The Health Benefits of Chromium Supplements for Depression

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Chromium is a mineral found in very small amounts from food. This mineral can be found in two main forms: trivalent, which is the kind that people can consume in food and supplements, and hexavalent, which is toxic and found industrial pollution.

It's known to be involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. It also may help with insulin resistance, which is a precursor to diabetes. Chromium nutritional supplements often are sold to help with weight loss (although it's not clear that it actually works as a diet aid). Supplements of chromium also are thought to be a potential treatment for depression.

Before you head to health food store to pick some up, though, find out how chromium is believed to work and, of course, check with your doctor before you take any medication or nutritional supplement.

Health Benefits

There are a few theories about why chromium might help relieve depression. One, based on early-stage animal studies, has to do with the way chromium causes cells to be more sensitive to insulin. This increased sensitivity is thought to help transport an amino acid called tryptophan across the blood-brain barrier into the central nervous system. Tryptophan is converted into a neurotransmitter called serotonin; low levels of serotonin are associated with depression. Therefore, the more tryptophan that's transported by insulin, the more serotonin that's available in the brain.

Chromium might also help depression by inducing and enhancing the release of norepinephrine, another mood-regulating neurotransmitter. Lastly, research in both animals and humans has shown that chromium seems to decrease the activity of a particular type of serotonin receptor called a 5-HT 2A receptor. Scientists haven't figured how this happens, but the effect is similar to that seen in people who've used antidepressants for a long time.

Effectiveness

So far, chromium has shown the most promise for treating subtypes of depression that affect carbohydrate cravings and appetite regulation, such as atypical depression. For example, one study showed that chromium may affect symptoms such as increased appetite and eating, carbohydrate cravings, and diurnal mood variation, a type of depression in which symptoms are worse in the morning but improve as the day goes on.

The research looking at chromium for treating depression is very preliminary, though, and findings have been mixed, so it's a long way from clear that chromium truly could be a viable treatment for depression.

Possible Side Effects

The good news is, most people are able to take chromium without any problem.

The most common side effects are trouble sleeping at the beginning of taking chromium supplements; lots of vivid dreams; and mild tremors. It's also generally safe, so if chromium does pan out as a potential treatment for depression it's likely to be easy for most people to use.

Women who expecting or are breastfeeding a baby may be the one exception since chromium hasn't been tested for safety during pregnancy and lactation.

Dosage and Preparation

According to research, the best tolerated and most easily absorbed form of chromium is chromium picolinate. Because it is unknown how much chromium people need, there are no recommended dietary allowances for this supplement.

Adequate Intakes (AI) for Chromium
Age Male
(mcg/day)
Female
(mcg/day)
9-13 years 25 21
14-18 years 35 24
19-50 years 35 25
Over 50 years 30 29
The National Academy of Science established adequate intake amounts for chromium in 1989.

The National Institutes of Health reports that adult women average between 23 and 29 mcg of chromium from food, which meets their adequate intake needs. Men, on the other hand, take in an average of 39 to 54 mcg per day from food, which means they exceed the recommended adequate intake amounts.

Interactions

Certain medications can interact with chromium. In some cases, medications may impair or increase the absorption in chromium. In other instances, chromium may interfere with or enhance the effects of medications. 

Talk to your doctor before taking chromium if you are currently taking any of the following:

  • Beta-blockers
  • Insulin
  • Nicotinic acid
  • Prostaglandin inhibitors (including ibuprofen and aspirin)
  • Corticosteroids
  • Antacids
  • H2 blockers
  • Proton-pump inhibitors
  • Levothyroxine

Precautions

Since chromium can interfere with sleep, it's a good idea to take it in the morning.

Do not take chromium supplements if you are pregnant or breastfeeding and do not give supplements to children as the effects and safety have not been established.

Contraindications

If you have kidney disease, liver disease, or diabetes, avoid taking chromium supplements or talk to your doctor first. There are some cases of chromium supplements leading to kidney damage and evidence that they can cause liver damage, so you should not take these mineral supplements if you already have a kidney or liver problem. Because chromium may affect your insulin levels, you need to monitor your blood sugar closely if you have diabetes.

What to Look For

Most people meet or exceed their adequate intake levels of chromium through diet alone. If you do decide to take a chromium supplement, choose one from a reputable brand and retailer. Always follow the dosage recommendations and talk to your doctor about any potential interactions or concerns beforehand.

To get more chromium from food, look to these good sources: 

  • Broccoli
  • Brewer's yeast
  • Lean meats (especially processed meats)
  • Cheeses
  • Beef
  • Poultry
  • Whole-grain bread and cereals
  • Molasses
  • Spices
  • Some bran cereals
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Grape juice

Other Questions

What happens if people become deficient in chromium?

Early animal research conducted in the 1960s found that chromium deficiency could lead to poorly controlled blood sugar levels. Chromium deficiency in humans is thought to be very rare. 

What are the risks of taking too much chromium?

There is no established upper intake limit for chromium. There are few serious negative side effects associated with high chromium intake levels. 

A Word From Verywell

More large scale studies are needed to investigate the potential health benefits of chromium, including the effects this mineral may have on symptoms of depression. While there are few adverse effects associated with taking chromium supplements, your best bet is to focus on getting an adequate daily amount through food by following a healthy diet.

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