A leaky gut is just that: our intestinal barrier weakens and allows bacteria into the bloodstream. And people who have hostile and angry confrontations with their partner end up with more bacteria in their blood, suggesting the upset has made the gut leaky.
Researchers from the Ohio State University tested the theory on a group of 43 healthy married couples. They were asked to talk about a sensitive issue, such as money or the in-laws, and they were observed via a video camera. Blood samples were taken before and after the argument, and the couples whose arguments became the most heated were also the ones with the highest levels of bacteria in their blood. In fact, the ones who had the most hostile confrontations had 79 per cent more bacteria in their blood than those who had a more equitable discussion.
"Your partner is typically your primary support and in a troubled marriage your partner becomes your major source of stress," said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, one of the researchers.
Bacteria from a leaky gut can make its way to the brain and affect our mental health. So people who are in a hostile relationship could find themselves in a vicious circle of depression and an inability to cope with the angry outbursts.
And a bad relationship could have even bigger consequences as we age. The average age of the participants in the study was 38, and as inflammation—one of the body's reactions to bacteria in the blood—increases with age, tests on older people may have produced even more profound changes to their health.
Aside from not arguing (or finding a different partner), a healthy diet is another way to reduce the risk of gut-related inflammation. Eat more 'lean' proteins, healthy fats, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and probiotics, the researchers say.
(Source: Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2018; 98: 52)