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Cuban Journal of Agricultural Science

Print version ISSN 0864-0408On-line version ISSN 2079-3480

Cuban J. Agric. Sci. vol.53 no.3 Mayabeque July.-Sept. 2019  Epub Sep 01, 2019



Organic products based on chromium for poultry production. Main advances in the last years

M. Valera1  * 

Odilia Gutiérrez1 

A. Elías1 

1Instituto de Ciencia Animal, Apartado Postal 24, San José de las Lajas, Mayabeque, Cuba


This study reviews the progress of recent years in the use of organic chromium products in poultry feed and production. Important topics such as the functions of this mineral element, the most used types of products, their supplementation levels, as well as the effects of the inclusion of this microelement in the diets through different forms, in the productive performance of animals, mitigation of caloric stress and other indicators of interest. The most promising, according to the obtained effects, are chromium picolinate and chromium linked to yeast, and the respective responses of animals to their supplementation have been the main focus of research in recent years.

Keywords: supplementation; chromium; broilers; glucose


Among the most used minerals in poultry production in recent years, chromium (Cr) stands out, being demonstrated in numerous studies (Kani 2015, Zheng et al. 2016, Mir et al. 2017 and Li et al. 2018). It is one of the basic minerals for poultry, as it is required to increase production, due to its importance in digestion, growth and the decrease of lipid and protein peroxidation (Farag et al. 2017).

Sometimes this microelement is supplied in the diet of animals from inorganic salts, causing interactions or digestive disorders and metabolic disorders. CrCl3 and Cr2O3 are among the most important inorganic forms of Cr supplementation. Their disadvantages are their low absorption (0.4-2%) and that they have at least 10 times lower bioavailability compared to organic forms of supplementation (Kani 2015). In order to avoid these and other complications, organic supplementation of this element in the poultry industry has increased in recent years.

The use of organic minerals, in which this metal compound is linked to a biomolecule or a microorganism, provides numerous advantages when administering these elements. Therefore, the objective of this study is to review the main advances that have been obtained in proultry supplementation with different types of organic Cr, and its advantages, compared to the use of inorganic sources of supplementation, in obtaining better productive performance and in the mitigation of heat stress and its expressions in organisms, mainly.


Cr, in its most stable oxidation state (Cr3+), fulfills a series of essential functions for animals. For example, it intervenes in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and lipids, potentiates insulin action as an active component of glucose tolerance factor (GTF), and plays an anti-stress role, decreasing the concentration of cortisol in the blood. In addition, it has a fundamental function in the formation and expression of genetic information, has inhibitory effects on lipogenic activity and improves the absorption of amino acids in muscle cells for protein synthesis. GTF, being partly constituted by Cr molecules, facilitates the entry of glucose at cellular level, by increasing insulin levels in the somatic cell, and allows a greater use of this carbohydrate, favoring protein synthesis, and consequently, a reduction in the production of adipose tissue (Herran et al. 2011).

Glucose metabolism is very different in birds, compared to mammals, since their concentration values are higher in these species, and those of insulin, are lower (Brooks et al. 2016). Poultry, compared to mammals, are less sensitive to insulin (Rama Rao et al. 2016). Caloric stress increases circulating corticosterone concentrations in poultry, and it is well documented that it reduces insulin sensitivity in these animals (Haq et al. 2018).

Cr deficiencies causes severe metabolic and productive disorders in poultry, such as hyperglycemia, decrease of glucose tolerance (developing a metabolic profile similar to diabetes mellitus Type 1), increase of circulating insulin, cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. There is also a slow growth, a reduction of productive life of the animal, as well as problems of infertility and local neurological disorders (Kani 2015).

On the other hand, it is known that heat stress is one of the environmental factors that affect poultry production, causing economic losses in the poultry industry around the world. When broilers undergo heat stress, they maintain a temperature regulation through thermoregulatory mechanisms that have a negative impact on their performance and metabolism. In laying hens, heat stress can also affect productive performance (Sahin et al. 2018) and gene expression of ion carriers (Bahadoran et al. 2018), glucose carriers (Ozdemir et al. 2017) and egg quality (Abd El-Hack et al. 2017). Researches have demonstrated that Cr supplementation is a safe and convenient alternative to counteract caloric stress, as a nutritional alternative (Jahanian and Rasouli 2015).

