"Molecules in chocolate, a variety of berries and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids have shown positive effects on mood," said Karina Martinez-Mayorga, now with the Chemistry Institute at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, but previously at the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies. "In turn, our studies show that some commonly used flavor components are structurally similar to valproic acid."
The study found the possibility of mood-enhancing effects associated with some flavors, stemming at least in part from natural ingredients bearing a striking chemical similarity to valproic acid -- a widely used prescription mood-stabilizing drug.
Valproic acid -- sold under brand names including Depakene, Depakote and Stavzor -- is used to smooth out the mood swings of people with manic-depressive disorder and related conditions.
The study involved use of techniques of chemoinformatics -- the application of informatic methods to solve chemical problems -- to screen the chemical structures of more than 1,700 food flavor ingredients for similarities to approved anti-depressants, marketed drugs and agents with reported antidepressant activity.
"It is important to remember that just eating foods that may improve mood is not a substitute for prescribed antidepressive drugs," Martinez-Mayorga said.
But for those not requiring medication, eating specific foods and living a healthful lifestyle can generally boost mood, she said.
The findings were presented at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia.