Diet, Stress and Mental Health

Nutrients. 2020 Aug 13;12(8):2428. doi: 10.3390/nu12082428.


Introduction: There has long been an interest in the effects of diet on mental health, and the interaction of the two with stress; however, the nature of these relationships is not well understood. Although associations between diet, obesity and the related metabolic syndrome (MetS), stress, and mental disorders exist, causal pathways have not been established.

Methods: We reviewed the literature on the relationship between diet, stress, obesity and psychiatric disorders related to stress.

Results: Diet and obesity can affect mood through direct effects, or stress-related mental disorders could lead to changes in diet habits that affect weight. Alternatively, common factors such as stress or predisposition could lead to both obesity and stress-related mental disorders, such as depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Specific aspects of diet can lead to acute changes in mood as well as stimulate inflammation, which has led to efforts to assess polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) as a treatment for depression. Bidirectional relationships between these different factors are also likely. Finally, there has been increased attention recently on the relationship between the gut and the brain, with the realization that the gut microbiome has an influence on brain function and probably also mood and behavior, introducing another way diet can influence mental health and disorders. Brain areas and neurotransmitters and neuropeptides that are involved in both mood and appetite likely play a role in mediating this relationship.

Conclusions: Understanding the relationship between diet, stress and mood and behavior could have important implications for the treatment of both stress-related mental disorders and obesity.

Keywords: Mediterranean diet; brain; cardiovascular disease; child abuse; coronary artery disease; depressive disorder; diet; galanin; ghrelin; metabolic syndrome; microbiome; myocardial ischemia; nutrition; obesity; posttraumatic; serotonin; somatostatin; stress disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / microbiology
  • Depression / diet therapy
  • Depression / etiology
  • Depression / metabolism
  • Diet / psychology*
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / pharmacology
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / etiology
  • Mental Disorders / metabolism*
  • Mental Health*
  • Neuropeptides / metabolism
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diet therapy
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / etiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / metabolism*
  • Stress, Psychological / diet therapy
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*


  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Neuropeptides
  • Neurotransmitter Agents