Husbands and husbands who fight, are more likely to have leaky intestines according to a small study.
To investigate how an unhappy marriage can affect a person's health, scientists from Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center recruited 43 healthy couples aged 24 to 61 who had been married for at least three years.
The researchers asked couples to discuss sensitive issues that were likely to cause disagreement, such as money or in-laws, and filmed the conversations. They used these images to analyze verbal and non-verbal forms of conflict, including eye rolls.
The team also took blood samples from the couples before and after a fight and found that those who were most hostile to their husbands had higher levels of LPS-binding protein; a biomarker for a leaking gut.
Leak syndrome or intestinal permeability is characterized by bacteria and undigested food that flow from the gastrointestinal tract to the rest of the body. This should not be confused with the hypothetical state associated with alternative medicine called leaky gut syndrome, which is not medically recognized.
Dr. Donald Kirby, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the Cleveland Clinic, told WebMD symptoms are bloating, gas, cramps, food sensitivity, as well as pain and pain. He said about the little understood condition: "Leaking gut really means that you have a diagnosis that has yet to be made."
Leakage of substances in the bloodstream is probably caused by malfunctioning intersections in the intestine that are responsible for what goes through the lining of the small intestine.
In the Ohio State study, scientists found the highest levels of LPS-binding protein among participants who had the most vicious battles and a history of mood disorders such as depression. The biomarker was also linked to inflammation in the body.
Previous studies have linked a rocky marriage to slow healing and a peak of the risk of conditions related to inflammation, including heart disease, diabetes and depression.
Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, lead author of the study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology and director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University, explained: "We believe that this daily marital problem – at least for some people – causes changes in the gut that lead to inflammation and possibly disease.
"Marriage stress is a particularly powerful stress, because your partner is usually your primary support and in a restless marriage your partner becomes your main source of stress."
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Dr. Michael Bailey, associate professor of life sciences at Ohio State University and co-author of the study, explained that stress, the sympathetic nervous system and changes in microbes in the gut seem to be connected.
"With leaking gut, the structures that are usually very good at keeping the gut in our gut – the partially digested food, bacteria and other products – degrade and that barrier becomes less effective," he said.
In turn, bacteria that cause inflammation in the blood can lead to a mental illness in what Bailey described as a disturbing loop. And because the participants were relatively young and the inflammations deteriorated with age, older couples could suffer worse, the researchers suspected.
But it is also relatively easy to alleviate the effects of marital stress by using a diet full of lean proteins, healthy fats, fruit, whole grains, vegetables and consuming probiotics, said Kiecolt-Glaser.