There is a positive relationship between diet supplementation with Cr and growth, the increase and improvement of immune and physiological functions when broilers are exposed to heat stress. Cr supplementation has been associated with a higher growth rate and antioxidant capacity, while decreasing lipid peroxidation, cholesterol content and abdominal fat (Dalólio et al. 2018). Supplementation with organic Cr improves the performance of broilers and other poultry species under heat stress conditions (Hajializadeh et al. 2017).

Several authors reported the increase in body mass and nutritional efficiency in animals supplemented with Cr, under heat stress conditions, so frequent in our geographical area (Sahin and Sahin 2002, Sahin et al. 2003). Facing high temperatures, poultry reduces food intake, live weight gain and food efficiency (Moeini et al. 2011). Therefore, one of the methods to counteract caloric stress is the manipulation of diets because the cooling of poultry rearing facilities would make production systems too expensive. Cr supplementation has a positive effect on growth and efficiency of diet utilization in poultry (Yildiz et al. 2004).

Given such evidence, the use of organic products based on Cr to increase the use efficiency of diet, decreasing circulating glucose levels, justifies their study, sustained in turn by the improvement in most of the analyzed productive indicators. Favoring protein synthesis, while attenuating caloric stress, with a decrease in corticosterone in blood, show the veracity of the results achieved in a significant number of studies.


Organic products based on Cr have been used since the 90s of the last century. Since the establishment of the scientific bases that led to the obtaining and synthesis of chelated minerals, the obtaining of products with this characteristic, based on this microelement, has been diverse. Chromium picolinate (CrPic), chromium nicotinate (CrNic), chromium propionate (CrPro), chromium bound to yeast (CrLev) and chromium methionine (CrMet) are among the most used products in recent years. Some of the most relevant results of its use in poultry are mentioned below.


Among the different organic forms of Cr supplement in diets for poultry, CrPic stands out. It is a compound of the trivalent form of Cr, with low toxicity, complexed to picolinic acid (Hamidi et al. 2016). It has been used in the diet of broilers under heat stress (Li et al. 2018). It has been reported that Cr supplementation in broilers decreases cortisol concentration in blood. This hormone is released in response to stress, and its main role is given by its action of increasing blood sugar level through gluconeogenesis (Kani 2015).

Other authors like Herran et al. (2011) reported increases of feed intake, and therefore, of the final weight of animals at the end of the productive cycle, supplemented with CrPic. In addition, blood glucose levels decreased, favoring protein synthesis in muscle. Subsequently, an improvement in carcass quality was also reported.

Studies described by Toghyani et al. (2008) reported that supplementation with CrPic in broiler diets decreased the fat content of the carcass. It was also found that Cr exerted an inhibitory effect on in vitro lipogenic activity in poultry and pigs. Even from the 90s of the 20th century, both Ward (1993) and Kim et al. (1996) defined an increase in protein levels of the carcass and liver in broilers, respectively, supplementing Cr in the diet of these animals. This has a direct relationship with the enhancing action of Cr insulin, since it improves the binding to the receptors of target cells and the post-receptor signaling, which translates into a greater protein synthesis. In laying hens, the positive effect of insulin on protein synthesis, the efficiency of amino acid transport and the decrease of protein degradation rate is also known (Sahin and Sahin 2002 and Piva et al. 2003).

There are also results that show that adding 0.5 mg of Cr/kg of food in the form of CrPic during growth stage of broilers increases food intake. Navidshad et al. (2009), in turn, documented an increase in food intake of 7% (90.7 vs. 84.6 g/broiler • day) and a high weight gain of 5% (63.3 vs. 60 g / broiler • day) with respect to the control treatment.

