a1 Nutrient Requirements and Functions Laboratory, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, US Department of Agriculture, ARS, Building 307, Room 224 BARC–East, Beltsville, MD 20705–2350, USA
Insulin resistance leads to the inability of insulin to control the utilization and storage of glucose. It is associated initially with elevated levels of circulating insulin followed by glucose intolerance which may progress to type 2 diabetes, hyperlipidaemia, hypertension, obesity and cardiovascular diseases. While the causes of these diseases are multifactorial, one nutrient that is associated with all of these abnormalities is Cr. In the presence of Cr, in a biologically active form, much lower levels of insulin are required. Modern diets, which are often high in refined carbohydrates, are not only low in Cr, but lead to enhanced Cr losses. In response to the consumption of refined carbohydrates, there is a rapid rise in blood sugar leading to elevations in insulin that cause a mobilization of Cr. Once mobilized, Cr is not reabsorbed but lost via the urine leading to decreased Cr stores. Several studies involving both human subjects and experimental animals have reported improvements in insulin sensitivity, blood glucose, insulin, lipids, haemoglobin A1c, lean body mass and related variables in response to improved Cr nutrition. However, not all studies have reported beneficial effects associated with improved Cr nutrition. Well–controlled human studies are needed to document an unequivocal effect of Cr on insulin sensitivity in human subjects. Studies need to involve a significant number of subjects with insulin resistance, glucose intolerance or early stages of diabetes, who have not been taking supplements containing Cr for at least 4 months, and involve at least 400 to 600 μg supplemental Cr daily or more. Studies should be at least 4 months to document sustained effects of supplemental Cr on insulin resistance and related variables. Cr is a nutrient and not a therapeutic agent and therefore will only be of benefit to those whose problems are due to suboptimal intake of Cr.