Two compounds found in red wine, dark chocolate, coffee,  grapes, and blueberries can be used to treat depression, according to a study published by a researcher with the School of Neuroscience at Virginia Tech.

The finding does not mean that people who suffer from depression should eat a bar of dark chocolate or drink a bottle of red wine as self-treatment. The amounts of the compounds — dihydrocaffeic acid (commonly referred to as DHCA) and malvidin-3’-O-glucoside (common name, Mal-gluc) — are too small in the foods and drink, making the effects nil through any acceptable human diet.

Rather, the Nature Communications-published study focuses on the compounds themselves, combined and administered in lab experiments with mice via drinking water, said co-author Georgia Hodes, an assistant professor of neuroscience in the Virginia Tech College of Science. The findings have not been tested on people yet and would need to be tested for safety and efficacy in humans before clinical trial.

“Our hope is that we can develop a new treatment for depression that directly modifies physiological targets we know are altered in depressive patients and by animal models,” Hodes said. “All current treatments for depression were discovered by chance. They were testing them for other purposes and found out that they made people feel better. Here we are creating a new treatment that is based on what we know goes wrong in humans and animal models in both the brain and the body.”

“This is a new way of thinking about treating depression,” Hodes said. “The compound we developed works by targeting inflammation in the body and plasticity in the brain. We took this approach because these are factors that we know are altered by depression in humans. This is one of the first compounds that was developed to directly alter identified molecular mechanisms of depression.”

She added, “One of the things I think is really important about this study was that we used two different animal models of depression, one in males and one in females, and the compound was equally effective in both sexes. Most studies still do not include females even though there is a higher incidence of depression in women than men.”

Hodes said her team was able to block the effects of stress on behavior and could take models that showed stress susceptibility, treat them for two weeks with the compound, retest them, and found they no longer expressed the depression-associated behavior. She called the treatment both “prophylactic and therapeutic.”

Hodes contributed to the work while she was a post-doctoral researcher at the Friedman Brain Institute. It was published within the same week that Hodes published a review paper with Virginia Tech School of Neuroscience post-doctorate researcher Jennifer R. Rainville and translational biology, medicine, and health program graduate student Mariya Tsyglakova. The Frontiers in Neuroendcrinology-published paper identifies how the immune system contributes to depression differently in males and females.


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