Diet and the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis: Sowing the Seeds of Good Mental Health

Adv Nutr. 2021 Jul 30;12(4):1239-1285. doi: 10.1093/advances/nmaa181.


Over the past decade, the gut microbiota has emerged as a key component in regulating brain processes and behavior. Diet is one of the major factors involved in shaping the gut microbiota composition across the lifespan. However, whether and how diet can affect the brain via its effects on the microbiota is only now beginning to receive attention. Several mechanisms for gut-to-brain communication have been identified, including microbial metabolites, immune, neuronal, and metabolic pathways, some of which could be prone to dietary modulation. Animal studies investigating the potential of nutritional interventions on the microbiota-gut-brain axis have led to advancements in our understanding of the role of diet in this bidirectional communication. In this review, we summarize the current state of the literature triangulating diet, microbiota, and host behavior/brain processes and discuss potential underlying mechanisms. Additionally, determinants of the responsiveness to a dietary intervention and evidence for the microbiota as an underlying modulator of the effect of diet on brain health are outlined. In particular, we emphasize the understudied use of whole-dietary approaches in this endeavor and the need for greater evidence from clinical populations. While promising results are reported, additional data, specifically from clinical cohorts, are required to provide evidence-based recommendations for the development of microbiota-targeted, whole-dietary strategies to improve brain and mental health.

Keywords: behavior; brain; diet; gut–brain axis; mechanisms; mental health; microbiota; nutrition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain
  • Diet
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Microbiota*