Study finds deep meditation can improve your gut health

  • A new study has found that Tibetan monks who meditate regularly have better gut microbiota than people who don’t meditate.
  • This isn’t the first study to link meditation to good gut health.
  • Experts say it can’t hurt to add meditation to your life.

Meditation has been a hot practice for years, and research has linked it to everything from a reduced risk of depression to stress relief. Now, a new study has found that meditation can improve your gut health.

The study, which was published in BMJ General Psychiatry, analyzed fecal (i.e., poop) samples from 56 Tibetan Buddhist monks and local residents, and performed genetic sequencing on their poop to examine their gut flora. Researchers have found that two good forms of gut bacteria— Megamonas and Faecalibacteriumwere “significantly enriched” in the group that practiced regular meditation.

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

Long-term traditional Tibetan Buddhist meditation can have a positive impact 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 the monks practice Ayurvedic meditation for at least two hours a day and have done so for three to 30 years, a level of dedication that is not really practical for most people.

But that’s not 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 impact your gut health?

It’s important to recognize from the outset that the study was small, all participants were male, and all lived in Tibet, which makes it difficult to say for sure that everyone who meditates will have better health. “Monks and Witnesses differ from each other in many ways, not only in terms of meditation, but in many factors, beyond those that have been controlled for, including diet, previous life experiences says Martin J. Blaser, MD, professor and Henry Rutgers Chair of the Human Microbiome at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “It is possible that meditation makes a difference but it is not proven.” Still, he says, the study was “well done.”

But there is other data to suggest that meditation can improve 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 body inflammation and helping to maintain a healthy intestinal barrier.

Another study published in 2021 compared the gut microbiomes of meditating vegans with non-meditating meat eaters and found that the meditators had healthier gut flora. (But, in this 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 research on the impact of meditation on health is “preliminary” and “difficult to measure”, but says it can help treat mental health issues. such as anxiety and depression, as well as promoting healthy eating behavior.

But what does meditation have to do with your gut? Meditation and mindfulness practices can affect your brain function or structure, according to the NCCIH, and your gut is directly linked to your brain through a pathway known as the gut-brain axis, the clinical psychologist explains. Thea Gallagher, Psy.D., a clinical assistant professor at NYU Langone Health and co-host of the Mind in sight podcast. “There is a clear connection there,” she says. “You get butterflies in your stomach when you go to give a speech or you feel like you can’t eat when you’re grieving. When you feel very strong emotions, you may experience symptoms in your gut.

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

Specifically, Dr. Bedford says, meditation can positively impact your parasympathetic nervous system (which controls your bodily functions, including digestion, when you’re at rest) and your sympathetic nervous system (which helps activate the response “fight or flight” of your body). . These systems “control various functions in the gut, including whether we are digesting food properly and the rate at which digestion occurs,” says Dr. Bedford.

“Meditation likely impacts both the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system, and in various ways to help reduce inflammation and maintain effective processing in your system,” says Dr. Bedford.

Although the study was done on monks, Dr. Bedford says it’s likely other people can benefit from meditation for their gut health. “A little meditation here and there will definitely make your gut strong,” he says.

How to improve your gut health

Many factors go into good gut health, and it takes more than meditation to keep yours in top shape, says Dr. Bedford. 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 consume about 25 grams of fiber per day, while men aim for 38 grams).
  • Sleep regularly (seven hours or more per night is recommended for more adults).
  • Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
  • Manage your stress level.
  • Seek treatment for mental health issues like anxiety and depression, which can impact your gut-brain axis.

How to incorporate meditation into your life

Although meditation has been linked to a host of positive health impacts, you don’t have to do it for hours a day to reap the benefits. “Meditation is good in many ways, and even short meditation courses can be beneficial,” says Dr. Bedford.

The idea of ​​meditating can be daunting for people, so Gallagher recommends starting small. “It starts with a mindful way of looking at life — being in the present and being fully engaged with your cup of coffee,” she says. From there, you can try mindfulness apps to guide you through your meditations or consider taking a yoga class. Most have “at least some level of meditation,” says Gallagher.

Another way to incorporate meditation into your life? Do it while you are walking. “Go for a walk and don’t pick up 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. It really is the take-out.

Portrait of Korin Miller

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

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