According to a new study, positive thinking is linked to healthier gut bacteria and better health outcomes.
Researchers asked over 200 women to provide stool samples and complete a survey about their feelings and emotional control. Women who suppressed their emotions had a less diverse gut microbiome than those who expressed them. (Diversity is a good thing). Those with more negative emotions had higher levels of certain (inflammatory) bacteria. In contrast, those who reported happier feelings had less of those bacteria.
The journal Psychological Medicine published the study on March 21, 2023, adding to previous research on the gut-brain axis.
The gut-brain axis is when the brain communicates with the gastrointestinal tract, and vice-versa. Many scientists believe the gut microbiome plays a key role in the cross-talk, linking your emotional and physical health.
Study Details: happy equals healthy
Study participants (mostly middle-aged, white women), answered questions about their feelings in the past 30 days, including any positive (feeling hopeful or happy about the future) or negative (feeling worried, afraid, restless, hopeless, lonely, sad, or depressed) emotions they experienced. The survey also asked about how they handled their emotions. Specifically, were they more likely to suppress negative emotions (keep feelings bottled up inside)? Or reframe what had happened to see the events in a more positive light (cognitive reappraisal)?
The study affirmed what we already know about suppressing feelings. It is often a less effective way to handle them and can lead to worse physical and mental health outcomes.
The analysis found that the women who suppressed their emotions had a less diverse gut microbiome. They also found that women who reported the most negative emotions had higher levels of Firmicutes (bacteria that make you crave fat and sugar) and Ruminococcaceae (bacteria associated with inflammatory bowel disease). In contrast, women who reported positive thinking had lower levels of those same bacteria.
Let go, let god.
My key take-a-way: Focus on the positive and practice cognitive reappraisal to support a healthier microbiome. Trust that, over time, everything will turn out like it is supposed to.
Any time you experience negative emotions, try reframing the events that contributed to those feelings in a more positive way. For example, you may be bummed that it’s raining today. On the flip side, all that rain is hydrating the soil and feeding the wildflowers that will soon bloom beautifully.
Need more help visualizing the silver lining?
Check out the Taoist parable about The Old Man Who Lost His Horse.