Loneliness vs Wisdom

Loneliness vs Wisdom

Most of us are aware that just because one is alone does not mean they are lonely. However, in these days of social isolation, lock downs, curfews, and other interruptions of our normal human relationships, the tendency to experience loneliness is growing dramatically. (Remember, you can be sequestered with your family, but if you are a young person it is the absence of your friends and peers that leads to feeling of loneliness; family does not fulfill the social needs of young people at certain points in their life.). In this newsletter we are going to look at a study that explores loneliness and wisdom.

Now, I would have guessed that wisdom is a more esoteric term, but in fact the traits defined as part of wisdom correspond to distinct areas of the brain. And, according to other studies on the subject, more happiness and life satisfaction corresponds with greater wisdom, and less wisdom results in unhappiness and less satisfaction with life.  Putting aside my surprise that the scientific community studies wisdom, such studies have determined “that persons deemed to be wiser are less prone to feel lonely while those who are lonelier also tend to be less wise”. 

Once this conclusion was established, researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine set out to examine the relationship between wisdom and loneliness from a different angle.

Microbial Diversity

Their new study (published March 25, 2021, in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry), discovered that wisdom and loneliness appear to influence microbial diversity in the gut, and like with many microbiome issues, vice versa also holds true: the microbial diversity of the gut influences our feelings of loneliness and our potential for wisdom.  The microbiome is called the “second brain” for good reason, this “gut-brain axis” linking intestinal function to the cognitive and emotional areas of the brain.

This communication between the brain and the gut is regulated by hormones, the immune system, and neural activity. Therefore, alterations to the microbiome can affect these communications, and excessive stress responses, and emotional arousal, can in turn affect the microbiome. Such disruptions in the gut-brain axis can affect our higher cognitive abilities, like decision making, leading to poor decisions which can lead to less happiness and life satisfaction.  It has already been well established that poor health of the microbiome is linked to anxiety, bipolar disorders, depression, and schizophrenia. These and other mental health disorders affect key personality and psychological traits which are considered basic components of wisdom.

Now, as I discussed in a previous newsletter (Butter-up Your Social Life), the health of the gut microbiome has also been linked to social behavior. And, it has recently been discovered that those with a more diverse gut microbiota tend to have a larger social network.

The Study

In the study we are examining here, 187 participants (ages 28 to 97) completed self-reports designed to measure compassion, loneliness, social engagement, social support, and wisdom.  Then their gut microbiota was analyzed (via fecal samples) looking at gut diversity, the variety of microbial species in each subject, and the differences in microbial composition between the individual subjects.

The researchers admitted that the mechanisms by which compassion, loneliness, and wisdom are tied to microbial diversity in the gut, are not yet understood. However, it was nonetheless clear that those with less microbial diversity had worse mental (major depression) and physical health (inflammatory bowel disease, obesity).

We found that lower levels of loneliness and higher levels of wisdom, compassion, social support and engagement were associated with greater phylogenetic richness and diversity of the gut microbiome,” said first author Tanya T. Nguyen, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “It is possible that loneliness may result in decreased stability of the gut microbiome and, consequently, reduced resistance and resilience to stress-related disruptions, leading to downstream physiological effects, such as systemic inflammation.”

This study, consistent with previous research, confirmed that the relationship between microbial diversity and loneliness was stronger in the older subjects, versus the younger ones. Thus, loneliness and social isolation are going to have a worse effect on the health of the elderly.

Two-Way Street

As discussed above, the amount of stress and loneliness we experience affects the microbiome, but so does the health of the microbiome affect how we cope with stress and loneliness.  Thus, providing compassion, social support, and empathy to the susceptible, may offer protection against loneliness-induced disruption of the microbiome.

Conversely, supporting a strong, diverse mix of microflora in the gut may help people cope with chronic stress, and help them to maintain social behaviors that can support “wisdom”, which counteracts the tendency to feel lonely.  “Loneliness may lead to changes in the gut microbiome or, reciprocally, alterations of the gut milieu may predispose an individual to become lonely,” said Dilip V. Jeste, MD, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine and senior author of the paper. “We need to investigate much more thoroughly to better understand the phenomenon of the gut-brain axis.” (Study)


Maintaining a healthy diversity in the microbiome is more dependent on consuming fermented foods, fibers, and prebiotics, than upon taking a multi-strain probiotic product. Especially since such products have been shown to pass through the gut without colonizing in the case of healthy people. (Newsletter on the subject.)

(Also, check out this newsletter if you have not read it already: Best Diet for a Healthy Microbiome)

Once again, I will recommend our LactoSpore Supreme as an ideal way to ensure a healthy and abundant mix of good flora in the gut. Moreso, the use of LactoSpore Supreme for the purpose of maintaining a healthy mood has been confirmed by recent research.

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