By Alan R. Gaby, MD
Healthnotes Newswire (December 8, 2005)—Chromium supplements can relieve symptoms in some patients suffering from one type of depression (atypical depression), reports the Journal of Psychiatric Practice (2005;11:302–14).
Atypical depression, one of the most common forms of depression, is characterized by mood reactivity (increased sensitivity to being rejected by another person and improved mood when something good happens), increased appetite, excessive sleepiness, and sluggishness. Compared with other forms of depression, atypical depression tends to persist longer and is associated with more thoughts of suicide and greater disability.
Chromium is an essential trace mineral that plays a role in regulating blood sugar by enhancing the action of insulin. In people with a common blood-sugar-regulation disorder known as reactive hypoglycemia, chromium supplementation prevents the excessive decline in blood-sugar levels and decreases the associated symptoms. Chromium also influences the sensitivity of certain receptors on brain cells that help control a person’s mood. In previous studies, chromium supplementation was beneficial for people suffering from dysthymia, a mood disorder related to depression.
The symptoms of atypical depression overlap with those associated with reactive hypoglycemia. If atypical depression is a manifestation of reactive hypoglycemia in some people, then chromium supplementation might be helpful for them.
In the new 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.
An expert in nutritional therapies, Chief Medical Editor Alan R. Gaby is a former professor at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, where he served as the Endowed Professor of Nutrition. He is past-president of the American Holistic Medical Association and gave expert testimony to the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine on the cost-effectiveness of nutritional supplements. Dr. Gaby has conducted nutritional seminars for physicians and has collected over 30,000 scientific papers related to the field of nutritional and natural medicine. In addition to editing and contributing to The Natural Pharmacy (Three Rivers Press, 1999), and the A–Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions (Three Rivers Press, 1999), Dr. Gaby has authored Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis (Prima Lifestyles, 1995) and B6: The Natural Healer (Keats, 1987) and coauthored The Patient's Book of Natural Healing (Prima, 1999).
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