Stressful in-laws? That's reflected in your microbiome!

– Jan. 2, 2024

The Christmas days are over, and the new year has been joyously welcomed. Perhaps you've also had a number of Christmas dinners. But did you know that your gut microbes can reveal whether you dined at your own family's table or with your in-laws?

Christmas affects your microbiome too

With the Christmas festivities and all the associated dinners and family gatherings behind us, let's reflect on a 2019 study that explored the impact of Christmas events on our gut microbiome. Why did researchers investigate this? Because there's an increasing link being made between the composition of our gut microbiome and a range of diseases, from Alzheimer's and depression to inflammatory bowel diseases. During the Christmas period, people often eat differently than usual, and there's generally more alcohol consumed. All of this affects the composition of your gut microbiome. It's also the time for the annual visit to the in-laws. This study examined whether this potential extra source of stress also has an impact on your microbiome.

Family visits

The researchers compared the bacterial composition of the microbiome of 28 participants. Sixteen of them visited their in-laws during Christmas, while eight visited their own families. Participants who visited their in-laws showed a relatively greater change in microbiome composition compared to those who visited their own families. Additionally, seven types of microbes differed the most between family and in-law visits.

Reduced Ruminococcaceae

The standout bacterium was the Ruminococcaceae family. This family increased in the group of people who dined with their families, while a decrease was observed in participants who traveled to their in-laws. A reduction in these bacteria is associated with depression, suggesting that a visit to the in-laws may increase stress and thereby decrease Ruminococcaceae.

Difference in diversity

Another notable finding was the greater microbial diversity in the group that visited their families compared to the in-law group. The researchers explained this by noting that people visiting their own families often have more physical contact with their relatives. Greater microbial diversity is beneficial for your health.

Maybe skip the in-laws next year?

The researchers indicate that more large-scale studies need to be conducted before concluding that a visit to the in-laws genuinely has a negative impact on your microbiome. For now, you can safely visit your in-laws.

Autor: Noa Hudepol
Photo: MicroENVISION
Science direct