Today’s post hits a little too close to home. I just read about a fascinating study done at Ohio State University that highlights something about which I am only too personally aware: the effects of stress on health.[i]
In this particular case, researchers were looking at the connection between marital problems and health issues, and found that the more aggression displayed by the couples during an argument (defined by specific verbal and non-verbal behaviors (like dramatic eye rolls, criticizing their spouse, and so forth), the higher the levels of inflammation in the body immediately afterwards. Even more remarkably, they also were able to definitely establish that the cause of the inflammation is that the stress caused leaky gut. That is, inflammation causes the lining of the gut to become leaky, allowing bacteria and undigested food (none of which should ever make it out of the intestines) into the blood stream…which, in turn, causes an inflammatory immune reaction to these “invaders.”
43 married couples, ranging in age but all married at least 3 years, were asked to discuss contentious topics, like money and in-laws, for 20 minutes, and had their blood tested before and after: “Men and women who demonstrated more hostile behaviors during the observed discussions had higher levels of one biomarker for leaky gut—LPS-binding protein—than their mellower peers. Evidence of leaky gut was even greater in study participants who had particularly hostile interactions with their spouse and a history of depression or another mood disorder.” That is, the higher the level of aggression, the higher the level of the biomarker (LBP) for bacteria in the blood… and the higher the LBP, the higher the levels of other inflammatory markers. In fact, those with the highest LBP had an average of 79% higher levels of C-reactive protein, a primary marker for inflammation.
Previous research has already shown that marital issues can lead to other physiological issues, like slower wound healing, and increases the risk of inflammation-related diseases like depression, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
In fact, I discovered this morning that this same group of researchers published a study last year that showed that a lack of sleep increases susceptibility to inflammation from stress: “If both partners got less than seven hours of sleep the previous two nights, the couple was more likely to argue or become hostile. For every hour of sleep lost, the researchers noted that levels of two known inflammatory markers rose 6 percent. Couples who used unhealthy tactics in their disagreement had an even greater inflammatory response — about a 10 percent increase with each hour of less sleep.”[ii]
Even worse news: inflammation in the intestines also changes the composition of the gut bacteria, which in turn causes more inflammation…etc. So chronic stress (or regular bouts of acute), is really the start of a very unhealthy vicious cycle. We really do have gut feelings.