Regular deep meditation, practised for several years, may help to regulate the gut microbiome and potentially lower the risks of physical and mental ill health, a recent study has found.
Meditation is increasingly being used to help treat mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse, as well as eating disorders and chronic pain.
However, it’s not clear if it might also be able to alter the composition of the gut microbiome.
In a bid to find out, the researchers analysed the stool and blood samples of 37 Tibetan Buddhist monks from three temples and 19 secular residents in the surrounding areas.
Tibetan Buddhist meditation originates from the ancient Indian medical system known as Ayurveda, and is a form of psychological training, the researchers.
The monks in the study had been practising it for at least two hours a day for between three and 30 years.
None of the study participants had used agents that can alter the volume and diversity of gut microbes: antibiotics; probiotics; prebiotics; or antifungal drugs in the preceding three months.
The groups were matched for age, blood pressure, heart rate and diet.
Stool sample analysis found significant differences in the diversity and volume of microbes between the monks and their neighbours.
Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes species were dominant in both groups, as the researchers expected.
However Bacteroidetes were significantly enriched in the monks’ stool samples (29 per cent vs 4 per cent), which also contained abundant Prevotella (42 per cent vs 6 per cent) and a high volume of Megamonas and Faecalibacterium.
The researchers wrote:
“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.”
These include Prevotella, Bacteroidetes, Megamonas and Faecalibacterium species, previous research found.
The researchers then conducted an advanced analytical technique to predict which chemical processes the microbes might be influencing.
The analysis indicated that several protective anti-inflammatory pathways, in addition to metabolism—the conversion of food into energy—were enhanced in the meditation people.
Finally, 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 the other participants.
The findings suggest that the role of meditation in helping to prevent or treat psychosomatic illness definitely merits further research.
The researchers said:
“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.”