Taking time to meditate not only soothes the mind, but it can also have lasting positive effects on your gut health over a period of sustained effort.
Through a fascinating study published in General Psychiatry, researchers discovered that regular deep meditation can modify the gut microbiome and positively affect one’s overall health. Buddhist monks who had been practicing for several years were found to have significantly different microbes compared with their non-meditating counterparts—hinting at the remarkable psychological effects of meditative practice.
The combination of good gut bacteria and microbiota, which is enriched in monastic life, has been associated with improved mental well-being such as lowered anxiety and depression levels. Additionally, it reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease while boosting immune system strength—proving that meditation not only benefits one spiritually but also physically.
How was the meditation and gut health study conducted?
In order to evaluate if meditation has a more profound influence on human health, researchers collected blood and stool samples from 37 Buddhist monks living in three Tibetan temples as well as 19 individuals in the vicinity. An analysis of the monks’ samples revealed that their guts were significantly enriched with a diverse array of bacteria strains.
To ensure accurate results, participants had not used any agents that can influence the volume or diversity of gut microbes such as antibiotics, probiotics, prebiotics, or antifungal drugs within the last three months. To ensure a fair comparison, both groups were equated for age, blood pressure, heart rate, and diet.
The researchers urged further research into the potential health advantages of meditation, citing a range of positive effects.
How does gut health impact mental health
Several studies prove that the complex interaction between the gut and brain, known as the gut-brain axis, can profoundly influence our emotions and behavior by altering levels of bacteria in the body. The gut-brain axis is a dynamic two-way communication between the gastrointestinal tract and central nervous system, manufacturing compounds that can reach the blood-brain barrier and heavily affect our emotions. Our gut health has an indisputable effect on our mental wellness, as much as it does vice versa. It’s only logical that if an upset stomach can communicate with the brain, then a relaxed mind should be able to converse with our digestive system.
The researchers also highlighted that meditation is becoming an increasingly popular method for treating mental health issues including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, trauma-related stress, and eating disorders as well as chronic pain. Scientists theorize that meditation and taking several deep breaths can promote tissue relaxation by increasing blood circulation throughout the body—leading to a reduction in overall stress levels. Furthermore, meditation also been proven to increase GABA and serotonin naturally. Both of these neurotransmitters play an important role in regulating our moods, depression, and sleep. Fun fact: a whopping 90% of serotonin is developed in our gut.
How long do we need to meditate to improve gut health?
If your goal is to improve your gut microbiome, it could take a lot of meditation. The monks in this study have been meditating for years. Over the last three to thirty years, these monks have fully immersed themselves in a form of meditation based on Ayurveda—an ancient Indian medical system. Every day they dedicate two hours to this practice.
But there are other ways that meditation can improve gut health. Studies have shown that as few as 15 minutes of meditation per day can reduce stress levels and improve your gut health by helping with digestion and irritable bowel syndrome. This is because when we meditate, we are calming our nervous system and allowing our bodies to naturally work at their best in restoring balance and harmony. With regular practice, meditation can help improve the immune response and lessen inflammation in the gut. If a person has more specific gut-related issues they may need to commit to meditating longer than 15 minutes each day and focus on relaxation during their practice.
Further proof living whole = living well
Meditation is a powerful tool that enables us to take back control over our life, so we can “live whole”—body, mind, and spirit. The importance of this study shows the potential for meditation to improve our gut health which could be the key to overall mental and physical well-being. And further proof our gut, mind, and body all need balance in order to remain healthy. With a bit more research, perhaps more will turn to meditation as a viable treatment for mental health and digestive issues alike.