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Interest in Chromium

Recently there has been great interest in a trace element called chromium. (Trace elements are metals, such as zinc or copper, that are found in very small amounts in the human body and are necessary for various vital functions.) It has been known for many years that chromium is essential for the way our bodies handle sugar. Chromium deficiency makes it hard for cells and tissues to make use of glucose, a simple sugar. This problem is especially serious in people with diabetes, in whom deficiency of the hormone insulin already creates problems with high blood sugar. But the role of chromium in depression is only now emerging. A recent study by Dr. Malcolm McLeod and his colleagues investigated the use of chromium in five patients with a chronic form of depression called dysthymia. In one case, a patient who had not responded well to a Prozac-type antidepressant decided on his own to add chromium to his medication. Within a few days he was feeling dramatically better. Several other cases reported by McLeod also seemed to show marked improvement when chromium was added to the patients' regular antidepressant medication.

Don't Believe It Yet

While such case reports are intriguing, they must be viewed with some skepticism. Large-scale, controlled studies must be conducted before anyone with chronic depression should rush out and demand to be started on chromium -- much less take this element without a doctor's supervision. Furthermore, there has been at least one reported case of a patient becoming manic (extremely agitated and excited) after taking an over-the-counter compound called ma-huang -- which contains chromium, caffeine, and a powerful stimulant called ephedrine. Ma-huang is often sold as a Chinese herb, and is a good example of why so-called natural products must be approached very cautiously. Nevertheless, the chromium story is of great interest and may someday give us a new way of approaching the treatment of depression. In the meantime, check with your doctor if you feel severely or persistently depressed.

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