The classic picture of depression is someone who doesn’t eat enough, doesn’t sleep enough and loses weight. But according to Patrick Holford, world-renowned nutritionist and director of the Brain Bio Centre in the UK, they are seeing more and more patients who are gaining weight, feel tired all the time, crave carbohydrates and experience rejection sensitivity. This form of depressive illness is known as atypical depression and affects about 40% of depressed patients. Since 1999 numerous studies have shown that people with this kind of depression often get instant relief, by taking a chromium supplement daily. One study even reports that more than 60% of the patients in the trial went into complete remission after just 6 weeks. Best news of all is that, as a non-prescriptive nutrient, chromium formulations are extremely affordable and have shown no side effects.
Why it works
Chromium is an essential trace mineral that enhances the action of insulin in the body. As such chromium deficiency may lead to abnormalities of blood sugar metabolism, which could result in many of the symptoms that characterize atypical depression. The typical Western diet is low in chromium because food processing and modern farming techniques may cause losses of chromium from food.
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.
The authors of many of the studies have concluded that the main effect of chromium was on carbohydrate craving and appetite regulation in patients with depression. Some suggest that physicians and mental health professionals should be alert to patients who report carbohydrate craving as it may signal the possible presence of a more serious underlying medical condition, such as atypical depression. The use of antidepressants and mood stabilizers that are commonly prescribed to treat depression may worsen carbohydrate cravings.
I firmly believe that chromium supplementation offers a new treatment option for depressed patients who crave carbohydrates and for patients who often find it difficult to stay on prescribed medications because of side effects such as sexual dysfunction and weight gain. Chromium shows promise as a simple, safe and inexpensive therapy for a common and sometimes debilitating condition. As Patrick Holford puts it: “For many people chromium is the missing link”.