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Managing the health of your gut microbiome can influence everything from your weight to your mood. While choosing the right probiotics and eating gut-friendly foods are effective ways to support your gut, recent research published in Human Microbiome shows there might also be psychological factors that influence bacterial diversity.
After digging into the science of the gut-brain connection, lead researcher Katerina Johnson, DPhil from Oxford University’s Department of Experimental Psychology, found your personality might actually be affecting your gut health.
“There has been growing research linking the gut microbiome to the brain and behavior,” Johnson said in a news release, but most research has been conducted in animals, and the human studies were more focused on the gut’s influence in neuropsychiatric disorders, like seizures, ADHD, depression, and more.
“In contrast, my key interest was to look in the general population to see how variation in the types of bacteria living in the gut may be related to personality,” she said.
How does your personality impact gut health?
A group of 655 adults provided stool samples to evaluate their gut health and completed online questionnaires about their social lives.
Results showed people who had large social networks, or more outgoing personalities, were more likely to have diverse gut bacteria. Diversity in the gut is linked to a healthy microbiome, and generally greater health overall.
On the other hand, people with high levels of stress and anxiety tended to have less diversity in the microbiome.
“Our modern-day living may provide a perfect storm for dysbiosis of the gut. We lead stressful lives with fewer social interactions and less time spent with nature,” Johnson said. “All these factors can influence the gut microbiome and so may be affecting our behaviour and psychological well-being in currently unknown ways.”
Is this bad news for introverts?
Not necessarily. Though introverts rely on alone time to recharge, that doesn’t mean they avoid social interaction at all costs. Additionally, the study found other ways to increase bacterial diversity that don’t require much or any socialization.
If you’re not the type of person to gravitate toward large groups, consider going on solo trips. According to the study, “more adventurous eaters…tended to have a more diverse gut microbial community.” This is likely because international travel introduces you to new foods—thus, more diversity in your microbiome.
While maintaining a healthy gut is important for overall health, balancing time alone with meaningful relationships can help support a healthy “social biome.”
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