Meditating Deeply May Change Gut Microbiome for the Better

A small comparative study shows that long-term, consistent deep meditation may help regulate the gut microbiome, helping lower the risk of both physical and mental illness. A group of Tibetan Buddhist monks’ gut microbes were discovered to be significantly different from those of their secular neighbors, and these differences have been associated with a lower risk of anxiety, depression, and cardiovascular disease.

Previous research indicates the gut microbiome can influence mood and behavior via the gut-brain axis. This includes the immune system, hormonal signalling, stress response, and the vagus nerve — the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates various vital bodily functions.

The group and specimen designs are significant in that these deep-thinking Tibetan monks can serve as representatives of some deeper meditations.

Tibetan Buddhist Meditation

Meditation is increasingly being used in treatment of mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and chronic pain. It is unclear whether it can also change the composition of the gut microbiome.

To find out, the researchers examined the stool and blood samples of 37 Tibetan Buddhist monks from three temples, as well as 19 secular residents from the surrounding areas.

As stated by the researchers, Tibetan Buddhist meditation derives from the ancient Indian medical system known as Ayurveda and is a type of psychological training. The monks in this study had been doing it for at least two hours a day for three to thirty years.

None of the participants had taken any antibiotics, probiotics, prebiotics, or antifungal medications in the three months prior, which can affect the number and variety of gut microbes. Age, blood pressure, heart rate, and diet were matched between the two groups.

Meditation Enriched Good Bacteria

The number and types of microbes in the stool samples of the monks were very different from those of their neighbors.

As expected, Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes species dominated both groups. However, the stool samples from the monks had a significant increase in Bacteroidetes (29% vs. 4%), as well as Prevotella (42% vs. 6%), Megamonas, and Faecalibacterium in large amounts.

“Collectively, several bacteria enriched in the meditation group [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 write.

As suggested by previous research, these include Prevotella, Bacteroidetes, Megamonas, and Faecalibacterium species.

Anti-inflammatory Pathways And Metabolism

The scientists then used a sophisticated analytical technique to predict which chemical processes the microbes might be influencing. This indicated that in the meditation group, several protective anti-inflammatory pathways, as well as metabolism (the conversion of food into energy), were enhanced.

Lastly, blood sample analysis revealed that levels of agents associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, such as total cholesterol and apolipoprotein B, were significantly lower in monks than in their secular neighbors, as determined by functional analysis with gut microbes.

Even though this was a comparative study, it was observational, the sample size was small, the participants were all male, and they lived at a high altitude, making it difficult to draw firm or general conclusions. In addition, the potential health consequences could only be inferred from previously published research.

However, based on their findings, the researchers conclude that the role of meditation in preventing or treating psychosomatic illness warrants further investigation.

“These results suggest that long-term deep meditation may have a beneficial effect on gut microbiota, enabling the body to maintain an optimal state of health,”

they write in conclusion.

Reference:
  1. Sun Y, Ju P, Xue T, et al. Alteration of faecal microbiota balance related to long-term deep meditation. General Psychiatry 2023;36:e100893. doi: 10.1136/gpsych-2022-100893

 

 

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