How Important Is Your Gut Microbiome?

Talk about gut instinct. The University of Oxford's Katerina Johnson knew that previous research had identified a correlation between the diversity of bacteria in a person's gut and the behavioral symptoms of autism, but she had a sense that there was more to uncover.

Oxford researchers have found a link between the diversity of a person's gut flora and certain personality traits.
Oxford researchers have found a link between the diversity of a person's gut flora and certain personality traits.

"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," said Johnson, who works in Oxford's Department of Experimental Psychology.

In her study, Johnson collected fecal samples from 655 adults and had these participants answer a series of questions about their personality and behavior. After analyzing the results, Johnson found a connection between different personality traits and the prevalence of certain bacteria.

For example, people who had larger social circles were more likely to have greater diversity in gut flora. Conversely, people dealing with higher stress or anxiety levels tended to have less microbe diversity.

Johnson suggested that the results could help people focus on better diets and lifestyles. "We lead stressful lives with fewer social interactions and less time spent with nature," she said. "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."

What's in your gut?

  • Research has also found a connection between less diverse gut microbiota and obesity.

  • A new mother transmits protective gut bacteria to her child through her breast milk; consequently, children who are bottle-fed may have weaker immune systems.

  • The human gut has 10 times more microbial cells than the entire rest of the human body.

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