Study Shows Deep Meditation Can Improve Your Gut Health

  • The new study found that Tibetan monks who meditate regularly have a better microbiome than those who do not meditate.
  • This isn’t the first study to link meditation to good gut health.
  • Experts say that there is no harm in incorporating meditation into your life.

Meditation has been an indulgent practice for years, and research has linked it to everything from a lower risk of depression to stress relief. Now, a new study has found that meditation may boost your gut health.

The study, which was published in BMJ General Psychiatry, analyzed stool (i.e. feces) samples from 56 Tibetan Buddhist monks and local residents, and performed gene sequencing on their feces to examine their intestinal flora. Researchers discover two good forms of gut bacteria megamonas And Faecalibacterium,Those in the group who practiced regular meditation were “significantly prosperous”.

The researchers noted that the bacteria has been linked to a lower risk of anxiety, depression and heart disease, and has also been associated with “enhanced immune function.” Blood samples taken from the study participants also found that the monks had lower cholesterol levels than the control group.

,Long-term traditional Tibetan Buddhist meditation can have positive effects on physical and mental health,” the researchers wrote in the study’s conclusion. “Overall, these results suggest that meditation plays a positive role in psychosomatic conditions and well-being.”

It is important to point out that monks practice Ayurvedic meditation for at least two hours a day and have been doing so for between three and 30 years – a level of dedication that is not really practical for most people.

But this isn’t the only study that links meditation to good gut health and beyond. So, should you meditate regularly for your health? Here’s what the experts have to say.

Why can meditation affect your gut health?

It’s important to acknowledge up front that the study was small, all participants were male, and they all lived in Tibet, making it difficult to say with certainty that anyone who meditated would have better health. “Monks and controls differed from each other in many ways, not only in terms of attention but in a number of factors that were controlled for, including diet, prior life experiences,” says Martin J. Blaser, MD explains. Professor and Henry Rutgers Chair of the Human Microbiome at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “It is possible that there is a focus difference but it is not proven.” Still, he says, the study was “well-conducted.”

But there’s other data that suggests meditation may boost your gut health. A meta-analysis published in 2017 determined that, while stress can disrupt gut barrier function and the microbiome, meditation helps regulate the body’s response to stress, suppressing chronic physiological inflammation and maintaining a healthy gut barrier. helps to maintain.

Another study published in 2021 compared the gut microbiome of vegetarians who meditate with those of meat eaters who do not meditate and found that the meditators had healthier gut flora. (But, in that case, it’s hard to know how much of a role meditation versus diet played.)

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) notes that much of the research into the effects of meditation on health is “preliminary” and “difficult to measure,” but says it may be associated with mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression— can help with. Promoting healthy eating behaviours.

But what does meditation have to do with your gut? The NCCIH states that meditation and mindfulness practices can affect the functioning or structure of your brain, and that your gut is directly connected to your brain, known as the gut-brain axis, Clinical Psychologist Thea Gallagher, Psy.D., says one. Clinical Assistant Professor and Co-Host at NYU Langone Health mind in view podcast. “There’s a clear connection,” she says. “You get butterflies in your stomach when you’re about to give a speech, or you feel like you can’t eat when you’re sad. When you feel really strong emotions, you feel symptoms in your gut.” can experience.”

It can also affect your gut at a cellular level. “On a very basic level, meditation helps reduce stress which helps promote a better microbiome,” says Rudolph Bedford, MD, a gastroenterologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

More specifically, says Dr. Bedford, meditation can positively affect your parasympathetic nervous system (which controls your bodily functions—including digestion—when you’re at rest) and sympathetic nervous system (which controls your Helps activate the body’s “fight or flight” response). These systems “control various functions in the gut,” says Dr. Bedford, including whether we’re digesting food properly and the speed at which digestion occurs.

“Meditation likely affects both the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, and helps reduce inflammation and maintain efficient processing in your system in a variety of ways,” says Dr. Bedford.

While the study was done on monks, Dr. Bedford says it’s likely that other people may have some gut health benefits from meditation. “A little meditation here and there will definitely solidify your gut,” he says.

How to improve your gut health

Dr. Bedford says there are many factors that go into good gut health, and keeping it in optimal shape requires more than just attention. If you want to improve your gut health, Dr. Bedford suggests doing the following:

  • Eat more fiber (the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that women get about 25 grams of fiber a day, while men strive for 38 grams).
  • Get regular sleep (seven or more hours a night is recommended for most adults).
  • Try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week.
  • Manage your stress level.
  • Seek treatment for mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, that can affect your gut-brain axis.

how to incorporate meditation into your life

While meditation has been linked to a slew of positive health effects, you don’t need to do it for hours on end to reap the benefits. “Meditation is good in many cases and even short courses of meditation can be beneficial,” says Dr. Bedford.

The idea of ​​meditating can be intimidating for most people, which is why Gallagher recommends that you start small. “It starts with a great way of looking at life—being in the present and fully engaged with your cup of coffee,” she says. From there, you can try mindfulness apps to help you through meditation or consider taking a yoga class—most involve “at least some level of meditation,” says Gallagher.

Another way to get attention in your life? Do it while you’re on the go. “Go for a walk and don’t take on your music or look at your phone. Observe nature instead,” advises Gallagher.

“Meditation is good in every way,” says Dr. Bedford. “There are no downsides. That’s really the takeaway.

Corinne Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general health, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamor and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives on the beach, and hopes to one day own a teacup pig and taco truck.

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