Relationship Functioning and Gut Microbiota Composition among Older Adult Couples

Qiwen Cheng, Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown, John K. DiBaise, Juan Maldonado, M. Aaron Guest, Michael Todd, Shelby L. Langer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An emerging area of research extends work on couple functioning and physical health to gut health, a critical marker of general health and known to diminish with age. As a foray into this area, we conducted a pilot study to (1) determine the feasibility of remote data collection, including a fecal sample, from older adult couples, (2) examine within-couple concordance in gut microbiota composition, and (3) examine associations between relationship functioning and gut microbiota composition. Couples (N = 30) were recruited from the community. The participants’ demographic characteristics were as follows: M (SD) age = 66.6 (4.8), 53% female, 92% White, and 2% Hispanic. Two of the couples were same-sex. All 60 participants completed self-report measures and supplied a fecal sample for microbiome analysis. Microbial DNA was extracted from the samples, and the 16S rRNA gene V4 region was amplified and sequenced. The results indicated that individuals shared more similar gut microbial composition with their partners than with others in the sample, p < 0.0001. In addition, individuals with better relationship quality (greater relationship satisfaction and intimacy and less avoidant communication) had greater microbial diversity, p < 0.05, a sign of healthier gut microbiota. Further research with a larger and more diverse sample is warranted to elucidate mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5435
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • couples
  • gut microbial diversity
  • gut microbiome
  • intimacy
  • relationship satisfaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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