Gut feeling? New research suggests intuition is indeed linked to the number of microbes found in your intestines

The more microbes in a person’s intestines, the more likely they are to be intuitive, researchers say, adding scientific weight to the notion of people acting on their ‘gut feeling.’

Researchers at the San Diego School of Medicine at the university of California say that how people report feelings of wisdom or loneliness is directly related to the microbial diversity levels of their gut. And they found that the larger social networks people have, the more diverse their intestinal microbes.

The authors of the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, conversely found lower levels of gut microbes typically represent worse physical and mental health.

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“We found that lower levels of loneliness and higher levels of wisdom, compassion, social support and engagement were associated with greater phylogenetic richness and diversity of the gut microbiome,” said Dr Tanya T. Nguyen, the lead author of the study.

The study tied alterations in the trillions of microbes, bacteria, viruses and fungi that are found in the digestive tract to disruptions to stress response, emotions and processes like decision-making.

Researchers followed 187 people aged between 28 and 97 and asked them to self-measure things like loneliness, wisdom, compassion, social support and social engagement. The scientists also collected fecal samples and compared the diversity of those microbes to the feelings reported by the individuals. The biggest change was reflected in feelings of being alone.

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“Loneliness may lead to changes in the gut microbiome or, reciprocally, alterations of the gut milieu may predispose an individual to become lonely,” said Dilip V. Jeste, a Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences and an author of the paper. “We need to investigate much more thoroughly to better understand the phenomenon of the gut-brain axis.”

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