Dietary Neurotransmitters: A Narrative Review on Current Knowledge

Nutrients. 2018 May 10;10(5):591. doi: 10.3390/nu10050591.


Foods are natural sources of substances that may exert crucial effects on the nervous system in humans. Some of these substances are the neurotransmitters (NTs) acetylcholine (ACh), the modified amino acids glutamate and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and the biogenic amines dopamine, serotonin (5-HT), and histamine. In neuropsychiatry, progressive integration of dietary approaches in clinical routine made it necessary to discern the more about some of these dietary NTs. Relevant books and literature from PubMed and Scopus databases were searched for data on food sources of Ach, glutamate, GABA, dopamine, 5-HT, and histamine. Different animal foods, fruits, edible plants, roots, and botanicals were reported to contain NTs. These substances can either be naturally present, as part of essential metabolic processes and ecological interactions, or derive from controlled/uncontrolled food technology processes. Ripening time, methods of preservation and cooking, and microbial activity further contributes to NTs. Moreover, gut microbiota are considerable sources of NTs. However, the significance of dietary NTs intake needs to be further investigated as there are no significant data on their bioavailability, neuronal/non neuronal effects, or clinical implications. Evidence-based interventions studies should be encouraged.

Keywords: acetylcholine; diet, food, and nutrition; dopamine; functional foods; gamma-aminobutyric acid; glutamate; gut microbiota; histamine; neurotransmitters; serotonin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / administration & dosage
  • Biogenic Amines / administration & dosage
  • Diet*
  • Dopamine / administration & dosage
  • Food Analysis
  • Glutamic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Histamine / administration & dosage
  • Humans
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Serotonin / administration & dosage
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / administration & dosage


  • Biogenic Amines
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Serotonin
  • Glutamic Acid
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Histamine
  • Acetylcholine
  • Dopamine