The gut is the unsung hero of our bodies. It regulates digestion, your mental health, and new research finds it can also affect your personality. A recent preliminary study from Clarkson University finds that the gut microbiome and gut metabolomic pathways influence personality traits involved in mental and physical energy.
While a bad diet and unhealthy life choices such as smoking or heavy drinking can shift the balance from a healthy to an unhealthy microbiome, most of the time, the gut is relatively unchanged. Similarly, personality changes are stable throughout one’s life and it may take years to change it. Previous work from the study authors suggested that mental energy, mental fatigue, physical energy, and physical activity are four different biological moods.
“These findings provide evidence that the four traits may have unique yet overlapping gut bacteria profiles,” the authors write. “This study suggests the need to explore the role of gut microbiota in understanding long-standing feelings of energy and fatigue among healthy young individuals.”
Trillions of different microbes live in the gut and the number of each bacteria is affected by what you eat, your fitness level, and your health status. Another presence in the gut is small molecules called gut metabolomes, which include amino acids, enzymes, and cofactors created from other microbial species.
The research team looked to see if there was a relationship between personality and the gut. Their focus was on gut metabolomic pathways that in previous studies are associated with those four personality traits — mental energy, physical energy, mental fatigue, physical fatigue — in a small sample of young physically active adults.
Turns out, there is a connection. Specific bacterial species and metabolomes were associated with each personality trait. Bacteria and metabolomes involved in metabolism were associated with either mental or physical energy. Additionally, bacteria involved in inflammation were associated with mental or physical fatigue. One type of gut bacteria was involved in three of four personality traits, but none in all four studied.
“There is significant evidence that suggests that trait mental and physical energy and fatigue maintain temporal stability for as long as one year. Additionally, there is scientific evidence that gut microbiota maintains temporal stability throughout adulthood,” the authors write. “However, exceptions are associated with inflammatory bowel syndrome, obesity, irritable bowel syndrome, and type 2 diabetes.”
The research may explain why supplements like probiotics or lifestyle changes such as undertaking an anti-inflammatory diet boost mood and energy levels in some people. But could changes to personality traits also be the cause of changes to gut flora? Ali Boolani, an associate professor of physical therapy at Clarkson University in New York, is one of the study’s authors. He says more work is still needed to be sure.
“These new findings support my previous work where we report that feelings of energy are associated with metabolic processes, while feelings of fatigue are associated with inflammatory processes,” says Ali Boolani, an associate professor of physical therapy at Clarkson University in New York, in a media release. “Since we are still learning about the gut microbiome, we don’t know whether if we try to change our personality trait, we might see a change in gut microbiome; or if we try to change our gut microbiome, we might also change our personality trait. Additionally, these findings may help explain some of the interpersonal differences that we see in response to the anti-fatiguing effects of nutritional interventions.”
The findings support prior claims that personality traits have different biological factors and there may be some overlap in these processes. For example, you can have physical fatigue and feel physically energetic at the same time.
“We hope that the large study will give us more definitive answers and from there we can see if these findings can help explain the interpersonal differences in nutritional interventions meant to modify feelings of energy and fatigue,” says Boolani. “However, this initial exploratory study does guide us in terms of whether we should pursue this line of research to examine the association between gut microbiota and these four personality traits.”
The study is available in the journal Nutrients.