A tempestuous relationship has never been good for one’s health. Scientists have now discovered that having a row, even with your spouse over the in-laws or money, can quite literally make you sick to your stomach. The impact of stress from heated discussions can cause stomach contents to leak from the gut into the blood stream. This can lead to inflammation raising the risk of significant illnesses.
Researchers recruited 43 healthy married couples, asked them about their relationships, and then encouraged them to discuss and try to resolve an issue likely to provoke strong disagreements. The emotive subjects discussed included finances and in-laws. Their blood was tested for a marker chemical known as LBP which indicates the presence of bacteria. Couples who had the nastiest rows measured by aggressive language and gestures, harsh criticism of a partner, and dramatic eye-rolls, had the highest level of LBP.
Dr Janice Kielcolt-Glaser, a psychiatric professor at Ohio State University, who led the research, said: ‘We think this everyday marital distress – at least for some people – is causing changes in the gut that lead to inflammation and potentially, illness. Hostility is a hallmark of bad marriages, the kind that lead to adverse psychological changes,’ she added.
The participants ranged in age from 24 to 61 and had been married at least three years. The researchers compared blood taken before the argument to that taken afterwards. Michael Bailey, co-author of the study said: ‘With leaky gut, the structures that are usually really good at keeping the gunk in our gut – the partially digested food, bacteria and other products – degrade and that barrier becomes less effective.’ Earlier research has found marital discord can slow wound healing and drive up for inflammation – related diseases, including heart disease and diabetes.
Although this research relates in principle to marital discord I find that the same symptoms happen to me whenever I have significant rows, be it at work or with a close relation or even in a heated political argument.