Does your partner affect your gut health?
We’re asking the big questions for Valentine’s Day.
There are all sorts of external factors that affect your gut health, from diet, to pollution to whether you have pets. But did you know that even your partner can impact your gut microbiome, and therefore potentially many other aspects of your health.
From microbial diversity and the gut-brain axis to who does the dishes, it all has an effect. So are you better together, or stronger alone? We turned to the science to find out.
Romantic relationships and the gut-brain axis
We know that the gut-brain axis allows communication between your gut and brain, and this means that emotional states can have an effect on the health of your microbiome. For example, as well as bringing love, joy, and a warm, fuzzy feeling, romantic relationships are associated with increased microbial diversity in the gut.
Similarly, worse gut health is associated with worse mood. By increasing our microbial diversity, and eating plenty of fibre-rich foods, we can strengthen our gut microbiomes and potentially help ourselves to feel better—a handy tip if you’re going through a breakup.
You can link couples by gutprint
Each person’s microbiome is completely unique—no two are the same. But unlike fingerprints, they change over time, and research suggests that couples share enough of their microbiomes that a computer can identify couples using only microbiome samples, with an accuracy of 86%. The core of the microbiome samples all remained unique (which is to be expected), but there was enough overlap in certain factors that cohabiting couples stood out, at least to a computer. It’s not going to be the biggest factor in gut health, and we can’t yet see a use in forensic science, but it’s a fun fact nonetheless.
Sexual activity might affect your microbiome
A scientific study has suggested that engaging varying styles of sexual intercourse might have an impact on microbial diversity in the gut. Make of that what you will.
The study was limited in scope, but it underscores just how little we know about the gut microbiome, how it functions, and its connections to the immune system. And as the study was only preliminary, no significant conclusions or recommendations have yet been made, so there’s no need to mix it up in the bedroom any more than you want to.
Marriage—a force for good?
Let’s start with the obvious disclaimer—please do NOT base the future of your marriage on this article. That said, let’s look at some early stage studies on the effects of marriage on your gut microbiome.
As we saw with other romantic relationships, marital tension can impact your mental health, which, through the gut-brain axis, can make a difference to your microbiome. But at the same time, research in Nature found that:
married individuals harbour microbial communities of greater diversity and richness relative to those living alone, with the greatest diversity among couples reporting close relationships,
There’s been a lot of research over the decades into the apparent health benefits of marriage, and this shows another angle, suggesting that human interactions, especially sustained, close marital relationships, can positively influence the microbiome.
How clean is your house?
Your household environment also makes a difference to microbial diversity in your gut, so whether you’re living with a clean freak or a slob, their habits will have an effect on the make-up of your microbiome. At the moment though, we don’t know enough to say definitively whether a more sterile or more “alive” living environment is better for your microbiome, so to speak. And to be honest, it’s unlikely to have any serious impact on your health one way or the other—there are far better ways to look after your gut, mental, and immune health.
Want to discover more amazing facts about gut health and the microbiome? Heights Head of Nutritional Research & Insight Sophie Medlin stars in Channel 4’s Know Your Sh!t, and this is what we’ve learned so far.