People often say meditation nourishes the mind the way food nourishes the body, but a team of researchers have reason to believe that the therapeutic ancient practice can do a little bit of both.
According to a recent study out of Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, mental exercises like deep meditation can go a long way to improve gut health.
Meditation is an age-old practice that is said to have originated in ancient China and India. Fast forward several thousands of years and it has gone on to become one of the most widely practiced forms of alternative and complementary medicine in modern-day healthcare.
Just by sitting in a comfy chair, taking deep breaths, and clearing one’s mind, stress levels can be lowered and mental health disorders like anxiety and depression can be treated.
Researchers have reported in the past that microorganisms in the gut are capable of affecting a person’s mood, behavior, and even immune system, all through the gut-brain axis. Armed with this knowledge, scientists continue to seek out new and unique methods of improving these gut organisms.
Exploring the use of meditation, the authors of this study set out to see what effects the mindful practice would have on the nature and volume of gut microbiota and how it could impact general well-being. To do this, several Buddhist monks were examined alongside their non-meditating neighbors only to discover several fascinating distinctions.
A total of 56 participants were used for the study, none of whom had any prior use of antibiotics, probiotics, prebiotics, or any substance capable of altering the volume and diversity of gut microbes in the preceding three months. Thirty-seven of them were Tibetan Buddhist monks from three different temples all of whom practiced meditation for at least 2 hours a day for 3-30 years. Meanwhile, the remaining 19 were regular male individuals with no history of meditation.
Stool and blood samples were obtained from all participants from which the DNA of gut microbes was extracted for analysis for identification.
Analysis of the stool samples revealed a plethora of organisms with significant diversity and volume in both groups. Discovered within the fecal samples of the meditation group were bacterial species largely associated with the alleviation of mental illness, suggesting meditation can influence bacteria that play roles in improving mental health.
Researchers found that species like Megamonas and Faecalibacterium were enriched within the meditation group samples. Megamonas has been associated with psycho-cognitive traits while Faecalibacterium has been associated with reduced anxiety disorder. Prevotella, a bacterial species found to be abundant in healthy patients and significantly reduced in autistic children, was also found abundantly in the meditation group sample.
“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,” the researchers write in the paper.