Dr. Katerina Johnson of Oxford University, who conducted the study, said in her report, “There has been growing research linking the gut microbiome to the brain and behavior, known as the microbiome-gut-brain axis. This suggests that the gut microbiome may contribute not only to the extreme behavioral traits seen in autism, but also to variation in social behavior in the general population.”
More friends, more bacteria
One interesting finding was that people with larger social networks tended to have a more diverse gut microbiome. Bacterial diversity in the gut is often associated with better gut health and also general health. “This is the first study to find a link between sociability and microbiome diversity in humans and follows on from similar findings in primates which have shown that social interactions can promote gut microbiome diversity,” said Johnson. “This result suggests the same may also be true in human populations.”
Gut diversity was found to be higher in people who traveled and in those who ate more fermented/probiotic foods such as fermented cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi and foods high in prebiotics like, banana, legumes, whole grains, asparagus, onion and leek. Those who took probiotics in supplemental form did not show a diversity in their microbiome.
Extreme lives, extreme behavior
In her report for Oxford, Johnson discussed how modern lifestyles are affecting our guts, which is in turn affecting our behaviors and sense of well-being. “We lead stressful lives with fewer social interactions and less time spent with nature, our diets are typically deficient in fiber, we inhabit over-sanitized environments and are dependent on antibiotic treatments. All these factors can influence the gut microbiome and so may be affecting our behavior and psychological well-being in currently unknown ways,” said Johnson.