Chromium, Sugar Cravings and Depression?

Nutrition

If you are finding yourself dealing with symptoms like sugar cravings, depression, and problems with managing your blood sugar, it could be that you are not getting enough of an important mineral called chromium.

What Is Chromium?

Chromium — in particular trivalent chromium (chromium 3+) — is a trace mineral found in certain foods.  It is a trace element because humans only need small amounts in order to maintain good health.

Trivalent chromium is different from hexavalent chromium (chromium 6+), which is a toxic byproduct of industrial processes.

For the purposes of this article, we are talking about trivalent chromium.

Why Is the SAD Diet Likely to Cause a Deficiency?

The typical Standard American Diet (SAD) is, unfortunately, very heavy on processed foods.  When these foods are produced, a great deal of their vitamin and mineral content is lost.  While food manufacturers do often attempt to make up for this by adding back in certain vitamins and minerals, the final products do not match with what would be found in the  plants prior to processing.

In addition, modern farming methods often produce plants which are lower in nutritional value that what they have historically been.   Soils are depleted of chromium without any being added back in through fertilizers.

Also problematic is the fact that the SAD diet contains large amounts of sugar.  Sugar consumption increases our need for chromium, which we are already getting in insufficient amounts.

The end result is a diet that is lacking in important nutrients like chromium.

Possible Symptoms of Deficiency

While severe chromium deficiency is rare in industrialized nations, subclinical deficiency is likely to be quite common due to the problems with our food supply.  In addition, since there is not really a good way to detect deficiency through laboratory testing, it is important to be aware of the its many possible signs and symptoms, such as:

  • Depression
  • Sugar cravings
  • Problems with blood sugar regulation
  • High cholesterol
  • High triglycerides
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Weight gain

Who Might Be Low in Chromium?

Some of the people who might be at particular risk for being low in chromium are those who:

  • Have atypical depression (a subtype of depression characterized by carbohydrate and sugar cravings, weight gain, fatigue and low mood)
  • Eat a lot of processed flour and sugar (SAD diet)
  • Have a great deal of trouble maintaining a healthy weight
  • Are experiencing problems with blood sugar control, for example, those with type II diabetes, reactive hypoglycemia, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome or polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • Have high cholesterol or triglycerides
  • Are experiencing intestinal malabsorption
  • Have had weight-loss surgery
  • Are dealing with intestinal infections
  • Have gone through trauma or injury
  • Exercise or work hard, but don’t get good nutrition
  • Are under a great deal of stress
  • Use drugs that impair stomach acid production, such as antacids, H2 blockers, proton pump inhibitors or corticosteroids
  • Are older
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Have eating disorders

How Chromium Might Help Depression

It’s not known exactly how chromium affects depression.  It may be through its action on insulin, the hormone that is responsible for blood sugar control.  Chromium increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin, helping cells absorb glucose from the blood stream.  Glucose is an important fuel for the brain so it may not be able to function properly if insulin sensitivity in the brain is lower due to inadequate chromium.

Insulin is also plays a role in the production of mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin.  Low serotonin levels may cause depression.

Chromium in particular seems to benefit those with atypical depression.  Atypical depression is a type of depression with symptoms such as carbohydrate cravings, weight gain, fatigue and mood swings.  A person with atypical depression may be able to feel somewhat better when a positive event occurs in their life.  They may also experience a feeling that their arms are heavy  (“leaden paralysis”).  In addition, they may be hypersensitive to criticism or rejection.

A study published in the September 2005 issue of the Journal of Psychiatric Practice found that those with atypical depression who received chromium supplementation had significant reductions in their symptoms of carbohydrate cravings, increased appetite and eating and mood swings.

Who Might Benefit From Getting More Chromium?

If you have atypical depression, then a trial with supplementation is something to consider.

If you have any of the chromium deficiency symptoms previously mentioned, such as sugar cravings, or you are at risk of chromium deficiency for any reason it might also be a good idea to get more of this important mineral.

How to Get More Chromium in Your Diet

The best way to improve your nutritional status and get more chromium is through a varied and balanced diet of unprocessed or minimally processed foods.  Some foods which you may want to increase your intake of include:

  • Vegetables like broccoli, green beans, leafy greens, potatoes, garlic, mushrooms and asparagus
  • Fruits like grapes, oranges, apples, bananas, pears, dates, prunes and tomatoes
  • Meats like beef, turkey, organ meats, mussels, oysters and herring
  • Nuts like Brazil nuts and hazel nuts
  • Whole grains like wheat, oats and barley
  • Milk and dairy products
  • Egg yolks
  • Culinary herbs like basil and pepper
  • Red wine
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Molasses

How to Use Supplements

Although it is important in the long-term to revamp your diet and begin eating healthful foods, in the short-term you may opt to take a dietary supplement in order to quickly treat any deficiency that you may have.

Chromium picolinate is the best-absorbed form.  The dosage used in studies regarding atypical depression is 600 mcg, but your own needs may vary.  Up to 1,000 mcg per day is considered to be safe.

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