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Research suggests marital stress can inflame lining of gut, allow bacteria into bloodstream

New study examines physical impact of marital stress

DETROIT – Are spats with your spouse weighing on your health? A new study found marital stress has a physical impact on some people.

New research suggests stress can inflame the lining of your gut, allowing harmful bacteria to leak into your bloodstream. The "leaky gut" has been linked to a myriad of problems, from heart disease to depression, meaning arguments can have a lasting impact on health.

"A lot of the strains we have in our marriage usually comes from lack of communication," Katelyn Capparuccini said.

For Capparuccini, arguing with her husband left her physically ill.

"I dealt with a thing where I just never felt well," Capparuccini said.

Stress can change more than just your mood. To find out just how much of a physical effect the emotional confrontations can have, experts at Ohio State University put married couples to the test.

"What we're looking at in the couples is the way they resolve a disagreement," said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, of the OSU Wexner Medical Center. "Everybody's asked to disagree, so we're not saying arguing is bad. It's the way people handle the argument. Take the next 20 minutes and try to reach a resolution on this."

Researchers asked married couples to try to resolve a contentious disagreement, testing their blood before and after the argument.

As their hostility increased, so did the inflammation in their guts.

Particularly bitter spats also led to higher levels of a biomarker that indicated bacteria in the blood. How does that happen? In the so-called "leaky gut," the lining of the intestines is weakened, allowing bacteria to slip into the bloodstream, affecting everything from mental health to the immune system.

"Ultimately, it's anything that's in the gut that's going to influence our health is going to end up in the blood first and circulate through the blood and make its way to individual organs," Kiecolt-Glaser said. "We know that there are a lot of health consequences associated with bad marriages. This is kind of everybody's chronic everyday stress, potentially, and so it gives us a much broader view and important snapshot on something we hadn't seen before. If you let stress build up on you and you let it really, really get to you, it can cause a lot of problems."

Experts said it's another reason couples should work toward resolving their differences.

Inflammation with a leaky gut increases with age, and staying in a tumultuous relationship for several years can take a serious toll on health. Other research has linked marital stress to a higher rate of heart disease and a greater risk for diabetes.


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