Like in everything else in our culture — from hula hoops to Paris Hilton — nutritional supplements
can become "hot" for a minute, and then fade from view. As often as not this happens for the same
reasons as any fad fades — our collective A.D.D. attention span focuses for a minute and then, just
as quickly, moves on. Sometimes that's a good thing: the supplement was a flash in the pan. But
sometimes we just stop paying attention because something newer (hoodia, anyone?) comes on the scene
and grabs our synapses for another hot minute, usually for about as long as a Britney Spears
It's been like that with chromium. Long touted as a life raft for those with blood sugar and
insulin problems, it kind of faded from the spotlight. This was partly due to some nasty rumors
of chromosome damage (which turned out to be based on very poor and unduplicatable test-tube
research mixed with some nasty patent politics), and partly due to chromium simply entering
the mainstream arsenal of nutritional supplements and no longer being the new kid on the block.
Maybe it's time to take a second look.
My own second look was prompted by the arrival of an interesting new book called "Lifting Depression"
by Malcolm Noell McLeod, MD, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and a clinical professor of psychiatry at
the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill. The book jacket blurb tells the
story: "A psychiatrist's unrelenting search to help his patients overcome depression and the medical
discovery that changed their lives."
The subtitle of the book: "The Chromium Connection."
I thought so.
Let me give you the speedreading version first: McLeod believes the chromium may be the key to
relieving depression, especially in cases of what is termed "atypical depression." A person with
this type of depression would feel down or blue, and also have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Early age of onset (before age 30)
- Excessive hunger or weight gain when depressed (believe it or not, lots of depressed people
stop eating and lose weight!)
- Unexplained exhaustion
- Mood reactivity (the depressed mood of people with atypical depression can lift in response
to favorable events, but depression soon returns. This symptom may apply more to women than men)
- Sensitivity to any perceived criticism or rejection
- Excessive sleeping (which is typically not restful)
I'll spare you the endless detective work Dr. McLeod went through to discover chromium's effect on
depression, but discover it he did. His theory is that there is a relationship between glucose
metabolism, insulin resistance and depression. In an article he published in the International Journal
of Neuropsychopharmacology he offered the hypothesis that chromium helps depression by increasing the
sensitivity of the body to insulin and improving glucose metabolism, which result in an increase in
brain chemicals (catecholamines and serotonin) involved in depression.
Do a little homework and you'll probably discover that the good doc may be onto something. There
definitely seems to be a connection between insulin resistance, diabetes and depression. Several
studies suggest that diabetes doubles the risk of depression. According to an evaluation of 20
studies over the past 10 years, the prevalence rate of major depression in diabetics is three to
four times greater than in the general population. A Kaiser Permanente study of some 1680 subjects
found that those with diabetes were more likely to have been treated for depression within six
months before their diabetes diagnosis. And a 2004 Johns Hopkins study tracking 11,615 nondiabetic
adults aged 48-67 over six years found that "depressive symptoms predicted the incidence of type
To quote the lyrics from a Buffalo Springfield song of long ago, "There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear."
Causes underlying the association between diabetes, insulin resistance and depression are indeed unclear,
but according to the National Institute of Health website, studies are ongoing to identify the links.
Point is this: helping insulin do its job better — which chromium does — can do nothing but help. And
for the patients of Dr. McCleod, chromium — even by itself — was noticeably effective in improving symptoms
and mood in both depression and PMS.
McCleod used chromium picolinate which is the most absorbable form of chromium, but there's no reason to believe
that the excellent Chromium Synergy (which contains supportive nutrients to help chromium do its job better) wouldn't
work just as well. He typically used dosages of 200 mcg, but recommends anywhere from 400-1000 mcg a day. Chromium is
one of the safest nutritional supplements on the market.
No one is claiming that chromium will cure depression. (McLeod is very frank about the fact that it didn't work
for a small minority of patients in his studies, and no one really knows why). But it sounds like a great
tool to put in the arsenal.
But why stop there?
I've argued for eons that omega-3 fats are one of the best supplements anyone on the planet can take for many
reasons, not the least of which is that they have an effect on depression and mood. Nearly all studies of
depression (as well as a myriad of other problems) show extremely low levels of omega 3's. McLeod recommends
using 3 grams a day till mood improves and then tritrating down to 1 gram (though I would argue that the
extra dose only helps).
And while we're on the subject of depression, let's not forget to mention 5-HTP. Remember, what all
antidepressants medications are about is increasing serotonin in the brain, one way or the other. Tryptophan
converts to 5-HTP which, with the help of vitamin B6, converts to serotonin. 5-HTP is always one of my first
choices for lifting mild depression. I recommend 600 mg a day in divided dosages. Folic acid, in substantial
dosages like 5 mg (not mcg), obtainable through a liquid (like Super Liquid Folate) might help as well.
Depression is nasty. It's not fun. And it's also not a Prozac deficiency. While antidepressants can
definitely save lives and help transition people through some very difficult times, wouldn't it be great
if there were some natural nutrients that could work just as well, and maybe improve the outcome across
the board? McLeod's book has argued that it may be time to give chromium a second look.
I think he's right.
Visit the Jonny
Bowden Solutions website.