Next to the symptoms of a hormonal imbalance, many patients come to me because they can’t seem to shake that ‘down and depressed’ feeling or obsessive food cravings. But what many people don’t know is that cravings and mental-emotional imbalances can sometimes be caused by a specific vitamin or nutrient deficiency.
The first step to identifying the cause in any case, and ultimate best course of treatment, is to take a close look at the symptoms. The most common form of depression, known as atypical depression, appears with mood swings, weight gain, carbohydrate cravings, fatigue, lethargy, and increased sensitivity to rejection. The symptoms, however, may vary and be experienced repeatedly over a few days, weeks, or months at a time, including:
- changing sleep patterns: oversleeping or insomnia
- early morning waking or an inability to sleep in regardless of bedtime
- weight gain or loss
- loss of appetite or increased cravings for carbohydrates or sugar
- repeated negative thoughts
- increased use of alcohol or drugs
- failing to find enjoyment in previously enjoyable activities
- loss of motivation and withdrawal from friends and family
- poor concentration: an inability to watch TV or read
- mood swings
- some individuals may also experience heightened anxiety
- chronic low energy
- sensitivity to rejection or paranoia
- poor memory
Treatment for depression is typically through the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications like Prozac or Zoloft. But these drugs often have side effects, including sexual dysfunction, increased appetite, intensified carbohydrate carvings, and/or weight gain.
Thankfully there is hope for natural mood relief. According to a study reported at the 2004 National Institutes of Mental Health, patients with depression responded favorably to treatment with chromium, a mineral closely involved in healthy blood sugar balance and insulin response. The study involved 113 patients who were given 600 mcg of chromium daily for eight weeks. During this time, their mood swings, carbohydrate cravings, fatigue, and the perception of weight gain markedly improved. Those with the strongest carbohydrate cravings experienced the most significant improvement in symptoms with chromium supplementation.
Chromium: Our Happy Hormone
Relief from depressive symptoms and carbohydrate cravings may occur with chromium treatment because it acts on 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 recommended that mental health professionals recognize carbohydrate cravings as a possible sign of a more serious underlying medical condition, like atypical depression. It is probably safe to conclude that most depressed patients with carbohydrate cravings and weight gain should receive chromium supplements. Good nutrition and plenty of exercise can also promote successful treatment of depression.
Continue reading for a three-step plan to combat cravings and depression…