Functional Medicine Associates on Healthy Living

Functional Medicine: Gut Microbes May Promote Social Bonding

I’m really interested in microbes at the moment. I think they will become one of our biggest tools for improving people’s health. Their potential role in improving mood is becoming clearer which is great and really helps me to think of how I could use them with various patients.

We know that people with Autism may well be helped by bacteria that can influence mood, but interestingly may also help with social bonding amongst these patients. Scientists are debating whether normal social behaviour is dependent on a healthy gut environment. Now isn’t that interesting?

The theory is that microbes want to be dispersed and passed on. A healthy gut creates a happy person who is likely to be more sociable, more likely to mix with other people and therefore more likely to transfer microbes.

It’s a great concept and one which I am currently using to help a patient of mine.

Jane (we will call her Jane) has had a traumatic last 15 years coping with breast cancer whilst also nursing both her sick husband and mother who both subsequently died. This loss of connection with her “TRIBE” has been Jane’s biggest continued health issue in my opinion. Jane’s continued Anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure in normally pleasurable activities) seems largely down to her not being able to replace her tribe, leaving her socially isolated. Social isolation, as you are aware, does not bode well for longevity.

Jane knows that she needs to find a new tribe – tribes bring safety, safety brings lowered BP and mood scores. As a clinician, I know Jane has always been a very tactile woman and so the least I can do is hold her hand and medicate her with hugs and kisses. This treatment may sound un-orthodox, but the science is clear and I hasten to add that I have known Jane for over 20 years. This physical contact increases Oxytocin, which not only helps to reduce her elevated BP (think Oxytocin as the Yin to stress’s Yang) but increases social bonding, something that Jane needs. And dare I say it, I encourage Jane to cook and bake things for me as it allows her to feel part of something bigger. Medication by making food if you like.

It has also led me to think how much of Jane’s dysbiosis is contributing to her fear of going out to seek new groups; a dysbiosis that has been difficult to change after multiple interventions.

So, whilst I continue to work on therapies that should help her GI tract and dysbiosis I wonder if the lack of contact with others has been somewhat down to a microbial dysbiosis?

Happy microbes should make a happy gut and a happy person leading to increased social bonding.

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