Breaking the Food-Depression Cycle


All too often, depression can literally feed on itself. Such is the case for the approximately eight million Americans who suffer from atypical depression, a variety of depression in which sufferers have an increased appetite leading to weight gain, sleeping too much, excessive lethargy and hypersensitivity to interpersonal rejection. Although atypical depression symptoms are quite apparent and they account for about 42% of the 19 million Americans who suffer from clinical depression, the problem frequently goes undiagnosed.


The good news for these people is that John P. Docherty, MD, CEO of Comprehensive NeuroScience Inc., and adjunct professor of psychiatry at Weill Medical College, Cornell University in New York City, headed a recent study that looked at the role of chromium salts in helping to control blood sugar, and in turn, cravings. I spoke with Dr. Docherty who says that the carbohydrates that patients overindulge in the most are not surprising — baked goods and pasta, both ranking high as comfort foods. But the resulting weight gain adds to patients’ depression, and can be a sort of double-whammy since a common side effect of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) — antidepressant medications, such as fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft) — is weight gain, as well.

The 113 participants in the eight-week study, all people with atypical depression and a mean body mass index (BMI) that was borderline obese, were randomized into a group taking up to 600 mg of chromium picolinate a day or a placebo group. The findings showed that the chromium picolinate group had a significant improvement — 65% versus 33% in the placebo group — in terms of decreased appetite and lowered carbohydrate craving.

Dr. Docherty says we don’t know exactly why chromium picolinate works to decrease carb cravings, but it probably has to do with the fact that it seems to enhance insulin regulation. (Many people with diabetes type 2 take it for this reason.) Daily Health News contributing editor Andrew L. Rubman, ND, however, adds that chromium seems to increase the sensitivity of chromium receptors, which in turn increases its effect on insulin regulation. The picolinate form of chromium was used in the study not because it’s the most effective form to use, but because it is the most widely available form. Chromium is abundantly available in whole-grains, seafood, green beans and broccoli, among other foods, though it can be safely supplemented with physician oversight. Diabetics especially should never start chromium supplements without medical supervision.

This research team will soon be doing further studies to understand chromium and carbohydrate craving, but in the meantime, Dr. Docherty stresses that it is important for all family members, friends and doctors to pay close attention when an individual starts to gain weight and seems unusually lethargic. These may well be signs that the person is suffering from depression and should be evaluated.