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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry

Eva M Selhub1*, Alan C Logan2 and Alison C Bested3

Author Affiliations

1 Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, 40 Crescent St., Suite 201, Waltham, MA 02453, USA

2 CAMNR, 23679 Calabasas Road Suite 542, Calabasas, CA 91302, USA

3 Complex Chronic Diseases Program, BC Women’s Hospital and Health Centre, B223A-4500 Oak Street, Vancouver, BC V6H 3N1, Canada

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Journal of Physiological Anthropology 2014, 33:2  doi:10.1186/1880-6805-33-2

Published: 15 January 2014


The purposeful application of fermentation in food and beverage preparation, as a means to provide palatability, nutritional value, preservative, and medicinal properties, is an ancient practice. Fermented foods and beverages continue to make a significant contribution to the overall patterns of traditional dietary practices. As our knowledge of the human microbiome increases, including its connection to mental health (for example, anxiety and depression), it is becoming increasingly clear that there are untold connections between our resident microbes and many aspects of physiology. Of relevance to this research are new findings concerning the ways in which fermentation alters dietary items pre-consumption, and in turn, the ways in which fermentation-enriched chemicals (for example, lactoferrin, bioactive peptides) and newly formed phytochemicals (for example, unique flavonoids) may act upon our own intestinal microbiota profile. Here, we argue that the consumption of fermented foods may be particularly relevant to the emerging research linking traditional dietary practices and positive mental health. The extent to which traditional dietary items may mitigate inflammation and oxidative stress may be controlled, at least to some degree, by microbiota. It is our contention that properly controlled fermentation may often amplify the specific nutrient and phytochemical content of foods, the ultimate value of which may associated with mental health; furthermore, we also argue that the microbes (for example, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species) associated with fermented foods may also influence brain health via direct and indirect pathways.