Truthfully, you can’t help but share your microbes with your nearest and dearest. Research suggests that couples who live together share a lot more than just a household: they also share each other’s microbiome.
The microbiome refers to the trillions of bacteria that inhabit the human body, inside and out. Your gut, skin, mouth and all surfaces that interact with the environment all have their own microbiome. Every day you are sharing intimate spaces with your partner and also with trillions of teeny tiny bugs.
These microbiomes are made up of an enormous ecosystem of microbes including viruses, fungi and bacteria. They are experts at living in symbiosis, or in harmony, with us. Wouldn’t it be nice if every relationship naturally balanced in harmony like the microbes!
A study from the American Society for Microbiology looked at how couple’s microbiomes interact within a relationship. Their findings suggest that couples really do share everything – including each other’s skin bacteria.
Most bacteria found on the skin are harmless and many are beneficial and crucial to help the body prevent pathogenic microbes from spreading. The skin is the largest organ on the body, forming a protective barrier between an organism and its environment, and the more diverse a person’s skin or gut microbiome is the healthier it is.
Researchers studied the skin microbiomes of 10 sexually active, heterosexual couples who live together, analysing skin swabs gathered from different parts of the body. They found that each person’s skin microbiome significantly impacted the bacteria living on their partner’s skin.
‘The most surprising aspect of the study was that we could identify a microbial fingerprint common to cohabiting couples.’ Josh Neufeld, co-author and a biologist at University of Waterloo, told the New York Times.
The study found that couples were most similar based on foot microbiota, which is heavily impacted by the collection and distribution of dust and shed skin particles, easily picked up by the couples throughout the home – especially when walking around barefooted. Computer algorithms analysing the microbial data of the couples matched them up with an accuracy of 86%, proving how much couples share when it comes to the microbes living on their skin.
But men and women are still very different and have unique microbes. The study found that the inner thigh region was found to be the best indicator of individuality among people of the same sex rather than between cohabiting partners of opposite sex. The inner thighs of men were dominated by the skin bacteria, Corynebacterium whereas women’s thighs were dominated by Lactobacillus, bacteria from the vaginal microbiome.
Amazingly, researchers found that consuming smaller amounts of alcohol and exercising more were associated with higher levels of microbial diversity, indicating health. The more we learn about factors that influence the human microbiome the more we can understand how this diverse ecosystem can protect our bodies from diseases and support our immune system to cope with stressful environments.
Your partner plays an important role in shaping your microbiome so make sure you appreciate their influence this Valentine’s day. We hope you all get spoilt rotten!