Nutrition Research Reviews

Research Articles

The role of functional foods in the psychobiology of health and disease

Mark Hamera1 c1, Gail Owena2 and Joris Kloeka2

a1 Psychobiology Group, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, 1–19 Torrington Place, ondon WC1E 6BT, UK

a2 Unilever Health Institute, Unilever R&D, Vlaardingen, The Netherlands


The effect of psychological stress on health is becoming a serious concern, with figures from the World Health Organization showing that stress-related disorders affect nearly 450 million individuals worldwide. Heightened physiological stress responses and psychosocial factors have been linked to disease pathways such as hypertension and CVD. This has prompted significant interest within the scientific community, public health bodies and industry to employ interventions to control and reduce the impact of stress on health. There is now strong potential for functional foods to offer stress management benefits. Various physiological pathways have been targeted by specific dietary supplements for stress reduction, including the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis and sympathetic nervous system. Presently there are a number of ingredients, which include vitamin C, milk proteins, a number of herbal extracts (ginkgo biloba, ginseng, kava, valerian and lemon balm), and n-3 fatty acids, that have demonstrated potential stress reactivity-lowering and mood-enhancing effects, although further work is required to substantiate the efficacy in human subjects. Dietary supplements that can alleviate excessive stress responses may play an increasingly important role for the maintenance of health in a stressful environment. However, future research should employ a greater range of measures that will provide stronger evidence to substantiate functional food claims for stress relief.


c1 *Corresponding author: Dr Mark Hamer, fax +44 20 7916 8542, email