Did you know that your gut bugs play a key role in determining your likes and dislikes? And we’re not just talking about food here! Your gut bacteria – along with your genes and your environment – determine your preferences in some of the most important aspects of your life, including your romantic partners and political beliefs!
In the latest issue of National Geographic magazine, Dr. Bill Sullivan dives into this concept of human choice and behavior being more a product of biology and less a result of well thought out decision making. For instance, in the case of food, those who despise bitter vegetables such as broccoli or kale can be more genetically susceptible to picking up the bitter taste in these veggies due to a variation in the gene TAS2R38. In the case of romance, we are less attracted to those who have more similar immune systems to ourselves – a more diverse immune system means a stronger immune system for our offspring. And in the case of politics, studies show that our personality traits (which are oftentimes genetic) determine our political preferences; areas of the brain differ in Republicans and Democrats; and variations in our dopamine receptors can help predict which way we’ll vote. In addition, identical twins separated at birth are very likely to have the same political preferences.
Takeaway: While you might be freaked out by the fact that in the end, you have very little say in what you like and dislike (the very things that make you who you are!), we can use this knowledge to our advantage. First, as Dr. Sullivan points out, realizing biology plays a strong role in our preferences and behaviors should ignite feelings of empathy, compassion, and understanding towards others and their struggles.
And second, our gut microbes and genes are the two biological entities that drive our preferences. Lucky for us, we have the ability to alter and optimize both our genetic code and our gut microbiome through our environment – the things we put into our bodies and the habits we form. While it can be a vicious cycle (the foods we eat and the habits we form are influenced by our biology), we have the opportunity through healthy foods, exercise, sleep, and stress reduction, to cultivate a healthy microbiome and turn beneficial genes “on”, while quieting the more negative aspects of our genetic code.
Find out more about optimizing your microbiome, and in turn your genetic code, in Dr. Chutkan’s book: The Microbiome Solution.