A recent study published in the journal General Psychiatry found that regular deep meditation, as practiced by Tibetan Buddhist monks, may regulate the gut microbiome and potentially reduce the risk of physical and mental illnesses. The gut microbiome affects mood and behavior through the gut-brain axis, which includes the immune response, hormonal signaling, stress response, and the vagus nerve. Although meditation is increasingly being used to treat mental health disorders and other conditions, it is not clear if it can also alter the gut microbiome.
Research Analysis That Proves the Impact of Meditation on Gut Microbes
The researchers analyzed stool and blood samples from 37 Tibetan Buddhist monks and 19 secular residents in neighboring areas, who were matched for age, blood pressure, heart rate, and diet. The monks had been practicing Tibetan Buddhist meditation for at least 2 hours a day for between 3 and 30 years, and none of the participants had used agents that could alter the volume and diversity of gut microbes in the preceding 3 months.
Stool sample analysis revealed significant differences in the diversity and volume of microbes between the monks and their neighbors. Bacteroidetes were significantly enriched in the monks' stool samples, which also contained abundant Prevotella, Megamonas, and Faecalibacterium. These bacteria have been associated with the alleviation of mental illness, suggesting that meditation can influence certain bacteria that may have a role in mental health.
The researchers used an advanced analytical technique to predict which chemical processes the microbes might be influencing, indicating that several protective anti-inflammatory pathways, in addition to metabolism, were enhanced in the meditation group. Blood sample analysis showed that levels of agents associated with a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease, including total cholesterol and apolipoprotein B, were significantly lower in the monks than in their secular neighbors.
Although the study is comparative and observational, and the number of participants was small, all male, and lived at high altitudes, the findings suggest that the role of meditation in preventing or treating psychosomatic illness merits further research. The researchers concluded that "long-term deep meditation may have a beneficial effect on gut microbiota, enabling the body to maintain an optimal state of health."
The Bottom Line!.. This study provides preliminary evidence that deep meditation, as practiced by Tibetan Buddhist monks, could regulate the gut microbiome and reduce the risk of physical and mental illnesses, including anxiety, depression, and cardiovascular disease. However, larger and more diverse studies are needed to validate these findings and to determine the mechanisms by which meditation may influence the gut microbiome.
Despite this, it is clear that the gut-brain axis plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health and well-being and that interventions aimed at improving gut health, such as meditation, may be an important adjunct to traditional therapies for a range of health conditions.