In order to research the effects of combined supplementation of flaxseed meal with CrPic on the fatty acid profile, oxidative stability and functional properties of broiler meat, Mir et al. (2017) studied the inclusion of organic Cr in a diet with this protein supplement. They used doses of 0, 0.5, 1 and 1.5 mg Cr/kg of diet. Flaxseed meal significantly reduced cholesterol and fat percentage of meat, and a progressive reduction of these metabolic indicators was also observed as Cr levels increased. This could suggest the need to increase Cr doses to supplement the broilers, to statistically demonstrate the decrease of these indicators due to the inclusion of this microelement in the diet.

Another result observed in this study was that supplementation with flaxseed meal increased drip losses and lipid peroxidation of broiler meat. However, these indicators diminished with the addition of Cr in the form of picolinate. The experiment led to the conclusion that with the inclusion of 10% flaxseed meal and a dose of 1.5 mg Cr / kg of diet, a desired profile of fatty acids, oxidative stability and functional properties of meat is obtained, suggesting a synergistic effect of these diet components in this metabolic response.

Hajializadeh et al. (2017) researched on the effect of supplementation with CrPic and nanoparticles of this micromineral on the productive performance and immune function of broilers under heat stress conditions. Using doses of 500, 1,000 and 1,500 ppb of CrPic and 1,500 ppb of nanoparticles in the diet, these authors achieved an improvement in the productive performance of broilers, including weight gain and feed conversion rate. On the other hand, antibody titres against avian influenza and infectious bronchitis in broilers supplemented with Cr were higher than in those animals that don’t received this supplementation.

Another effect observed as a conclusion of this research was that through water or food, supplementation with Cr in the form of picolinate increased the immune response by regulating the expression of interferon ɣ after vaccination against Newcastle disease (Hajializadeh et al. 2017).

In other research, Ezzat et al. (2017) reported that, in broilers, diets supplemented with 1,200 μgCr/kg in the form of CrPic during a heat stress, significantly reduced mortality in the fattening period. Subsequently, Ezzat et al. (2018) found that, in laying hens, supplementing 800 μgCr/kg in the form of CrPic in the diet, rectal temperature and respiratory rate were significantly reduced in animals under stress, compared to control treatment. This demonstrated the effectiveness of CrPic in the decrease of these caloric stress indicator parameters. This study also demonstrated that supplementation with CrPic potentiated productive indicators, blood parameters, egg production and immune response.

Supplementation with CrPic (0.4-2 mgCr / kg) in the diet of broilers, increases daily gain, intake and antibody titers against Newcastle disease. Specifically, under heat stress conditions (32.8-36 ºC), broilers fed diets supplemented with CrPic (1-2 mgCr/kg of diet) increased the rates of feed conversion and of transformation of T lymphocytes and decreased total glucose and cholesterol concentrations in serum (Zhang 2018).

Recently, the effects of CrPic supplementation on digestibility and transport of nutrients in laying hens exposed to a situation of heat stress were studied. These authors found that supplementation with CrPic improved nutrient digestibility of laying hens, as an increase in the digestibility of DM, OM and crude protein was observed. Supplementation with CrPic also increased the gene expression of the carriers of fatty acids, glucose, proteins and amino acids in the gastrointestinal tract of hens (Orhan et al. 2018).


Another organic compound used in the handling of diets for fattening poultry under heat stress conditions is CrNic. It contains three units of nicotinic acid per each Cr ion. It has been reported that exposure to high temperatures causes undesirable changes in the characteristics of broiler meat. Stress increases the urinary secretion of Cr and may exacerbate a marginal deficiency of Cr. Therefore, supplementation with Cr becomes necessary, and even fundamental.

Effects found in studies of Toghyani et al. (2008) showed that supplementation with Cr in the form of CrNic in the diet has positive effects on meat quality and carcass traits, either under normal temperature conditions or heat stress conditions. These studies showed that protein content of breast meat in animals supplemented with CrNic was higher in comparison to this same indicator in animals supplemented with an inorganic Cr source.

Other studies have shown the increase of body weight when Cr is supplemented through nicotinate in the diet of broilers. Rama Rao et al. (2012) reported significant increases in the body weight of broilers supplemented with this type of organic Cr. In addition, Toghyani et al. (2012) reported increases in the positive effect of CrNic supplementation on feed intake and increase in weight gain of broilers.


