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Social relationships, social isolation, and the human gut microbiota

By Kimberly A. Dill-McFarland, Zheng-Zheng Tang, Julia H. Kemis, Robert L. Kerby, Guanhua Chen, Alberto Palloni, Thomas Sorenson, Federico E. Rey, Pamela Herd

Posted 27 Sep 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/428938 (published DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-37298-9)

Social relationships shape human health and mortality via behavioral, psychosocial, and physiological mechanisms, including inflammatory and immune responses. Though not tested in human studies, recent primate studies indicate that the gut microbiome may also be a biological mechanism linking relationships to health. Integrating microbiota data into the 60-year-old Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, we found that socialness with family and friends is associated with differences in the human fecal microbiota. Analysis of spouse (N = 94) and sibling pairs (N = 83) further revealed that spouses have more similar microbiota and more bacterial taxa in common than siblings, with no observed differences between sibling and unrelated pairs. These differences held even after accounting for dietary factors. The differences between unrelated individuals and married couples was driven entirely by couples who reported close relationships; there were no differences in similarity between couples reporting somewhat close relationships and unrelated individuals. Moreover, the microbiota of married individuals, compared to those living alone, has greater diversity and richness, with the greatest diversity among couples reporting close relationships, which is notable given decades of research documenting the health benefits of marriage. These results suggest that human interactions, especially sustained, close marital relationships, influence the gut microbiota.

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