Chromium picolinate acts as a cofactor that enhances insulin binding to insulin receptors by increasing insulin receptor sensitivity assisting cells to take in more glucose for energy production in the form of ATP by glycolysis and aerobic respiration. The binding of insulin to cells activates glucose transporters inside the membrane. This helps to maintain blood sugar levels and it also down regulates insulin secretion from the pancreas. In brain tissue chromium picolinate acts as an appetite suppressor and in the sympathetic nervous system stimulates thermogenessis increasing metabolic rate. All of these functions help to reduce bodyfat to maintain low weight with lean muscle.
Chromium is not naturally found in the body and therefore is an essential trace mineral that is available in certain foods. For example, whole grains, cheese, clams, liver, shellfish and unsaturated fats. Chromium itself is often referred to as the Glucose Tolerance Factor (GTF). Given that chromium chelate is needed to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, most Americans don't get enough in their diets.
Much of this is because there is a lack of proper chromium levels in soils and water supplies creating a deficit in the diet. Since chromium enhances that action of insulin and glucose uptake, it is important for fat, cholesterol and protein synthesis. Less chromium in your system means less glucose uptake and less synthesis of fats, proteins and cholesterol. Research indicates that people with low blood levels of chromium have a greater potential for coronary artery disease (CAD).
Although chromium deficiency is rare it can happen but generally occurs with patients who are on a restricted diet. Symptoms include fatigue, anxiety, glucose intolerance, elevated blood fatty acids, decreased amino acid metabolism all of which can lead to neuropathy, plaque buildup and obesity. Clinical studies have found that 250mcg daily reduced blood plasma levels of triglycerides and raised good cholesterol levels (Hols) effectively reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Clinical studies have demonstrated a lowering of blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics with oral administration of chromium chelate. In addition to lowering blood sugar levels, it has also been demonstrated to reduce body fat.
The schematic below is the result of patients who were administered chromium chloride intravenously.
Panel A shows normal insulin regulation without the presence of chromium: insulin has not yet bound to the receptor and glucose remains outside of the cell, unable to pass through the glucose channel. Panel B shows insulin binding to its receptor, which allows glucose to enter the cell.
Chromium enters the cell independently of insulin activity. Panel C shows chromium binding to the protein chromodulin to form a chromodulin–chromium complex. Panel D shows the chromodulin–chromium complex bound to the insulin receptor, keeping it in the active position attached to insulin, thus increasing glucose entry into the cell.
Chromium is not well absorbed through the gut as a metal ion but is readily absorbed when attached to picolic acid. Picolic acid is normally found in the body as a catabolite of the amino acid tryptophan. Chromium has the ability to bind 3 picolic acids making it readily absorbable by the gut. Once in the blood stream, chromium enters cells by a specific transport system. Very little chromium is allowed to enter the cell because in high concentrations it enters the nucleus and damages DNA.
Chromium chelate increases the efficiency of glucose uptake and the catabolism of glucose to produce ATP preventing glucose from being stored as fat. Chromium also increases fat metabolism thereby promoting lean muscle mass by activating protein synthesis. The rapid breakdown of glucose generates heat due to the breaking of carbon-carbon bonds generating thermogenesis. Remember, when you break bonds you release energy/heat. This generates a loss of body fat. It also acts as an appetite suppressor and reduces the urges for sweet foods by interacting with the sympathetic nervous system and elevating serotonin levels.
Research suggests that chromium chelate actually supports the conversion of the amino acid tryptophan into the the neurotransmitter serotonin. This accounts for the loss of sweet cravings and decrease in appetite. Serotonin is known as the feel good transmitter and produces a sense of well being. Low levels of serotonin is associated with depression. Increases in the transmitter serotonin is associated with loss of body fat.