CrPro is the chromic salt of propionic acid. It is an active megacathionic complex, which has a high bioavailability of Cr (Talbott et al. 2013). These authors highlighted the improvement in sensitivity to insulin in broilers supplemented with CrPro, and consequently, a greater promotion of glucose entry into the cells. With this reaction, the energy reserves of the animal organism are more efficiently redistributed, shortening the interval between meals. Therefore, an increase in intake is ensured, obtaining an increase in body weight of the animal in a shorter period of time.

Other recent studies have tried to elucidate what happens with blood serum lipids, carcass traits and breast meat quality in broilers supplemented with CrPro. Xiao et al. (2017) developed research in which they showed the effects of the supplementation with this organic product in blood serum lipids, carcass traits and breast meat quality in broilers under heat stress conditions. Results demonstrated that the concentration of serum triglycerides and LDL decreased linearly as Cr dose increased. However, this effect was only confirmed when higher doses of organic Cr were used in the diet (0.8 or 1.6 mg Cr/kg).

Other researchers such as Zheng et al. (2016) suggested that CrPro is more efficiently absorbed than other Cr organic sources. Results show that this organic supplementation source has greater beneficial effects in avoiding the intramuscular fat deposition of the breast, and in meat quality compared to CrPic and CrCl3, when doses of 0.4 or 2.0 mgCr/kg of diet are used for each of them, in poultry under heat stress conditions.


Different authors promote Cr linked to yeast as one of the most efficient organic forms of supplementation (Kani 2015). This author states an increase in the absorption of this microelement, of up to 10-25% approximately, obtaining the greatest weight gains when this type of organic supplementation is used.

Dȩbski et al. (2004) stated that supplementation of Cr with yeast in broilers decreased the cholesterol content in muscle by 40%. In addition, an increase in the concentration of cholesterol in the liver was observed. This accumulation suggested an increase in the rate of liver accumulation and a decrease in the transfer of these components to the muscle. In addition, the concentration of total cholesterol in blood was significantly lower in animals fed the diet rich in CrLev. Likewise, total cholesterol in the liver increased.

Authors such as Chica et al. (2014) found a better performance in the analyzed indicators (live weight, intake and weight gain) in the animals supplemented with CrLev. Several studies with laying hens and broilers indicate that there is greater bioavailability of the mineral in tissue and eggs when organic sources of Cr are used, especially CrLev (Doerfler et al. 2000, Piva et al 2003 and Eseceli et al. 2010).

Specific amounts of Cr supplemented in the diet for broilers were also evaluated, showing beneficial effects. Króliczewska et al. (2005) added 0.3 and 0.5 mg of Cr linked to yeast in the diet of broilers, and the results showed that when 0.5 mg was added, live weight increased by 3.79% (2,009.16 vs. 2,085.41 g), as well as the weight gain increased by 3.9% (1,969.07 vs. 2,046.09 g) compared to the control treatment. Other authors found evidence about the increased protein level in the muscle of animals fed diets supplemented with Cr in the form of CrLev. This situation was similar even under heat stress conditions (Amatya et al. 2004 and Samanta et al. 2008).

In a study carried out by Haq et al. (2018), CrLev combined with ascorbic acid and vitamin E was fed to broilers and their effect on productive and metabolic indicators was evaluated. Results showed the decrease of glucose concentration in blood serum due to Cr supplementation. In addition, when it is provided in combination with antioxidants, triglyceride concentrations were also reduced, demonstrating a possible synergistic effect among these components of the diet. The combination of CrLev and ascorbic acid reported the lowest values of total cholesterol, suggesting that the role of Cr is enhanced in the presence of vitamin C.

Conclusively, supplementation with CrLev, with or without vitamin C or E, significantly reduced the concentration of total triglycerides, glucose and cholesterol in blood serum of broilers.


Previous studies show an adequate absorption and absence of gastric effects when minerals are associated with organic ligands such as enzymes, proteins and particularly amino acids.

Several studies indicate that minerals linked to organic molecules are an alternative to the difficult incorporation of metals in the organism. By using the metabolic pathways of transport of organic molecules, metals would be carried to the intestine where they can be easily absorbed, which in turn avoids the annoying gastric effects of the inorganic salts of metals (Pal et al. 2010). One of these examples is methionine, hence its application as a product, linked to Cr, to facilitate its absorption.

