Meditation: important for a healthy bowel?

Meditation is a millennia-old practice for training the mind and body. It also has a positive effect on physical and mental health. But what is the reason for this?

Microbiome: gene sequencing reveals influence of meditation

Differences in 16S rRNA gene sequencing analyses

In order to compare the two groups and avoid confounders, care was taken to ensure that none of the subjects had taken antibiotics, pre- or probiotics before. In addition, they all had similar eating habits. Their diet consisted mainly of barley, rice, steamed bread and pasta, plus vegetables, meat and tea.

The stool samples were subjected to 16S rRNA gene sequencing. This amplifies specific gene regions of the bacterial ribosome, which serve as a genetic fingerprint. In this way, the individual bacterial strains in the intestine can be precisely differentiated.

Prevalence of mental health-promoting bacterial strains

The result showed that the composition of the intestinal microbiome differed significantly in both groups. In the monks, bacterial strains associated with mental health, such as the Prevotellaceae family, were predominant. In previous studies, they were reduced in both depressed patients and autistic children compared to the healthy control group. In the meditating monks, they accounted for over 40% of the bacterial flora, significantly more than in their neighbours who refrained from meditating.

Active metabolism seems to reduce cardiovascular risk

Another interesting observations was that of certain biochemical metabolic processes which were more active in the monks. For example, the biosynthesis of glucans was in full swing. These polysaccharides are said to have all kinds of positive effects on digestion, blood circulation, and the immune system.

Finally, the levels of total cholesterol and apolipoprotein B in the blood were higher in the control group than in the monks. Both are associated with an increased cardiovascular risk.

Limited insight about intestinal health in the general population

With 56 study participants, the significance of the study is of course limited. Moreover, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the general population from the very specific living conditions in the Tibetan highlands. Nevertheless, the small study once again underlines the importance of the gut and its microbial inhabitants for our physical and mental well-being.

Health-promoting effects of meditation: accessible to everyone

Meditating is not only subjectively good for humans, it also has manifest health-promoting effects. You don't have to become a Buddhist monk to do this. Those who regularly allow themselves a conscious time-out for mind and body can benefit from it in the long term.

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  1. Sun Y, Ju P, Xue T, et al. Alteration of faecal microbiota balance related to long-term deep meditation. General Psychiatry 2023;36: e100893.