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Mood foods: Researchers uncover why some food flavours affect disposition

By Nathan Gray+


Chocolate, berries, and tea could be naturally modifying your mood, according to new research that reveals certain compounds found in foods bear ‘striking’ similarity to chemicals used in mood stabilising drugs.

The study – presented at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society – analysed more than 1,700 natural compounds that help to make up the flavour of common foods. In particular the team focused on foods that are suggested to have mood enhancing effects.

Led by Dr Karina Martinez-Mayorga from the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies, USA, the research team compared the physicochemical and structural properties of the flavour molecules, with approved antidepressants, marketed drugs, and agents with reported antidepressant activity – finding that many flavour compounds are similar to valproic acid, a widely used prescription mood-stabilizing compound.

As a result, the team believes many flavours have the potential to act as mood modulators: “Molecules in chocolate, a variety of berries and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids have shown positive effects on mood,” noted Martinez-Mayorga.

"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 said.

Study details

Martinez-Mayorga noted that people have long recognised the potentially mood-altering properties of various foods.

Now her research group – backed by funding from Robertet Flavors, Inc and the State of Florida – are working to identify the chemical compounds that could moderate mood swings, help maintain cognitive health, improve mental alertness and maybe even delay the onset of memory loss. 
The latest study used chemoinformatics techniques to screen the chemical structures of more than 1,700 food flavour ingredients for similarities to approved antidepressants, marketed drugs and agents with reported antidepressant activity. 
The main result so far in the ongoing project involves valproic acid, she revealed.

However, in the future, Martinez-Mayorga said the team plans to move from the area of analyzing the database to actually begin testing the flavour/mood hypothesis experimentally. The end result may be dietary recommendations or new nutritional supplements with beneficial mood effects, she added. 

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