Microbial Wisdom: Your Gut May Predict How Wise and Lonely You Are

New research finds it takes guts to be wise, literally.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Ah! Wisdom! An ever-elusive trait that brings much peace and comfort in life. In fact, studies have found that being less wise is associated with feeling lonelier. But what if wisdom and loneliness were actually related to physical attributes in humans, like their gut microbes?

In a new study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, scientists at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine report they may have found a link between wisdom, loneliness, and microbial diversity of the gut.

“We found that lower levels of loneliness and higher levels of wisdom, compassion, social support, and engagement were associated with greater phylogenetic richness and diversity of the gut microbiome,” said in a statement first author Tanya T. Nguyen, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

The research evaluated 87 participants, ages 28 to 97, who completed validated self-report-based measures of loneliness, wisdom, compassion, social support, and social engagement. The researchers also analyzed the participants' gut microbiota through fecal samples.

Although the mechanisms that may link loneliness, compassion, and wisdom with gut microbial diversity are still unknown, the researchers did find that reduced microbial diversity was related to worse physical and mental health although it's still unclear what came first.

Chicken or the egg?

“It is possible that loneliness may result in decreased stability of the gut microbiome and, consequently, reduced resistance and resilience to stress-related disruptions, leading to downstream physiological effects, such as systemic inflammation,” the authors wrote.

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“Bacterial communities with low alpha-diversity [E.N.: the average species diversity in a habitat or specific area] may not manifest overt disease, but they may be less-than-optimal for preventing disease. Thus, lonely people may be more susceptible to developing different diseases.”

The authors also point out that they need more information such as individuals’ social networks, diet, and degree of objective social isolation in order to come to a definite conclusion, but there is surely a link between wisdom, loneliness, and the gut.

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