Gut microbes may be tied to wisdom and feelings of loneliness. Many studies before were able to connect wisdom to loneliness (wiser ones being less lonely that is). A recent one by researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine took it a notch further, saying that the twain may be linked to gut bacteria.
The gut flora refers to the rich ecosystem of bacteria, virus, fungi and other microbes that live in your stomach. Some say that this rich microbiome may be able to influence your emotions or cognition through a mechanism known as the gut-brain axis.
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The axis is regulated by the nerve cells, hormones and immune system, facilitating two-way communication between the gut and the brain. Any alterations in this system can affect emotional responses, cognitive abilities and decision making.
In the past, research has also found a link between compromised gut microbiota and mental health issues.
The researchers studied 187 participants between ages 28 and 97 who fulfilled the required criteria of loneliness and wisdom. Their gut microbiota was studied using their stool samples.
“We found that lower levels of loneliness and higher levels of wisdom, compassion, social support and engagement were associated with greater phylogenetic richness and diversity of the gut microbiome.”
While the researchers couldn’t explain the mechanism that links loneliness, compassion and wisdom with gut flora, a reduced number of microbes is related to a number of illnesses like obesity, inflammatory bowel disease and mental health problems.
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That’s because a diverse gut flora can stave off attacks by external pathogens. Researchers say that loneliness could reduce the stability of the gut flora and lead to reduced resistance to stress-induced health problems. This could lead to “downstream physiological effects, such as systemic inflammation.”
“Bacterial communities with low alpha-diversity may not manifest overt disease, but they may be less than optimal for preventing disease. Thus, lonely people may be more susceptible to developing different diseases.”
To counter this, researchers recommend more social support, compassion and wisdom.
Well, there you have it. In an age where introversion and asocial behaviours have been exalted, it will do our health a great deal of good to just make a few friends and be social.