Have you ever noticed how the most beautiful moments in our close relationships can be really germy? Kissing a baby on the face, bear-hugging a best friend, locking lips with a lover, or having sex, all involve a momentary meeting of our "Second Selves", or the microbial cells that live on and inside our bodies and help keep us alive.
Social science has shown for decades that partnering up leads to better health outcomes. New studies are investigating the link between close social relationships and a flourishing microbiome to find out if gut microbiome diversity is the mechanism that links relationships to health.
A recent study found couples shared more similar microbiota than siblings, even when controlling for diet. And the closer the relationships among partners, the more diverse and rich their microbiomes. We know that a more diverse microbiome is associated with lower inflammation and lower instance of chronic illness. It may be that closeness keeps us healthy because it allows us to cultivate and nurture diverse microbiota.
Social science shows that cultivating close romantic relationships leads to better health outcomes.
New research shows there may also be microbiological benefits to fostering closeness.
The composition of our microbiota is notably similar to the microbiota of the people we are close to.
Using only skin microbiome profiles, researchers were able to correctly identify couples 86% of the time.
Close relationships may help us cultivate a more diverse and rich microbiome.
A more diverse microbiome is associated with less anxiety, depression, inflammation, and chronic illness.
It's easier than ever to be alone these days, but being around people, fostering close relationships, and *safely* sharing some germs can help us feel better. Being together in love and community is what makes us human, and it's also a way to support our microbiota so they can help our vital human functions thrive.
Maybe we don’t need to feel good to get close. Maybe we need to get close to give ourselves a chance to feel good. Save this for when you need a reminder to reach out, even if you might not feel like it.
- K. Dill-McFarland, Close social relationships correlate with human gut microbiota composition, Nature 2019
- J. Chuang, Romantic Relationship Dissolution, Microbiota, and Fibers, Frontiers in Nutrition, 2021
- A. Ross, The Skin Microbiome of Cohabiting Couples, mSystems, 2017