe chromium deficiency may interfere with normal growth and can cause serious metabolic abnormalities and decreased fertility. Milder chromium deficiency is associated with insulin resistance—a factor that increases the chance of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Although severe chromium deficiency is rare, milder deficiencies may be relatively common in Western countries. Chromium supplementation may also help raise levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol while lowering total cholesterol levels.
While chromium appears to be useful for managing blood sugar dysregulation, less is known about the connection between chromium status and the development of cardiovascular disease.
The new study investigated the relationship between toenail chromium concentrations and the risk of heart attack in over 1,400 European and Israeli men. (Toenail chromium levels are thought to be an accurate reflection of chromium intake over the weeks preceding the test.) At the beginning of the study, the participants supplied toenail clippings from all ten toes. The clippings were then analyzed for their chromium concentration and blood samples were taken to measure cholesterol levels.
During the one-year study period, 684 men suffered a nonfatal heart attack. The chromium concentration among these men was about 13% lower than it was in men who did not experience a heart attack. Heart attack risk decreased significantly with increasing concentrations of toenail chromium. Chromium status did not appear to affect levels of HDL and total cholesterol.
The results of this study suggest that chromium may help prevent heart disease. Previous studies have shown similar associations between chromium status and the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The richest dietary source of chromium is brewer’s yeast; oysters, liver, and potatoes are also high in chromium, and clams, chicken, red meat, cheese, and whole grains all have moderate amounts. The process of refining grains removes the chromium-rich portions of the plant, and eating other refined foods, especially sugar, further contributes to the depletion of this nutrient.
Chromium supplements are generally well tolerated; however, because chromium may lower blood sugar levels, people taking medications for blood sugar control should consult a doctor prior to taking supplements that contain chromium.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.
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