Married people who fight nastily are more likely to suffer from leaky guts – a problem that unleashes bacteria into the blood and can drive up disease-causing inflammation, new research suggests.
“We think that this everyday marital distress – at least for some people – is causing changes in the gut that lead to inflammation and, potentially, illness,” she said.
Researchers at Ohio State recruited 43 healthy married couples, surveyed them about their relationships and then encouraged them to discuss and try to resolve a conflict likely to provoke strong disagreement. Touchy topics included money and in-laws.
The researchers left the couples alone for these discussions, videotaped the 20-minute interactions and later watched how the couples fought. They categorized their verbal and non-verbal fighting behaviors, with special interest in hostility – things such as dramatic eye rolls or criticism of one’s partner.
“Hostility is a hallmark of bad marriages – the kind that lead to adverse physiological changes,” said Kiecolt-Glaser, a professor of psychiatry.
Then the researchers compared blood drawn pre-fight to blood drawn post-fight.
Men and women who demonstrated more hostile behaviors during the observed discussions had higher levels of one biomarker for leaky gut – LPS-binding protein – than their mellower peers. Evidence of leaky gut was even greater in study participants who had particularly hostile interactions with their spouse and a history of depression or another mood disorder.
Michael Bailey, co-author of the study and part of Ohio State’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research and The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said there is an established link between stress, the sympathetic nervous system and changes in the microbes in the gut.
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