Treating Depression With Chromium Supplements

This Health Food Store Staple May Help Ease Mood Disorders

Close up of pill capsule on plate
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Chromium is a mineral found in very small amounts from food. It's known to be involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. It also may help with insulin resistance, which is a precursor to diabetes. Chromium nutritional supplements often are sold to help with weight loss (although it's not clear that it actually works as a diet aid). Supplements of chromium also are thought to be a potential treatment for depression.

Before you head to health food store to pick some up, though, find out how chromium is believed to work and, of course, check with your doctor before you take any medication or nutritional supplement.

How It Works

There are a few theories about why chromium might help relieve depression. One, based on early-stage animal studies, has to do with the way chromium causes cells to be more sensitive to insulin. This increased sensitivity is thought to help transport an amino acid called tryptophan across the blood-brain barrier into the central nervous system. Tryptophan is converted into a neurotransmitter called serotonin; low levels of serotonin are associated with depression. Therefore, the more tryptophan that's transported by insulin, the more serotonin that's available in the brain.

Chromium might also help depression by inducing and enhancing the release of norepinephrine, another mood-regulating neurotransmitter.

Lastly, research in both animals and humans has shown that chromium seems to decrease the activity of a particular type of serotonin receptor called a 5-HT 2A receptor. Scientists haven't figured how this happens, but the effect is similar to that seen in people who've used antidepressants for a long time.

Effectiveness

So far, chromium has shown the most promise for treating subtypes of depression that affect carbohydrate cravings and appetite regulation, such as atypical depression. For example, one study showed that chromium may affect symptoms such as increased appetite and eating, carbohydrate cravings, and diurnal mood variation, a type of depression in which symptoms are worse in the morning but improve as the day goes on.

The research looking at chromium for treating depression is very preliminary, though, and findings have been mixed, so it's a long way from clear that chromium truly could be a viable treatment for depression.

Safety

The good news is, most people are able to take it without any problem; the most common side effects are trouble sleeping at the beginning of taking chromium supplements; lots of vivid dreams; and mild tremors. It's also generally safe, so if chromium does pan out as a potential treatment for depression it's likely to be easy for most people to use. Women who expecting or are breastfeeding a baby may be the one exception since chromium hasn't been tested for safety during pregnancy and lactation.

Dosage

According to research, the best tolerated and most easily absorbed form of chromium is chromium picolinate.

The typical recommended dose is in the range of 400 to 600 international units per day. Since chromium can interfere with sleep, it's a good idea to take it in the morning.

Chromium-Rich Foods

To get more chromium from food, look to these good sources: brewer's yeast, lean meats (especially processed meats), cheeses, pork kidney, whole-grain bread and cereals, molasses, spices, and some bran cereals.

Source:

Iovieno, Nadia, Elizabeth D. Dalton, Maurizio Fava and David Michoulon. "Second-tier Natural Antidepressants: Review and Critique." Journal of Affective Disorders. 130 (2011): 343-357.

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