Can the company you keep affect your gut health? New research is showing it very well might.
In the last few years your gut bacteria—or your microbiome—have been under all kinds of examination. Researchers have learned that the microbes in your gut and digestive system can play a major role in how your body breaks down food, absorbs vitamins, expels waste, fights infections, and develops immune strength. In addition, microbe diversity is linked to obesity, diabetes, Crohn’s, and other diseases. Essentially, it is becoming increasingly evident that your microbiome is central to your overall health.
So far, the general knowledge concerning microbiome diversity is that it’s determined by genetics and diet. But new research is now supporting the theory that your social life might also play a role.
Being Social Boosts Gut Health in Chimps: Study
A multi-institutional study by some prominent universities—including Duke—has been monitoring gut microbial diversity in chimpanzees in Tanzania. They’ve discovered that during more social times of the year, when chimpanzees spend time together, the diversity of their individual microbiomes expands. In the other, more lonesome time of the year when they spend more time by themselves, gut bacterial diversity shrinks by 20-25%.
If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. When you’re sitting on the bus or in a waiting room and somebody coughs, for example, you worry about getting ill. You’re constantly reminded to wash your hands when you come in from public places to do away with any infectious bacteria you may have come into contact with. Well, if we can contract viral bacteria in the public sphere, why can’t we contract healthful ones?
Healthy Gut Bacteria Benefits the Immune System
Chimpanzees and humans have very similar bacteria species in their guts, so these findings are comparable.
Now, obviously we live a different lifestyle than chimpanzees—we wear clothing and shoes, eat prepared food…but we do share about 98% of our genes with them. And many of the same bacteria they are exposed to, we are, too. So the parallels in this study might be a little closer than you’d think at first sight.
The benefits of social interaction are far-reaching for your health. It defends against depression, encourages happiness, fights cognitive decline, and now may actually improve your physical health, too, by enhancing the diversity of your microbiome.
Source for Today’s Article:
“Gregarious chimps harbor richer gut microbiomes,” ScienceDaily web site, January 16, 2016; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160116214740.htm.