Is cuddling going to regulate your gut bacteria? New research suggests yes.
Cozy by the fire, soft socks on. Ah, this time of year is ideal for snuggling, which has not only emotional, but physical benefits, too. Cuddling releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin, which reduces anxiety and boosts your immune system. Now, researchers have found another way that snuggles may help: by boosting gut health.
The research, which was conducted using insanely cut red-bellied lemurs as subjects, was published in the Journal of Animal Ecology. The red-bellied lemurs tend to live in small families of two to eight lemurs, and are highly socially bonded, spending a lot of time together. They exhibit behavior called “huddling,” and they are very tactile. Researchers found that within these groups, there was very similar gut microbiomes. And even within a social group, the closest friends tended to have the most similar gut micobiomes.
The researchers think that sharing such a closely mirrored microbiome profile might boost health, as the animals will have the same immune defenses. “Just like lemurs, people find social situations, such as competition, sometimes stressful,” wrote one of the study’s co-author’s, Stacey Tecot. Tecot is an associate professor in the School of Anthopology at the University of Arizona. “However, primates also cope with stress through social means, by seeking and giving affection, grooming and touching each other, and so do people. This way, social contact also balances stress. Regardless of whether they are blood relatives, people that live in close quarters, also come to share similar gut bacteria. Synchronized physiological systems make us work more ‘as one.’"
Understanding this role of the external ecosystem and how our social structures interplay with our internal gut bacteria, may, in the future, help doctors better treat autoimmune diseases.