If you’ve ever self-medicated with cookies, chocolate or cupcakes what you may not know is that there’s a close link between feeling down and craving carbs. It’s not always clear if a dip in your mood is the excuse for your recent junk food binge, or if it’s the other way around, but one specific nutrient — chromium — is often behind your cravings. Read on to find out how this mineral is related to your sweet tooth, and what you can do to break the cycle.
Why chromium is related to cravings
The body uses chromium to manufacture a substance that helps with sugar metabolism and blood sugar balance — which will also plays a role in keeping your moods and appetite stable. One double-blind study of 42 overweight women found that chromium supplementation reduced food intake, hunger levels and fat cravings, leading to a lower body weight.
Chromium improves the body’s response to insulin — in fact, the symptoms of a chromium deficiency are similar to those with metabolic syndrome, a precursor to diabetes. In one study conducted at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, researchers demonstrated that glucose, insulin, cholesterol, and HbA1c levels (which measures blood sugar levels over time) improved in patients with type 2 diabetes after they received chromium supplements.
Boosting your happy hormones
The most common form of depression, known atypical depression, includes symptoms like mood swings, weight gain, carbohydrate cravings, fatigue, lethargy and increased sensitivity to rejection. Thankfully, there are natural ways to help.
Patients with depression responded positively to treatment with chromium in one study from the National Institute of Mental Health. The study’s 113 patients were given 600 mcg of chromium daily for eight weeks. During this time, their mood swings, carbohydrate cravings, fatigue and weight gain markedly improved. Those with the strongest carbohydrate cravings experienced the most significant improvement in their symptoms with chromium supplementation.
In a separate Duke University study written about in Psychology Today, researchers found that chromium supplementation significantly decreased symptoms of atypical depression, including the tendency to overeat.
Why does chromium help?
Chromium may offer relief from depression and carbohydrate cravings because it affects insulin to influence serotonin activity in our brain. Serotonin is our “happy hormone,” involved in mood, memory, food cravings, appetite regulation and healthy sleep patterns. Not surprisingly, as serotonin levels decline, the incidence of depression — and our cravings for carbs — naturally increases. In fact, some researchers now recommend that mental health professionals recognize carbohydrate cravings as a possible sign of a more serious underlying medical condition, like atypical depression.
When a patient comes to me with carbohydrate cravings, depression and weight gain, I often include chromium in their treatment protocol.
I recommend using chromium picolinate, the most absorbable form of chromium. Dosage is typically 200 to 600 mcg per day. Prediabetics or patients with type 2 diabetes often benefit from a higher dose of 800 to 1,000 mcg per day. The recommended daily intake for chromium is 25 mcg for adult females under age 50; as with all supplements, talk to your health care professional before making changes or additions to make sure they’re right for you.
Chromium is also found in several foods, including onions, romaine lettuce, potatoes, tomatoes, beef, and red wine. It’s hard to estimate exact amounts of chromium in foods because it can vary based on minerals in the soil they were grown in, but adding some of the ones known to be good sources of the mineral to your diet is another way to up your intake.
In addition to chromium, daily supplementation with 4 to 6 g of omega-3 fish oil and 4,000 to 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 has documented benefits for depression, anxiety, craving control and fat loss. Done together with a program that incorporates plenty of protein, healthy fats, low-glycemic carbohydrates, mindful meditation and plenty of exercise, you will find your mood lift and your cravings diminish.
Natasha Turner, N.D., is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet, The Supercharged Hormone Diet and The Carb Sensitivity Program. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show and The Marilyn Denis Show. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.
-Article originally published November 2011.