Emerging research suggests the composition of your gut microbiome might be related to your personality.
The gut microbiome is the community of microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that inhabit the digestive tracts of the human body. There’s a growing body of research (here, here) which suggests the microbiome is related to both physical and mental health. However, these are early studies and it’s unclear if a change in one causes a change in the other.
Recent research goes even further to suggest gut microbiome composition may be related to differences in personality. 655 adults filled out an online questionnaire which surveyed their behavioral traits, sociodemographic factors, diet, health, and lifestyle choices. They were also given at-home “gut kits” to analyze the DNA of the microorganisms found in their fecal matter.
The results showed that respondents who ate naturally occurring probiotics (like yogurt and sauerkraut) had significantly lower levels of anxiety and stress – this result did not hold for people who consumed probiotics in supplement form. In addition, participants who reported they often didn’t sleep well had a less diverse microbiome.
Participants who self-reported larger social networks had a more diverse microbiome, while lower diversity was correlated with increased levels of stress and anxiety. The bacteria species Akkermansia, Lactococcus, and Osciollospira were more abundant in individuals who were more social while less social people had lower levels of Desulfovibrio and Sutterella.
Scientists are unsure why there’s an interaction between the gut microbial community and personality. One theory is the gut could be communicating to the brain through neural, immune, and endocrine pathways. Gut microorganisms can produce neuroactive chemicals and certain psychiatric conditions like autism often come hand-in-hand with gastrointestinal problems.
From my perspective, the link between your gut and your personality is fascinating but inconclusive. Are social people more likely to eat a wide variety of food or does more adventurous eating encourage you to become more social? No study answers the question as to whether microbiome diversity drives personality traits or vice versa. In fact, it is most likely that lifestyle and behavior impact your microbiome and certain microbes affect your stress levels.
How should you take advantage of this emerging research? There are no clear-cut answers other than the tried-and-true. Eat a wider variety of healthy foods. Try to get your probiotics naturally.
After all, you are what you eat.