Tibetan Buddhist monks, who meditate regularly, had vastly different gut microbiomes than the non-meditating control group.
Recent medical interests have focused on the gut microbiome as the epicenter of health. Indeed, the microbiota-gut-brain axis has been proven to influence mental and physical wellbeing.
Meditation, the internal mental exercise of paying attention to the present moment, can also impact one’s physical and mental health. However, there has been very little investigation into the fecal microbiota after years of practicing meditation.
A new study, published in General Psychiatry, examined the effects of long-term deep meditation on the gut microbiome structure.
To study the intestinal flora, the investigators performed 16S rRNA gene sequencing on fecal samples from 56 Tibetan Buddhist monks and neighboring residents. After sequencing the data, the investigators utilized linear discriminant analysis effect size (LEfSe) to identify differences in the 2 groups’ intestinal microbial communities. They also analyzed biochemical indices in plasma from the study cohorts.
Interestingly, the α-diversity indices of the meditation and control group differed significantly. Broken down by genus, Prevotella and Bacteroides were far more enriched in the meditating Tibetan Buddhist monks. The LEfSe analysis revealed the meditation group also had enriched Megamonas and Faecalibacterium, 2 very beneficial bacterial genera.
Functional predictive analysis showed several pathways, such as glycan biosynthesis, metabolism, and lipopolysaccharide biosynthesis, that were significantly enriched in the meditation group. The meditation group’s plasma levels revealed their clinical risk factors were significantly lower, including their total cholesterol and apolipoprotein B.
These findings led the study authors to conclude that long-term traditional Tibetan Buddhist meditation may positively impact physical and mental health. They confirmed that the monks’ gut microbiota composition could be differentiated as healthier than that of the control group.
The enriched microbiota of the meditating monks was associated with a decreased risk of anxiety, depression, and cardiovascular disease. “Overall, these results suggest that meditation plays a positive role in psychosomatic conditions and well-being,” the investigators concluded.