Could socialising make your gut health better?

Scientists found that good bacteria in sociable monkeys had stronger immune system and anti-inflammatory properties

Web Desk
Wild monkeys in Pulau Ubin, Singapore.— Unsplash
Wild monkeys in Pulau Ubin, Singapore.— Unsplash

A recent research study from the University of Oxford has shown that good friends could actually be good for a person’s digestive system.

While usually we think friendship is good for mental well-being, the study has shown that it can also be beneficial for physical health.

The research team studied a bunch of monkeys and found that those who were social had a better gut, with more beneficial microbes in their system. Previous studies have shown that a healthy gut can lead to an overall healthier body and better psychological well-being.

Scientists found that the good bacteria in the sociable monkeys had a stronger immune system and incredible anti-inflammatory properties. The monkeys also had less toxic microbiota, which is a range of microorganisms.

On the other hand, monkeys that were more isolated had higher levels of bacteria that cause pneumonia, streptococcus. The findings published in Frontiers in Microbiology show how tiny organisms can affect full-scale multicellular advanced organisms.

“Here we show that more sociable monkeys have a higher abundance of beneficial gut bacteria, and a lower abundance of potentially disease-causing bacteria,” says lead author Dr Katerina Johnson, a research associate at the Department of Experimental Psychology of the University of Oxford, in a media release.

Experts studied a group of monkeys residing on the island of Cayo Santiago, off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. The sample had 22 males and 16 females, all above the age of six.

The authors analysed 50 faeces samples from the social group of rhesus macaques. To measure how social they were, scientists observed them during different activities like grooming each other.

“Macaques are highly social animals and grooming is their main way of making and maintaining relationships, so grooming provides a good indicator of social interactions,” explained co-author Dr Karli Watson from the Institute of Cognitive Science at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

They studied the stool samples to find out the composition of the gut microbes. 

“Engagement in social interactions was positively related to the abundance of certain gut microbes with beneficial immunological functions, and negatively related to the abundance of potentially pathogenic members of the microbiota,” said co-author Dr Philip Burnet, a professor from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford.