Recognizing depression is the first necessary step to recovery. 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
The most common form of depression, atypical depression, appears with mood swings, weight gain, carbohydrate cravings, fatigue, lethargy, and increased sensitivity to rejection.
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.
Mastering Mood Swings
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 favourably to treatment with chromium picolinate, a mineral closely involved in healthy blood sugar balance and insulin response.
The study involved 113 patients who were given 600 mcg of chromium picolinate 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.
Other researchers have found chromium polynicotinate to be effective in the treatment of depression. This is especially important for us as Canadians, since chromium picolinate is not available for sale here due to new conflicting evidence that suggests it might harm our DNA.
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.
A Three-Step Action Plan to Combat Cravings and Mood Concerns
In addition to the use of supplements containing chromium, you can use the following three simple tips to prevent cravings and mood concerns:
1. Stay active: Aerobic exercise has documented benefits in the treatment and prevention of depression. It reduces anxiety, improves mental clarity, and is most beneficial if consistently completed at a minimum of 24 hours to a maximum 48 hours apart.
2. Eat right: Strictly avoid sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and by limiting foods that can cause allergies or sensitivities (such as wheat) because of their potential negative impact on your brain chemistry. Because skipping a meal is also a physical stress on the body that can exacerbate anxiety or depression symptoms, maintaining stable blood sugars by eating a combination of lean protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates every three to four hours, can be very helpful.
3. Boost your nutrients: In addition to chromium, daily supplementation with 4 to 6 grams of omega-3 fish oil and 2000 – 5000IU vitamin D3 has documented benefits for depression, anxiety, craving control and fat loss.