Oxford study finds gut bacteria may influence your social life

The diversity of one's gut bacteria may influence how social they are, a new study has found. The research comes from the Oxford University Department of Experimental Psychology's Dr. Katerina Johnson, who conducted a large human study on the subject of gut microbiome composition and how it relates to personality. In addition to influencing sociability, gut bacteria may play a role in how neurotic someone is.

Past research has linked gut bacteria with mental health, but this new study focused specifically on its potential effect on personality. As part of her work, Dr. Johnson found that people who had more diverse gut bacteria also had larger social networks, indicating that better gut health may be associated with how much someone socializes.

In addition, the study also found that people on the opposite end of that spectrum — ones who had less microbiome diversity — were more likely to experience high stress or levels of anxiety. Formula rather than breastfeeding as an infant may influence one's gut microbiome well into adulthood, according to the study.

Less diverse gut bacteria were found in people who were fed formula when young, meaning the way an infant is fed may have effects that persist into adulthood. As well, the study found lifestyle and dietary factors that may help improve someone's gut bacteria diversity, including traveling internationally, which may be beneficial by exposing someone to a drastically different diet and 'novel microbes.'

As well, people who ate larger quantities of natural pre- and probiotic foods like bananas, whole grains, fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, etc., had greater gut bacteria diversity. However, the same benefit wasn't associated with taking pre- or probiotics in the form of supplements.

The findings indicate that gut bacteria may have a big effect on how a person acts, but that their lifestyle may also have a big effect on their gut bacteria; adjusting one's lifestyle may cause an improvement in gut health, which may then improve one's social life and mental health.