There are so many dietary supplements recommended for PCOS, it can feel overwhelming! One of these supplements is chromium picolinate, a chemical compound that has been linked to the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. But what about chromium picolinate for PCOS? Let’s dive into the evidence and see whether supplementing is advised for people with PCOS.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common endocrine disorders in the world, impacting between 6 and 13% of people assigned female at birth. Symptoms of PCOS include hirsutism, acne, oily skin, alopecia, irregular periods, rapid increases in body weight, increased risk of metabolic syndrome and challenges when trying to conceive.
There is no cure for PCOS but symptoms can be managed. Often treatment for PCOS includes oral contraceptives, changes to diet and exercise regimes and adding supplements like chromium picolinate.
What is chromium picolinate?
Chromium picolinate is a chemical compound often used as a dietary supplement. It contains both chromium and picolinic acid. Chromium is an essential mineral the body requires in small amounts for the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, as well as other metabolic processes. Chromium can be found in meat, whole grains and some fruits and vegetables.
Benefits of chromium picolinate for PCOS
For people with PCOS, chromium picolinate may be beneficial in improving symptoms. This is because it has been linked to improving insulin resistance, balancing blood glucose levels, increasing the likelihood of ovulation and improving menstrual cycle regularity. Let’s look at the effects of chromium supplementation on the improvement of PCOS symptoms.
Reduces insulin resistance and blood glucose levels
Approximately 80% of people with PCOS have insulin resistance, no matter their body weight. Insulin resistance is when the body’s tissues are resistant to the effects of insulin. To put it simply, they don’t allow glucose to enter the cells as we would expect. This can result in raised blood sugar levels (blood glucose levels) which may contribute to carbohydrate cravings and other hypoglycemic symptoms.
It is also important to mention that people with PCOS are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes mellitus or gestational diabetes than those without the syndrome, independent of body mass index (BMI). So managing insulin resistance and blood glucose levels are key to managing symptoms of PCOS and mitigating the risk of future health conditions such as diabetes.
Different studies have found that chromium picolinate supplementation may reduce insulin resistance. A 2016 randomized placebo-controlled trial found that supplementing with 1000 micrograms of chromium picolinate whilst undertaking similar exercise regimes and diets to the placebo group resulted in a significant reduction of fasting serum insulin and a significant rise in fasting glucose insulin ratio. These results indicate that daily supplementation of chromium picolinate may reduce insulin resistance in people with PCOS.
A 2013 double-blind randomized clinical trial compared the medication metformin, which is commonly prescribed to people with PCOS, to chromium picolinate supplements in 92 clomiphene citrate-resistant PCOS patients. They found a significant decrease in fasting blood sugar levels and insulin levels in patients taking chromium picolinate.
The researchers concluded that insulin sensitivity increased in this group and the metformin treatment group, highlighting that chromium picolinate could be considered a more tolerated alternative to metformin. However, it is important to note that the metformin group was associated with decreased hyperandrogenism whereas the chromium picolinate group was not. Plus the ovulation and pregnancy rate was the same in both groups.
Increases ovulation and menstrual cycle regularity
In the 2016 placebo-controlled study we referenced above, they not only found improvements in insulin resistance and fasting blood glucose but also saw that daily chromium picolinate supplementation stimulated ovulation and regular menstruation.
A randomized controlled trial involving 108 people with PCOS and infertility investigated the effect of chromium supplementation in conjunction with clomiphene citrate (Clomid) and metformin. They found a statistically significant difference in the form of mature follicles within the chromium picolinate, Clomid and metformin group.
Chromium picolinate dosage for PCOS
Chromium picolinate is not a common supplement for PCOS and requires more research to understand the exact dosage for people with PCOS. Within the clinical studies, patients are given between 200 micrograms of chromium picolinate to 1000 micrograms. As with any supplement, consult your dietitian, nutritionist or doctor before altering your daily supplement regime.
Side effects of chromium picolinate
Generally, chromium picolinate is safe when taken at the recommended dosage by your healthcare team. It is important to mention that there are some side effects or adverse effects that have been noted including gastrointestinal issues including stomach pain, nausea or diarrhea.
It is rare but some may be allergic to chromium picolinate. An allergic reaction usually manifests in itching, a rash, swelling or difficulty breathing. Noticing any of these symptoms? Seek medical attention immediately.
Long-term usage of chromium picolinate could impact kidney or liver function. If you have any previous kidney or liver conditions you must consult with a healthcare professional before supplementing.
It is also vital to note that taking too much chromium picolinate could result in hypoglycemia, especially if you are taking medication for diabetes such as metformin or insulin-sensitising supplements like inositol. Chromium picolinate may also interact with other medications such as insulin, corticosteroids, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Before taking any new supplement it is important to consult with your healthcare team.
FAQ: chromium picolinate for PCOS
Let’s answer your frequently asked questions about chromium picolinate for PCOS.
What is the best time to take chromium picolinate?
Although there is no one best time to take chromium picolinate you may want to take it alongside meals to help enhance absorption and reduce the risk of any gastrointestinal issues. If your healthcare provider has recommended a particularly large dosage, you may want to spread your supplement taking throughout the day.
Is chromium the same as chromium picolinate?
No, chromium and chromium picolinate are not the same thing. Chromium is an essential mineral required in trace amounts by the human body. Whereas chromium picolinate is a chemical compound of chromium and picolinate acid. Picolinate acid is added to chromium for supplementation to enhance the absorption of chromium in the body, making it more bioavailable.
How much chromium should I take?
There is no set dosage for the amount of chromium or chromium picolinate to supplement with if you have PCOS. The recommended daily allowance for chromium varies by age, gender and whether you are pregnant or lactating. But for most adults, the RDA is 25-35 mcg of chromium which is usually achievable to consume via the diet. To understand whether you should take chromium picolinate speak to a PCOS dietitian or nutritionist for bespoke advice.
>> Learn more about working with our team of PCOS dietitians or nutritionists in our 1:1 clinic
Can you take too much chromium picolinate?
As with most supplements, you can take too much chromium picolinate. The tolerable upper limit or level for chromium is 200 micrograms per day, although some studies used doses of up to 1000mg. It is essential to speak to a healthcare provider before starting a supplement regime.
Key takeaways: chromium picolinate for PCOS
Although the evidence surrounding chromium picolinate for PCOS is promising, more research is required. Research studies have found that supplementing with chromium picolinate may improve insulin resistance, blood glucose levels, ovulation rates and menstrual cycle regularity. This could be associated with an improvement in symptoms and an increase in fertility in those with PCOS. But, as mentioned earlier, we do need more evidence before we can definitively recommend chromium picolinate for PCOS.
Founder and Editor | Registered Associate Nutritionist
Founder of Be The Collective LTD [The PCOS Collective & The Endo Collective] Alex Okell ANutr is a London-based reproductive health nutritionist with experience in research, private practice and digital media. She holds a Master’s degree in Nutrition from King’s College London and has co-authored papers with the University of Cambridge, King’s College London, The Food Foundation and the Food Standards Agency. Alex offers 1:1 PCOS support in our virtual PCOS clinic.