According to a new study, married couples who fight dirty are more likely to suffer from 'leaky gut' - a condition that sees undigested food particles, bacteria and germs pass through the digestive system and into the blood. Over time, this can lead to chronic inflammation and increase the risk of disease.
Researchers at Ohio State University surveyed 43 married couples (who had been hitched for at least three years) about their relationships and encouraged them to bring up a topic that they disagreed on (such as money and their in-laws.) They were then left alone for 20 minutes to work through the conflict, although it was videotaped for the researchers to analyse at a later date. Specifically, they looked for signs of hostility, such as dramatic eye rolls or personal put-downs.
Interestingly, they found that the men and women who exhibited this behaviour had higher levels of LPS-binding protein (which is a biomarker for leaky gut) than those participants that didn’t.
“Hostility is a hallmark of bad marriages - the kind that leads to adverse physiological changes,” explained Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, a professor of psychiatry for the university and the study’s lead author.
“We think that this everyday marital distress at least for some people – is causing changes in the gut that lead to inflammation, and, potentially, illness,” said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, director of the Institute for Behavioural Medicine Research at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Centre and the study’s lead author.
Interestingly, this was especially true for the participants that showed hostile interactions and a history of depression or another mood disorder. This fits with previous research that suggests marital discord slows wound healing and drives up the risk of other inflammation-related diseases like depression, heart disease and diabetes.
“Marital stress is a particularly potent stress, because your partner is typically your primary support and in a troubled marriage your partner becomes your major source of stress,” Kiecolt-Glaser concluded.