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January 2008 Issue

James Eliassen, PhD, (left) and Robert Krikorian, PhD, evaluate fMRI scans captured during a memory test.
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Supplement May Improve Memory

Published January 2008

Aging adults with early memory decline may benefit from supplementation with chromium picolinate, say UC researchers.

Results of a small pilot study, led by Robert Krikorian, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at UC, suggest that chromium picolinate supplementation enhanced memory and motor function in older adults.

Chromium is a nutrient important to insulin signaling and has been shown to improve blood sugar control in patients with diabetes and insulin resistance. Picolinic acid (picolinate) is added to some chromium supplements to aid in absorption.

Insulin is a hormone that regulates how sugar (glucose) is stored and moved throughout the body and the brain. When glucose is not properly transported, the risk increases for a number of age-related disorders, including memory loss and dementia.

Insulin resistance—the body’s inability to use insulin efficiently—has been linked to physiological changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Based on his knowledge of insulin’s role in brain function, Krikorian hypothesized that chromium supplementation might improve memory and brain function in older adults suffering from early memory decline.

Krikorian and his team conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 21 older adults with early memory changes. Eleven study participants received 1,000 micrograms of chromium picolinate supplementation daily for 12 weeks. Ten study participants received a placebo.

The researchers assessed fine motor control and speed, and evaluated verbal memory by asking participants to learn and remember a list of words. Both assessments were performed prior to treatment and again during week 12.

A subset of participants was also evaluated using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The group was asked to perform a memory test during fMRI scans.

“Scans of participants receiving chromium picolinate supplementation showed greater activation of the left frontal and left parietal cortices of the brain during the memory test,” says Krikorian. “We did not see the same level of increased activity in the placebo group.

“Our findings suggest that chromium picolinate supplementation in older adults with early memory loss could enhance cognitive function,” says Krikorian.

“We would need to further evaluate this treatment option in
a larger study to truly assess the benefit and preventive potential.”

Nutrition 21, a New-York based nutritional bioscience company, provided funding and supplements for Krikorian’s study.

Study coauthors, all from UC, include Caleb Adler, MD, James Eliassen, PhD, and Marcelle Shidler, PhD. 

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