Supplements containing the mineral chromium may be useful
in treating some cases of depression -- particularly when
carbohydrate craving is a prominent symptom, a new study
The study, of 113 people with a disorder known as atypical
depression, found that although chromium picolinate supplements
were no more effective than an inactive pill in relieving
depression overall, they did appear to aid certain, mainly
Moreover, a subgroup of patients -- those who said they
had "irrepressible cravings" for sweets and starches --
did show a general improvement in depression symptoms after
taking the supplement.
Exactly why chromium supplements seemed to aid these patients
is not completely clear. However, the study authors speculate
the improvements in the body's use of insulin, the key hormonal
regulator of blood sugar, may be the reason.
"While these findings require replication in a prospective
trial, they suggest that chromium picolinate may be beneficial
for patients with atypical depression who are also high
carbohydrate cravers," Dr. John P. Docherty and his colleagues
report in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice.
Docherty is an adjunct professor of psychiatry at Weill
Medical College of Cornell University in New York, and head
of Comprehensive Neurosciences, Inc., which contracts with
drug and supplement makers to conduct clinical trials of
their products. Nutrition 21, Inc., which markets the Chromax
supplement used in the study, funded the research.
Chromium, a mineral that the body needs in trace amounts,
is found naturally in meat, whole grains and certain vegetables
and fruits like broccoli, potatoes and apples. The mineral
enhances the action of insulin and helps break down carbohydrates,
fat and protein. Because of this, chromium supplements are
being studied for the treatment and prevention of diabetes,
in which the cells of the body lose their sensitivity to
Researchers have long noted associations between depression,
diabetes and heart disease, Docherty and his colleagues
point out. For example, people with major depression have
been found to have higher rates of insulin resistance, a
precursor to diabetes.
There has been speculation that insulin resistance might
be behind the symptoms of overeating, carbohydrate craving
and weight gain seen in some people with depression.
These symptoms characterize atypical depression, in particular
-- which, despite its name, is a common form of depression
that, besides overeating and weight gain, may involve excessive
sleeping and a feeling of heaviness in the arms and legs.
People with this form of depression also show "mood reactivity,"
which means they brighten in response to positive happenings
in their lives.
In the new study, patients were randomly assigned to take
either chromium supplements or a placebo everyday for 8
weeks. At the end of the study, the rate of improvement
in overall depression symptoms was similar in both groups.
However, the chromium group did show greater improvement
in hunger, overeating, carb craving and daily mood changes.
And nearly two-thirds of the 41 patients with significant
carb cravings saw improvements in their depression symptoms
in general -- compared with one-third of those who took
Further studies, the researchers conclude, are needed to
see whether chromium specifically helps depression patients
who tend to overeat and crave sugars and starch-and whether
higher doses of the mineral might also aid their overall
- More articles on chromium
SOURCE: Journal of Psychiatric Practice, September 2005.