New research reveals that some common foods enhance moods with a striking similarity to valproic acid, a widely used prescription mood-stabilizing drug.
“Molecules in chocolate, a variety of berries and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids have shown positive effects on mood. In turn, our studies show that some commonly used flavor components are structurally similar to valproic acid,” said Karina Martinez-Mayorga, Ph.D., leader of the research team, which presented its findings at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.
Valproic acid, which is sold under brand names such as Depakene, Depakote and Stavzor, is used to smooth out the mood swings of people with manic-depressive disorder and related conditions, she said.
“The large body of evidence that chemicals in chocolate, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, teas and certain foods could well be mood-enhancers encourages the search for other mood modulators in food,” she added.
While people have recognized the mood-altering properties of food for years, Martinez-Mayorga’s team is looking to identify the chemical compounds that moderate mood swings, help maintain cognitive health, improve mental alertness and delay the onset of memory loss.
Her study involved the use of techniques associated with chemoinformatics ― the application of informatic methods to solve chemical problems ― to screen the chemical structures of more than 1,700 food ingredients for similarities to antidepressant drugs and other agents with reported antidepressant activity.
She noted her team plans to move from analyzing the database to actually testing the flavor/mood hypothesis experimentally. The end result may be dietary recommendations or new nutritional supplements with beneficial mood effects, she said.
“It is important to remember that just eating foods that may improve mood is not a substitute for prescribed antidepressive drugs,” Martinez-Mayorga cautioned.
She added that eating specific foods and living a healthful lifestyle can generally boost moods for people who don’t require medication.
Karina Martinez-Mayorga, Ph.D., who described research done while working at the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies, is now with the Chemistry Institute at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Source: The American Chemical Society