If you want to do your gut some good, simply add a little extra fiber to your diet, sip kombucha, or add a spritz of propolis to your morning coffee. But when it comes to the holistic health of your digestive system, your food choices are really just the beginning. Ongoing research on the mind-gut connection suggests that, in keeping your gut in good working order, caring for your mental health is just as important as minding what you eat.
A recent study, published in Behavioural Brain Research suggests that social stress (which, FYI, is the most common type of stress, according to the study) has a significant impact on gut health. Basically, a fight with your BFF or a super-awkward networking session could wreak havoc on the goings-on of your stomach. Researchers at Georgia State University discovered these finding by studying the digestive health of Syrian hamsters, which have a tendency to form hierarchies, AKA cliques (who knew?).
“We found that even a single exposure to social stress causes a change in the gut microbiota, similar to what is seen following other, much more severe physical stressors, and this change gets bigger following repeated exposures.” —Dr. Kim Huhman, professor of neuroscience at Georgia State
For the study, scientists placed two male hamsters in a head-to-head battle and took samples of their gut microbes before and after the interaction (and repeated the process nine times). They also took samples from a control group of hamsters that never had to step into the ring. In the end, both the winners and the losers of the 2018 Rodent Olympics experienced a major change in their gut bacteria compared to those in the control group. “We found that even a single exposure to social stress causes a change in the gut microbiota, similar to what is seen following other, much more severe physical stressors, and this change gets bigger following repeated exposures,” said Kim Huhman, PhD, a professor of neuroscience at Georgia State.
Dr. Huhman added that, while the guts of the defeated hamsters might have taken a harder hit than those of the winners, it’s hard to say decisively. And though this study took place on hamsters, not humans, the results do give intriguing evidence to the thought that, apparently, no one really wins a fight—as far as the gut is concerned. So next time you hit the gym with your fitness buddy, learn from these hamsters’ mistakes, and don’t take that treadmill sprint-off too seriously.
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