Mental Health Disorders Associated with Foodborne Pathogens

J Food Prot. 2016 Nov;79(11):2005-2017. doi: 10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-15-587.


Human infections with foodborne pathogenic organisms are relatively well described in terms of their overt physical symptoms, such as diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, fever, and associated sequelae. Indeed, some of these are key for diagnosis and treatment, although it should be noted that, for some foodborne pathogens, the physical symptoms might be more diffuse, particularly those associated with some of the foodborne parasites. In contrast, the impact of these pathogens on mental health is less well described, and symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and general malaise are usually ignored when foodborne infections are recorded. Despite this, it is generally accepted that there are several psychiatric disorders of unknown etiology that may be associated with microbial pathogens. Depression, autism, hypochondriasis and anxiety, schizophrenia, and Tourette syndrome probably have multiple contributing causes, among which foodborne pathogens may play a decisive or contributory role, possibly sharing pathophysiological pathways with other environmental triggers. This review focuses on foodborne parasites and bacterial pathogens. Some foodborne parasites, such as metacestodes of Taenia solium and tissue cysts (bradyzoites) of Toxoplasma gondii , may affect mental health by directly infecting the brain. In contrast, bacterial infections and other parasitic infections may contribute to mental illness via the immune system and/or by influencing neurotransmission pathways. Thus, cytokines, for example, have been associated with depression and schizophrenia. However, infectious disease models for psychiatry require a more complete understanding of the relationship between psychiatric disorders and microbial triggers. This article reviews the current state of knowledge on the role of foodborne parasitic and bacterial pathogens in mental illness and identifies some of the gaps that should be addressed to improve diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues that are not solely related to psychiatric factors.

Keywords: Bacteria; Foodborne pathogens; Mental health; Parasites.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Infections
  • Foodborne Diseases*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health*
  • Toxoplasma