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[YOU FEEL ME?] Meditation may alter gut microbes, boost health

Regular deep meditation, practiced for several years, may help to regulate the gut microbiome and potentially lower the risks of physical and mental ill health, according to a small study, The study found that gut microbes in a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks differed substantially from those of their secular neighbors, and have been linked to a lower risk of anxiety, depression, and cardiovascular disease.

The authors note that research has shown that the gut microbiome can affect mood and behavior through the gut–brain axis. This includes the body's immune response, hormonal signaling, stress response and the vagus nerve--the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system, which oversees an array of crucial bodily functions. In addition, meditation is increasingly being used to help treat mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, traumatic stress, and eating disorders, as well as chronic pain.

But it is not clear if it might also be able to alter the composition of the gut microbiome, according to the researchers. To investigate, they analyzed stool and blood samples from 37 Tibetan Buddhist monks from three temples and 19 secular residents in the neighboring areas. The monks had been practicing Tibetan Buddhist meditation for at least two hours a day for between three and 30 years.

None of the participants had used agents that can alter the volume and diversity of gut microbes, such as antibiotics, probiotics, prebiotics or antifungal drugs in the preceding three months. Both groups were matched for age, blood pressure, heart rate, and diet.

Stool sample analyses revealed significant differences in the diversity and volume of microbes between the monks and their neighbors. Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes species were dominant in both groups, as would be expected. But Bacteroidetes were significantly enriched in the monks' stool samples (29% vs 4%), which also contained abundant Prevotella (42% vs 6%) and a high volume of 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, according to the researchers.

Additional analyses 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. The researchers conclude, "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."

To read the study, published in General Psychiatry, click here

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