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20 August 2012
Food flavors examined for effects on mood

Scientists are looking into certain food flavors that bear a striking chemical similarity to valproic acid, a widely used prescription mood-stabilizing drug. Sold under brand names that include Depakene, Depakote and Stavzor, valproic acid is used to smooth out the mood swings of people with manic-depressive disorder and related conditions.

Mood-enhancing effects have previously been reported for chocolate, teas and some other comfort foods, notes lead researcher Karina Martinez-Mayorga, adding that research is being carried out, not just in the pharmaceutical industry, but in food and beverage industries as well. Martinez-Mayorga is presenting a study of more than 1,700 substances that make up the flavors of common foods at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society this week.

"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 Martinez-Mayorga, from the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

The search for mood modulators in food typically utilizes chemoinformatics - the application of informatic methods to solve chemical problems - to screen the chemical structures of food flavor ingredients for similarities to approved antidepressants, drugs and agents with reported antidepressant activity.

The main result so far in the ongoing project involves valproic acid. In the future, Martinez-Mayorga plans to move from the area of analyzing the database to actually begin testing the flavor/mood hypothesis experimentally. The end result may be dietary recommendations or new nutritional supplements with beneficial mood effects.

"[However], it is important to remember that just eating foods that may improve mood is not a substitute for prescribed antidepressive drugs," Martinez-Mayorga cautioned. And for people not requiring medication, she notes that eating specific foods and living a healthful lifestyle can generally boost mood.

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Source: American Chemical Society

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