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Sci Rep. 2019 Jan 24;9(1):703. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-37298-9.

Close social relationships correlate with human gut microbiota composition.

Author information

1
Department of Bacteriology, U. of Wisconsin-Madison, 1550 Linden Drive, Madison, WI, 53706, USA.
2
Center for the Demography of Health and Aging, 1180 Observatory Drive, Madison, WI, 53706, USA.
3
Department of Microbiology and Immunology, U. of British Columbia, 2350 Health Sciences Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z3, Canada.
4
Department of Biostatistics and Medical Informatics, U. of Wisconsin-Madison, 600 Highland Avenue, Madison, WI, 53792, USA.
5
Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, 330 N Orchard St, Madison, WI, 53715, USA.
6
Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, 53706, USA.
7
Department of Bacteriology, U. of Wisconsin-Madison, 1550 Linden Drive, Madison, WI, 53706, USA. ferey@wisc.edu.
8
Center for the Demography of Health and Aging, 1180 Observatory Drive, Madison, WI, 53706, USA. ph627@georgetown.edu.
9
McCourt School of Public Policy, Georgetown University, 37th St NW O St. NW, Washington, DC, 20057, USA. ph627@georgetown.edu.

Abstract

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, married individuals harbor microbial communities of greater diversity and richness relative to those living alone, 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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