In a study developed by Ghazi et al. (2012) with broilers, they were supplemented with 600 and 1,200 μgCr/kg of diet in the form of CrMet, from one day of age until the end of the productive cycle. In these animals, the antibody response (IgG and IgM) increased with values higher than those found in the control treatment and in treatments where Cr was inorganically supplemented. There were also significant increases in the weight of thymus and spleen, revealing the incidence of this metal in the immune response of animals. In addition, these animals exhibited a better response when they were subjected to a caloric stress. The specific immune response may be affected in young animals under heat stress conditions. These effects include a decline in the circulation of white blood cells. Besides, this type of stress has been reported as one of the causes of suppression of antibody production in poultry. Immunological function has been elevated by Cr and its effects seem to be accentuated during stress, due to the redistribution that occurs in this micromineral during this situation. This becomes apparent, for example, when, in a situation of this type, Cr concentration in blood decreases and urinary excretion increases.

In recent years, the focus of these studies are mainly directed to immune system. Jahanian and Rasouli (2015) carried out a research on the effects of supplementation in broilers with CrMet in the productive performance and immune response against heat stress. Using doses of 0, 500 and 1,000 μgCrMet/kg of diet, this supplementation increased feed intake and improved weight gain, as well as feed efficiency. On the other hand, results showed that there was a significant interaction between the level of Cr and temperatures, so that the inclusion of CrMet was more effective in poultry under heat stress conditions. These researchers also found that the inclusion of the product in the diet improved the antibody response to different immunostimulants, and that this effect was more pronounced in poultry under this type of stress.

The effects of corticosterone release were also modulated by CrMet supplementation, even to values ​​close to those reached under conditions of thermoneutrality. Jahanian and Rasouli (2015) also found that, under heat stress conditions, relative weights of thymus and bursa of Fabricius decreased. These same animals, once supplemented with CrMet, recovered the normal relative weight of these organs, specifically when a dose of 1,000 μgCrMet/kg of diet was used. Based on these studies, it could be concluded that supplementation with CrMet in fattening poultry, under heat stress conditions, positively influenced on productive performance indicators and improves immune responses measured as antibody humoral response and cellular immunity. In addition, this supplementation had a modulating effect on leukocyte subpopulations, with decreasing proportions of heterophiles and cytotoxic T lymphocytes.

Habibian et al. (2013) also supplemented 0, 0.6 and 1.2 mg Cr/kg of diet through CrMet, in poultry also under heat stress conditions. They found that these animals had low concentrations of total cholesterol in blood serum. However, in contrast to this result, Zheng et al. (2016) reported that supplementation with Cr, regardless of organic or inorganic source (CrPic, CrPro, CrCl3), did not affect total cholesterol concentration in serum. Despite this duality of results, it is preferred to continue using Cr supplementation through organic forms due to the previously mentioned advantages.


Among the five analyzed Cr-based organic products, CrPic and CrLev stand out above the rest. Both have markedly beneficial effects not only on productive indicators, but also on metabolic and immune factors of poultry, both in broilers and laying hens. Valuable studies have also been carried out on egg quality before organic supplementation with Cr. Recent research has mainly been focused on immune response and gene expression generated by the supplementation of these two organic compounds, beyond the already traditional experiments on the increase of meat protein content, intake improvement and food conversion, weight gain increase and decrease of cholesterol and glucose concentrations in blood.

Supplementation with organic Cr in avian productions stands out mainly to counteract the negative effects of caloric stress, as well as to reduce the concentration of certain metabolites in blood that affect the good productive performance. In such a way, the use of these products to counteract this type of stress, among other benefits, is emerging as a potential tool to reach better avian productions in tropical regions. It is possible to use the biological properties of microorganisms studied at the Institute of Animal Science, in order to obtain organic products based on Cr, coming from national sources, through simple biotechnological processes. The benefits derived from the use of Cr in poultry production demonstrate that its supplementation through organic forms is convenient and reliable.


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Received: September 17, 2018; Accepted: July 22, 2019

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