Sugar High: How Certain Flavours Act as Antidepressants

Chocolate addicts everywhere have long been aware that the dark stuff increases levels of serotonin, our body’s ‘feel-good’ chemical.  But new research has found that certain compounds which help make up the flavour in foods are strikingly similar to chemicals used in mood stabilising drugs.

Whilst many foods are associated with mood modification – such as a soothing cup of tea, or a comforting bowl of chicken soup – it’s only now that scientists have a direct comparison between the physiochemical and structural properties of certain flavour molecules and pharmaceutical antidepressants.

The research team, led by Dr Karina Marinez-Mayorga from the Torrey Pines Institute of Molecular Studies in the US, focused on foods that are suggested to have mood enhancing effects and found that many of the compounds shared a similar profile with that of valporic acid, a widely used prescription mood-stabilizing compound.

The team screened the flavour ingredients of over 1, 700 foods, searching for similarities in chemical structure to approved antidepressants, pharmaceutical drugs and other agents with reported anti-depressant or mood-enhancing effects.

What’s interesting is that the mood-enhancing effects are linked primarily to flavour, rather than a specific nutrient or chemical. 

Dr Martinez-Mayorga stated that: “molecules in chocolate, a variety of berries and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids have shown positive effects on mood”.

“The large body of evidence that chemicals found in chocolate, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, teas and certain foods could well be mood enhancers encourages the search for other mood modulators in food.”

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