Chromium, Depression, and Weight Management

Chromium is an essential mineral that is necessary for the conversion of food into energy. It is found to be vital for keeping your blood sugar level stable because the insulin, which clears glucose from the blood, can't work properly without it.

Chromium keeps levels of glucose in the blood stable. Glucose is the most important nutrient for the brain and in order for our brains to work effectively we need a steady supply of it. Any imbalance in this supply results in a range of symptoms, depression being one of them.

In addition to its blood sugar-regulating effect, chromium appears to alter the body’s response to serotonin, one of the major brain chemicals involved in depression.

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Atypical Depression

If you answer yes to a five or more of these questions and you might be suffering from atypical depression.
• Do you crave sweets or other carbohydrates?
• Do you tend to gain weight?
• Are you tired for no obvious reason?
• Do your arms or legs feel heavy?
• Do you tend to feel sleepy or groggy much of the time?
• Are your feelings easily hurt by the rejection of others?
• Did your depression begin before the age of 30?

It is called atypical because in “classic” major depression people lose their appetite, don’t eat enough, lose weight and can’t sleep whereas with atypical, the opposite is generally true. Atypical depression affects anywhere from 25 to 42 percent of the depressed population, and an even higher percentage among depressed women so it’s extremely common rather than being “atypical”.

Atypical depression is depressed mood associated with increase in appetite (especially craving for carbs), unexplained exhaustion and painful sensitivity to rejection. It is the most common type of depression. Craving for carbohydrates is also a troublesome and frequent symptom in premenstrual syndrome and Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, more commonly known as winter blues.

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Link between Chromium and Depression

The discovery of the link between chromium and depression was made by a psychoanalyst Professor Malcolm McLeod by accident. McLeod was treating a patient called George who had been depressed for several years. He suddenly got completely better after taking a nutritional supplement. “It was unbelievable. Without the supplement his depression returned. I narrowed it down to the chromium in the supplement.”

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McLeod then ran a small trial giving depressed patients either chromium or placebos and reported highly significant improvements. McLeod gave ten patients suffering from atypical depression chromium supplements of 600mcg a-day and five others a placebo for eight weeks.  The results were dramatic. Seven out of ten taking the supplements showed a big improvement, versus none on the placebo. Their Hamilton Rating Score for depression dropped by an unheard of 83%; from 29 - major depression - to 5 – not depressed.

A larger trial at Cornell University with 113 patients has confirmed the finding. After eight weeks 65% of those on chromium had had a major improvement, compared to 33% on placebos.

“For many people chromium is the missing link” says Holford from London’s Brain Bio Centre “Most the patients we see with depression respond to simple diet changes and supplements. For some its chromium, while others respond to omega 3 fats or an amino acid called 5-HTP. We find out exactly what’s out of balance and correct it with nutrients rather than drugs. This is the future. Most of our patients are off anti-depressant drugs within a year.”

Other studies have confirmed the initial assessment that chromium has a good track record in alleviating depression. A University of North Carolina study found that the addition of chromium dramatically improved symptoms of depression, with no adverse side effects.

A Duke University study validated that adding chromium supplements to diet significantly improved symptoms of atypical depression, and patients’ tendency to overeat. In the study, 75 people with atypical depression, most of whom were overweight or obese, received either 600 mcg per day of chromium (as chromium picolinate) or a placebo for eight weeks. The proportion of people who improved by at least 50% (responders) was greater in the chromium group than in the placebo group (54% versus 36%), although this difference was not statistically significant. However, significant differences were seen when the analysis was restricted to those people who reported that they had severe carbohydrate craving (a possible indicator of abnormal glucose metabolism). In that subset, the proportion of responders was 65% in the chromium group and only 33% in the placebo group, a statistically significant difference. No significant side effects were observed in people taking chromium.

The results of this study indicate that people with atypical depression who also crave carbohydrates are likely to improve if they take 600 mcg of chromium per day. If chromium works by improving blood-glucose regulation, then its effects might be enhanced by dietary changes (avoiding refined sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, and eating small, frequent meals) and by supplementing with other blood-glucose-stabilizing nutrients, including B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, and copper. Regular aerobic exercise may also relieve depression, possibly by improving insulin sensitivity and blood-sugar control.

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Chromium Deficiency

An estimated 90% of Americans are chromium-deficient from eating the typical Western diet of processed foods and simple carbohydrates, which have been stripped of important nutrients such as chromium.

Side Effects

Studies report that there are no substantial side effects for chromium intake, except for general positive effects on the physical and mental health as more energy and better weight control. However, for the same reason, chromium, if taken in the evening, can increase energy and hence interfere with sleep.

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