Gut-Brain Psychology: Rethinking Psychology From the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis

Front Integr Neurosci. 2018 Sep 11;12:33. doi: 10.3389/fnint.2018.00033. eCollection 2018.


Mental disorders and neurological diseases are becoming a rapidly increasing medical burden. Although extensive studies have been conducted, the progress in developing effective therapies for these diseases has still been slow. The current dilemma reminds us that the human being is a superorganism. Only when we take the human self and its partner microbiota into consideration at the same time, can we better understand these diseases. Over the last few centuries, the partner microbiota has experienced tremendous change, much more than human genes, because of the modern transformations in diet, lifestyle, medical care, and so on, parallel to the modern epidemiological transition. Existing research indicates that gut microbiota plays an important role in this transition. According to gut-brain psychology, the gut microbiota is a crucial part of the gut-brain network, and it communicates with the brain via the microbiota-gut-brain axis. The gut microbiota almost develops synchronously with the gut-brain, brain, and mind. The gut microbiota influences various normal mental processes and mental phenomena, and is involved in the pathophysiology of numerous mental and neurological diseases. Targeting the microbiota in therapy for these diseases is a promising approach that is supported by three theories: the gut microbiota hypothesis, the "old friend" hypothesis, and the leaky gut theory. The effects of gut microbiota on the brain and behavior are fulfilled by the microbiota-gut-brain axis, which is mainly composed of the nervous pathway, endocrine pathway, and immune pathway. Undoubtedly, gut-brain psychology will bring great enhancement to psychology, neuroscience, and psychiatry. Various microbiota-improving methods including fecal microbiota transplantation, probiotics, prebiotics, a healthy diet, and healthy lifestyle have shown the capability to promote the function of the gut-brain, microbiota-gut-brain axis, and brain. It will be possible to harness the gut microbiota to improve brain and mental health and prevent and treat related diseases in the future.

Keywords: diet; gut-brain psychology; lifestyle; mental disorders; microbiota–gut–brain axis; modernization; nutritional psychology; superorganism.

Publication types

  • Review