Meditation and the Microbiome
Research in recent years has confirmed that the gut microbiota can influence many aspects of mental and physical health through the microbiota–gut–brain axis. It’s also known that meditation, can positively impact the regulation of an individual’s physical and mental health. Now there is research to show that meditation may influence the composition of the gut microbiome.
Meditation has been used for millennia to achieve wisdom. Tibetan Buddhist meditation, originating in ancient Indian Ayurvedic practices, can be defined as a form of psychological training. It is known to exercise the mind and to allow self-regulation of the body to cultivate well-being, and provide insights into the true nature of all phenomena. Meditation can help regulate overall health through the neural-endocrine-immune network meaning it has a positive impact on many aspects of health including depression, anxiety, chronic pain, substance abuse, trauma and eating disorders (1). It is also used in the treatment of cardiovascular, and digestive diseases (2).
The Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis
The gut microbiota can influence the brain and profoundly impacts mood and behaviour through the microbiota–gut–brain axis. The axis consists of two-way communication between the brain and gut microbiota. The communication is via microbial by-products, immune and inflammatory pathways, neuroendocrine signalling, stress response and the vagus nerve.
The Gut Flora of Buddhist Monks
A recent study examined the intestinal flora of 56 Tibetan Buddhist monks from 3 temples and a control group of neighbouring residents. To minimise the effect of confounding factors the study strictly matched age, sex, smoking, alcohol consumption and dietary habits between the enrolled monks and control subjects. None of the enrolled subject had taken antibiotics, probiotics, prebiotics or antifungal medications for 3 months before faecal sample collection. Both groups had the same dietary structure. The staple foods were highland barley, rice, steamed bread and noodles, with smaller amounts of vegetables, meat and butter.
The Tibetan Buddhist monks performed meditation practices of Samatha and Vipassana for at least 2 hours a day for 3–30 years. Samatha is the Buddhist practice of calm abiding, which steadies and concentrates the mind by resting the individual’s attention on a single object or mantra. Vipassana is an insightful meditation practice that enables one to enquire into the true nature of all phenomena.
The Benefits of Meditation
The intestinal microbiota composition in the meditation group significantly differed from that of the control group. Bacteria enriched in the meditation group are associated with improved physical and mental health. This altered intestinal microbiota composition could reduce the risk of anxiety and depression and improve immune function. Total cholesterol and apolipoprotein B levels were also higher in the control group, which decreased immune function and increased the risk of cardiovascular disease. 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.
For more tips on non-dietary factors that benefit the microbiome read the blog post Exercise and the Microbiome.
- 1. Gen Psychiatr. 2023 Jan 3;36(1):e100893. Alteration of faecal microbiota balance related to long-term deep meditation. Ying Sun et al.
- 2. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2020 Jul 5;2020:9517897. Long-Term Vegan Meditation Improved Human Gut Microbiota. Wenrui Jia et al.