A double-blind, placebo-controlled human trial, presented yesterday at a conference of the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) New Clinical Drug Evaluation Unit (NCDEU), found that people with normally high levels of carbohydrate cravings experienced significant decrease in both cravings and depression after taking the supplement.
"This is the first indication that chromium picolinate may play an important role in the reduction of carbohydrate cravings in people with atypical depression," said John Docherty, president and chief executive officer of Comprehensive NeuroScience and principal investigator of the study.
"It also may offer a new treatment option for atypical depressed patients with carbohydrate cravings who find it difficult to stay on current prescription medication because of the common side effects of sexual dysfunction and weight gain," he added.
Atypical depression is a common, but frequently undiagnosed, form of depression affecting up to 40 million Americans. It is characterized by a distinct combination of symptoms that include mood swings, carbohydrate cravings, weight gain, rejection sensitivity and lethargy.
The findings broaden the potential applications for chromium picolinate, currently marketed primarily as an ingredient in weight loss or sports nutrition supplements.
However Nutrition 21, which commissioned the study, is also researching chromium picolinate's use as a diabetes management therapy, based on evidence showing that it enhances insulin sensitivity and improves blood sugar metabolism.
In addition, the new findings build on a recent pilot study carried out at Duke University and published in the Journal of Biological Psychiatry (2003;53:261-264). It showed "promising antidepressant effects in atypical depression".
Malcolm McLeod, a practicing psychiatrist, who collaborated on the Duke University study, called chromium picolinate "a real breakthrough in providing safe and simple relief of atypical depression symptoms, many of which currently go untreated".
Demand for nutritional therapy for depressed populations is growing.According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, an estimated 22.1 per cent of Americans ages 18 and older - about one in 5 adults - suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. This figure translates to approximately 44.3 million people.
The multi-center study of 113 patients found that daily supplementation with 600mcg of chromium as chromium picolinate, significantly reduced carbohydrate cravings compared to placebo, and improved other symptoms such as mood swings, fatigue and weight gain perception.
The results also show that people with the highest levels of carbohydrate cravings had the most significant reduction in depressive symptoms.
Researchers hypothesize that chromium's essential role in insulin function may be the link between chromium, carbohydrate cravings and atypical depression. Insulin has effects on metabolic function that may impact serotonin levels in the brain.
Impaired insulin function, which leads to poor glycemic control, is linked to a number of health conditions including diabetes, where the increased incidence of depression is two times greater than in normal populations. Numerous clinical studies show that supplementation with chromium picolinate helps improve insulin insensitivity and diabetes.
Additional data on chromium picolinate and carbohydrate cravings in atypical depression will be presented at the Collegium Internationale Neuro- Psychopharmacologium (CINP) in Paris in late June.