Gut microbes found in Buddhist monks have been linked to lower risks of anxiety, depression, and even cardiovascular disease, thus lowering the risk of mental ill-health as they grow older.
A study, published in the open-access journal General Psychiatry, found that regular deep meditation, practiced for several years, may help to regulate the gut microbiome and potentially lower the risks of physical and mental ill-health.
“Collectively, several bacteria enriched in the meditation group have been associated with the alleviation of mental illness, suggesting that meditation can influence certain bacteria that may have a role in mental health,” the researchers wrote.
These include Prevotella, Bacteroidetes, Megamonas, and Faecalibacterium species.
To reach this conclusion, the researchers analyzed the stool and blood samples of 37 Tibetan Buddhist monks from three temples and 19 secular residents in the neighboring areas.
None of the participants had used agents that can alter the volume and diversity of gut microbes, like antibiotics, probiotics, prebiotics, or antifungal drugs in the preceding 3 months.
Stool sample analysis revealed significant differences in the diversity and volume of microbes between the monks and their neighbors.
Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes species were dominant in both groups, as would be expected.
But Bacteroidetes were significantly enriched in the monks’ stool samples, which also contained abundant Prevotella and a high volume of Megamonas and Faecalibacterium.
Research shows that the gut microbiome can affect mood and behavior through the gut-brain axis.
Blood sample analysis showed that levels of agents associated with a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease, including total cholesterol and apolipoprotein B, were significantly lower in the monks than in their secular neighbors by their functional analysis with the gut microbes.
The researchers suggest that the role of meditation in helping to prevent or treat psychosomatic illness definitely merits further research.
“These results suggest that long-term deep meditation may have a beneficial effect on gut microbiota, enabling the body to maintain an optimal state of health,” they said.