University of Alabama researchers are about to begin a study that may prove that dogs have a probiotic effect on the gut bacteria of humans.
Probiotics, found in yogurt, dairy products and supplement pills, consist of millions of bacteria cultures. These are considered to be the good kind of bacteria, since they help in digestion and can assist ailments such as irritable bowel disease (IBS), childhood diarrhea, and bowel infections.
Kim Kelly, a study investigator and anthropology doctoral student at UA, along with other researchers, will test whether living with a dog affects the growth of probiotic bacteria in older adults, to the point of actually improving their physical and mental health.
“We’ve co-evolved with dogs over the millennia, but nobody really understands what it is about this dog-human relationship that makes us feel good about being around dogs,” said Kelly. “Is it just that they’re fuzzy and we like to pet them, or is there something else going on under the skin? The question really is: Has the relationship between dogs and humans gotten under the skin? And we believe it has.”
“We essentially want to find out, is a dog acting like yogurt in having a probiotic effect?”
There isn’t much research on exactly why dog owners seem to be generally be happier and healthier than their dog-free counterparts, but the research that has been done still baffles scientists.
“We think dogs might work as probiotics to enhance the health of the bacteria that live in our guts. These bacteria, or ‘microbiota,’ are increasingly recognized as playing an essential role in our mental and physical health, especially as we age,” said Dr. Charles Raison, principal investigator for the study and a UA Professor of Psychiatry in the College of Medicine.
Participants in the study will be paired with a dog from the Humane Society for 3 months, At the beginning of the study, both the human and dog will have their gut bacteria, diet, physical activity levels and immune function all (non-invasively) tested. At the end of 1, 2 and finally 3 months, the tests will be performed again. The results will show what effect, if any, cohabiting and smooching a dog actually does have on one’s mental and physical health.
All participants will all be over 50 years of age, and will not have lived with a dog for at least six months.
To find out more visit: www.uadogstudy.org