Apparently the pleasure of chocolate-covered strawberries involves more than just flavor. Scientists say they have discovered another reason why certain foods feel so good to eat. Researchers analyzing the chemistry of more than 1,700 different foods have identified natural ingredients that have similar chemical structures to valproic acid, a widely prescribed mood-stabilizing drug.
Food and mood
For generations, it hasn’t taken a scientist to discover the mood-altering properties of certain foods. Today, the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries are commissioning research that aims to exploit the natural ingredients of mood-altering foods for profit.
Karina Martinez-Mayorga leads a research team studying the effects of food flavors on mood. In a recent presentation to the National Meeting & Exposition of the
American Chemical Society on August 19, she described research using a technique called chemoinformatics to identify the chemical compounds that moderate mood swings, help maintain cognitive health, improve mental alertness and delay age-related cognitive decline.
Chemoinformatics involves using information technology to analyze massive amounts of chemistry data. Technicians called chemical informaticians organize known scientific data into systems that help chemists make predictions about the properties of chemical substances that could lead to the development of new compounds and materials.
The researchers used chemoinformatics to screen the chemical structures of more than 1,700 food flavor ingredients for similarities to antidepressant drugs currently on the market. They found that molecules in certain foods known to have a positive effect on mood, including chocolate, a variety of berries and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, have flavor components are structurally similar to valproic acid.
Stabilize mood swings
Valproic acid is marketed with brand names such as Depakene, Depakote and Stavzor, pharmaceuticals prescribed to help stabilize mood swings for people with manic-depressive disorder and related conditions.
So far, evidence that chocolate and strawberries bear chemical structures similar to Depakene and Stavzor exists only on paper. Martinez-Mayorga said that her team is making plans to use the information gleaned from analyzing the database to actually test the effects of food flavors on mood in a clinical environment.
Boost your mood
Eventually the research could lead to new dietary recommendations for mood-affected individuals or nutritional supplements mood-altering effects. But Martinez-Mayorga, whose research is commissioned by the pharmaceutical industry, said that consuming chocolate, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and teas is no substitute for prescribed antidepressant drugs.
Meantime, people who don’t need medication can boost their moods with a healthy diet and by living a healthy lifestyle overall.