According to a small comparative study published in the General Psychiatry journal, deep meditation, when practiced for years, could help regulate one’s gut microbiome.
Furthermore, it also appears to lower the risks of both mental and physical illnesses.
As it turns out, the gut microbes scientists found in a Tibetan Buddhist monk group were significantly different when compared to secular people’s and have also been linked to a lower risk of depression, cardiovascular disease and anxiety.
The deep thinking Tibetan monks can represent deeper meditation, reason for which this small study is significant.
Meditation is increasingly used to aid with treating mental health issues including substance abuse, PTSD, eating disorders, chronic pain, anxiety and depression.
However, the researchers make it very clear that it’s still not completely clear whether or not meditation can also alter the composition of one’s gut microbiome.
In order to figure that out, they took blood as well as stool samples from 37 Tibetan Buddhist monks from 3 different tempers as well as the same types of samples from 19 secular people residing in neighboring areas.
The Tibetan Buddhist monk group contained people who had been practicing meditation for 2 or more hours every day for anywhere between 3 and 30 years.
In addition to that, it is specified that none of them had used antibiotics, antifungal drugs or probiotics in the 3 months leading to the study.
The next step was to match the two groups based on blood pressure, heart rate, age and diet.
That being said, the samples revealed there were major differences between the monks and the other group in terms of volume and diversity of microbes.
While Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes were expectedly dominant in both groups, Bacteroidetes were much more enriched in the monk group’s samples – 29 percent as opposed to the 4 percent registered in the controlled group.
In addition to that, it also contained abundant Prevotella – 42 percent as opposed to 6 percent – as well as Megamonas and Faecalibacterium.
The team of researchers wrote that “Collectively, several bacteria enriched in the meditation group are associated with the alleviation of mental illness, suggesting that meditation can indeed influence certain bacteria that may have a role in mental health.”
In order to predict which chemical processes the microbes may be influencing, the scientists went on to apply an advanced analytical technique.
This way, they were able to find a number of protective anti-inflammatory pathways that were enhanced in the case of those meditating regularly.
The team concludes that “These results suggest that long term deep meditation can have a beneficial effect on gut microbiota, enabling the body to maintain an optimal state of health.”
Of course, it’s important to mention that it may be difficult to draw a definitive conclusion since the participants were so few, all male and lived at high altitudes.
Regardless, the scientists insist that their findings merit further research on the role meditation plays in preventing or even treating psychosomatic illness.