Chromium for Depression
People who suffer from a common type of depression, known as atypical depression, may benefit from taking chromium supplements, according to a study in Biological Psychiatry (2003;53:261–4). The results of this study offer a promising new approach to an often difficult to treat condition.
In the new study, 15 people suffering from atypical depression, who had been off of antidepressant medication for at least seven days, were randomly assigned to receive chromium picolinate or a placebo for eight weeks. The dose was 400 mcg per day for the first two weeks, then 600 mcg per day for the remainder of the study. A response to treatment was defined as a decrease (improvement) of at least 66% on a modified version of the Hamilton Depression Scale (HAM-D), along with a marked improvement in another outcome measure (the Clinical Global Impressions of Improvement Scale). Seventy percent (7 of 10) of those receiving chromium responded to the treatment, whereas none of the five individuals in the placebo group had a positive response. Although the number of participants in the study was small, the difference in outcome between the chromium and placebo groups was highly statistically significant. Moreover, in 60% of those receiving chromium, the depression went into remission. No significant side effects were seen.
It has been estimated that atypical depression constitutes more than one-fifth of all cases of depression. It is characterized by mood swings, increased appetite and weight gain, and excessive drowsiness. This type of depression tends to persist longer and is associated with greater disability than are other forms of depression. A class of antidepressant drugs known as monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors is frequently used to treat atypical depression. These drugs, however, can cause major side effects and many people do not tolerate them.
Chromium is an essential trace mineral that enhances the action of insulin in the body. Chromium deficiency may lead to abnormalities of blood sugar metabolism, which could result in many of the same symptoms that characterize atypical depression. The typical Western diet is often low in chromium, because food processing and modern farming techniques may cause losses of chromium from food.
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.
Although a larger study is needed to confirm the results of this new study, chromium shows promise as a simple, safe, and inexpensive therapy for a common and sometimes debilitating condition.
Alan R. Gaby, MD, an expert in nutritional therapies, testified to the White House Commission on CAM upon request in December 2001. Dr. Gaby served as a member of the Ad-Hoc Advisory Panel of the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine. He is the author of Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis (Prima, 1994), and co-author of The Natural Pharmacy, 2nd Edition (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), the A–Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), Clinical Essentials Volume 1 and 2 (Healthnotes, 2000), and The Patient’s Book of Natural Healing (Prima, 1999). A former professor at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, in Kenmore, WA, where he served as the Endowed Professor of Nutrition, Dr. Gaby is the Chief Medical Editor for Healthnotes, Inc.
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