It’s not just a periodic table element you learned about in middle school. Chromium may be a promising tool for treating depression, diabetes, and more.

There are lots of essential elements important for bodily functioning.

Now, chromium supplements are being sold in capsules, powders, or even in gummy multivitamins.

They’re often marketed as treatments for either weight loss or diabetes, but their actual efficacy in treating both mental and physical conditions is still a big question mark.

Chromium is a trace element that helps your body break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. There are two main types:

  • trivalent chromium, which can be beneficial
  • hexalent chromium, which is toxic

Trivalent chromium occurs naturally in many different foods, including:

  • grains
  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • meats
  • beer and wine

The amount of chromium in any given food varies widely based on where and how it was grown and produced. Grape juice and broccoli have some of the highest levels of naturally occurring chromium.

Stainless steel pots and pans you may cook with can even be a small source of the element, as they transfer some of their chromium to the food you’re preparing.

A third form of chromium — chromium picolinate — is generally what you’ll find in supplements, since it’s the easiest form of chromium for the body to absorb.

As an adult, the baseline amount of chromium you should be consuming ranges between 20 to 45 micrograms (mcg), depending on your:

  • age
  • gender
  • reproductive status

For example, while an infant only requires 0.2 mcg for proper functioning, a 30-year-old male probably needs at least 35 mcg per day.

Most people are able to meet the daily requirements for chromium without supplementation. True chromium deficiencies among healthy people have never been reported.

Chromium plays an important role in breaking down carbohydrates, which is why it has long been studied as a possible treatment for diseases like diabetes.

While 2014 research suggests that chromium supplementation can improve blood sugar management and reduce insulin resistance in people with type II diabetes, that’s not necessarily true across the board.

A 2016 review of many trials found positive impacts of chromium supplementation on regulating insulin levels. However, the results haven’t been clear enough for the American Diabetes Association to recommend it as a treatment.

Chromium may be more effective for people with more severe insulin resistance, though it’s not totally clear why this is.

Aside from diabetes, chromium might be helpful in the treatment of:

  • metabolic syndrome
  • polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • dyslipidemia
  • certain cancers
  • weight and body mass
  • coronary heart disease

Most of these conditions tend to have something in common with diabetes. Insulin and the body’s ability to metabolize it plays a central role, which is why scientists believed chromium could be an effective treatment.

But the research has been similarly inconsistent with mixed findings. For example, one 2018 study found no positive effect of chromium on women with PCOS, while another found more promising results.

Any weight or fat loss as a result of chromium supplementation may be too small to make any significant changes to your health.

Since many essential trace elements play a crucial role in mental processes, there’s also been a good deal of investigation into chromium supplementation as a possible treatment for depressive disorders.

But once again, the results have been inconsistent as the mechanism behind chromium’s impact on depressive disorders still isn’t totally understood.

Scientists attributed chromium’s limited success to insulin, and your body’s improved ability to metabolize it. Better break down of insulin can:

  • affect the monoamine neurotransmitter system, which has a direct impact on depression
  • boost the functioning of your hypothalamus, leading to greater production of serotonin and norepinephrine, both crucial in depressive disorders
  • lead to more tryptophan passing into the brain, an amino acid that converts into serotonin

But chromium supplements may be particularly effective for people who have both depression and type II diabetes, or those who have what’s called atypical depression, or depression with atypical features.

The insulin-regulating quality of chromium may be especially beneficial for symptoms like:

  • weight gain
  • increased appetite
  • carbohydrate cravings

Even though chromium is generally safe, people with kidney or liver disease should take extra precautions before taking high doses of chromium.

Chromium supplements may also interact with some medications, like:

  • insulin
  • anti-diabetes medications
  • levothyroxine
  • beta-blockers
  • antacids
  • corticosteroids

Talking with your physician before beginning chromium supplements can be a great first step to ensure safety.

Possible side effects

There aren’t many known adverse effects of chromium supplementation, but some people can experience:

  • vivid dreams
  • mild tremors
  • insomnia
  • nausea or vomiting
  • weight loss

Or in rare, more serious cases:

  • anemia
  • liver dysfunction
  • renal failure
  • hypoglycemia

Even though there are rarely serious side effects, it may be best to double-check with your doctor about whether taking chromium will be a safe choice for you.

Researchers aren’t exactly sure how much and how often you should take chromium supplements to treat diabetes, depression, and other conditions, but it’s likely significantly more than what you’re able to get naturally.

One 2013 study found that between 600 and 1,000 mcg of chromium was needed to reduce symptoms of depression.

Other factors

Because chromium can affect your sleep, the best time to take chromium supplements tends to be in the morning.

Chromium supplements are rarely prescribed alone for treating depressive disorders. But your doctor might recommend them in addition to other medication, like an SSRI or tricyclic.

In addition to Chromium supplements, you may want to consider planning out a diet rich in chromium-heavy foods.

Chromium may be beneficial for diabetes and diabetes-related conditions. It may also be helpful for depression symptoms, as well.

However, scientists are still puzzled about chromium and its possible benefits to mental and physical health.

While chromium can be found naturally in many different foods, some people may decide to take it in supplement form. And although taking chromium is considered generally safe with few known side effects, talking with your doctor before starting supplements can be smart.

If you’re curious about chromium supplements but don’t know where to start, check out Healthline’s review of chromium supplements.