The Grapevine

Fighting With Your Spouse Could Increase Bacteria Levels In Blood

Husbands and wives who engage in bad-tempered fights, dramatic eye-rolling, and other hostile behaviors are more likely to suffer from leaky guts which causes the release of bacteria into the bloodstream.

Marital distress also had a stronger effect on gut-related inflammation in those with a history of depression, according to the new study from Ohio State University.

The paper titled "Marital distress, depression, and a leaky gut: Translocation of bacterial endotoxin as a pathway to inflammation" was published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology on August 6.

"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," stated lead author Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, a professor at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.

Forty-three married couples, recruited by the research team, were asked a series of questions about their relationship. They were all within the age range of 24 to 61 years and had been married for at least three years.

The researchers encouraged them to discuss sources of conflict and try to resolve their problems. For 20 minutes, the couples were recorded on video while they discussed subjects such as money and in-laws which were likely to provoke strong disagreements. 

The recordings captured instances of hostile behavior including dramatic eye rolls or criticism of a partner. Hostility is a hallmark of bad marriages, Kiecolt-Glaser said, noting how it could lead to adverse physiological changes.

Husbands and wives who demonstrated more hostile behaviors were found to have high levels of inflammation throughout their body. When comparing blood samples drawn before and after confrontations, they also had higher levels of one biomarker LBP, which indicated the presence of bacteria in the blood i.e. a leaky gut.

Furthermore, this effect was more significant among participants who had a history of depression.

"Depression and a poor marriage — that really made things worse," Kiecolt-Glaser explained. "This may reflect persistent psychological and physiological vulnerabilities among people who have suffered from depression and other mood disorders."

But co-author Michael Bailey points out that such individuals may also experience a loop of sorts since a leaky gut could potentially contribute to poor mental health too.

"With leaky gut, the structures that are usually really good at keeping the gunk in our gut — the partially digested food, bacteria and other products — degrade and that barrier becomes less effective," said Bailey, who is from the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State.

It is known that inflammation increases with age. Given that the average age of the participants was 38, the researchers stated that the results would be more profound in older people.

To deal with gut-related inflammation, following a diet high in lean proteins, healthful fats, fruits, vegetables and whole grains was recommended. Kiecolt-Glaser added that probiotics might also be useful.