A study finds that deep meditation may improve the health of your gut

  • A new study finds that Tibetan monks who meditate regularly have better gut microbiomes than people who don’t meditate.
  • This isn’t the first study linking meditation to good gut health.
  • Experts say adding meditation to your life doesn’t hurt.

contemplation It’s been a buzzy practice for years, and research has linked it to everything from a lower risk of depression to less stress. Now, a new study finds that meditation may boost your gut health.

The study published in BMJ General PsychiatryThey analyzed the stool (that is, feces) samples of 56 Tibetan Buddhist monks and local residents, and performed genetic sequencing on their poop to examine their intestinal flora. Researchers have discovered that two forms of good gut bacteria – Megamonas And fecesThey were “significantly enriched” in the group that practiced regular meditation.

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

In the study conclusion, the researchers wrote that long-term, traditional Tibetan Buddhist meditation may positively affect physical and mental health. “Overall, these findings indicate that meditation plays a positive role in psychosomatic states and well-being.”

It is important to note that monks practice Ayurvedic meditation for at least two hours a day and have been doing it for between three and thirty years – a level of devotion that is not really practical for most people.

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

Why might meditation affect your gut health?

It’s important to realize upfront that the study was small, all of the participants were men, and they all lived in Tibet, which makes it hard to definitively say that everyone who practices meditation will have better health. “Monks and controls differ from each other in many ways, not only in terms of meditation but in many factors, in addition to the factors that were controlled for, including diet, and past life experiences,” notes Martin J. Professor Henry Rutgers and Chair of the Human Microbiome at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “It is possible that meditation can make the difference, but this is not proven.” Still, he says, the study was “well done.”

But there is other data that suggests meditation can boost your gut health. One Dimensional analysis The publication in 2017 determined that although stress can disrupt gut and microbiome barrier function, meditation helps regulate the body’s response to stress, suppressing chronic bodily inflammation and helping to maintain a healthy gut barrier.

else study published in 2021 comparing the gut microbes of vegans who meditate with meat eaters who do not meditate and found that meditators had healthy gut flora. (But, in this case, it’s hard to tell how much of a role meditation versus diet played.)

the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) notes that much of the research on meditation’s effect on health is “preliminary” and “hard to measure,” but says it may help with mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, along with promoting healthy eating behavior.

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

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

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

“Meditation has the potential to affect both the sympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system, and in various ways to help reduce inflammation and maintain efficient processing in your system,” says Dr. Bedford.

While the study was done on monks, Dr. Bedford says it’s possible that other people may enjoy some gut-healthy benefits from meditation. “A little meditation here and there will definitely make your gut solid,” he says.

How to improve your gut health

There are a lot of factors that contribute to good gut health, and it takes more than just meditation to keep your gut in tip-top shape, says Dr. Bedford. If you want to improve your gut health, Dr. Bedford suggests doing the following:

  • eat more fiber ( National Institutes of Health (NIH recommends women get about 25 grams of fiber per day, while men aim for 38 grams).
  • Get regular sleep (seven or more hours per night Recommended to more adults).
  • Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
  • Control your stress levels.
  • Seek treatment for mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, which can affect the gut-brain axis.

How to incorporate meditation into your life

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

The idea of ​​meditation can be intimidating to people, which is why Gallagher recommends starting small. “It starts with a mindful 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 guide you through meditations or consider taking a yoga class—most of them “have at least some level of meditation,” Gallagher says.

Another way to get meditation into your life? Do this while walking. “Go for a walk and don’t take your music or look at your phone. Instead, observe nature,” advises Gallagher.

“Meditation is good all around,” says Dr. Bedford. “No negatives. That’s really the takeaway.”

Shot in the head by Corinne Miller

Corinne Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual and relationship health, 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 own a cup of tea and a taco truck one day.

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