We’re often told how much meditation can benefit our mental health – from calming anxiety to reducing stress.
But it seems the practice might have a noticeable physical impact on our guts, too.
A study, recently published in BMJ General Psychiatry, studied Tibetan Buddhist monks as well as local residents and found that those who practiced regular meditation had ‘significantly enriched’ gut bacteria.
This means those who did meditate had a better gut microbiome than individuals who didn’t.
The two good forms of gut bacteria – Megamonas and Faecalibacterium – found in the study are linked to a lower risk of anxiety, depression, and heart disease, and have also been associated with an ‘enhanced immune function.’
Blood samples also showed the monks had lower cholesterol levels than the control group.
As a result, researchers for the study concluded: ‘Long-term traditional Tibetan Buddhist meditation may positively impact physical and mental health.
‘Overall, these results suggest that meditation plays a positive role in psychosomatic conditions and wellbeing.’
This also supports previous studies (such as a 2017 meta-analysis) which showed that while stress can disrupt gut function, meditation can help regulate the body’s response to stress.
How to improve gut health:
- Try prebiotics-rich foods (artichoke, garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, bananas, oats, apples, flaxseeds and cocoa)
- Load up on probiotic-rich foods (Greek yoghurt, Kefir, sauerkraut, dark chocolate, miso soup, pickles and kimchi)
- Eat polyphenol-rich foods (cocoa, green tea, berries and tomatoes)
- A varied diet
- Limit artificial sweeteners
It all comes down to the link between your brain and your gut (also known as the gut-brain axis).
Therefore meditation and mindfulness practices may affect the functioning or structure of your brain – and this, in turn, will have a knock-on effect on your gut.
If you think about how you get a ‘gut feeling’, or butterflies in your stomach when you’re nervous, this pretty much sums up the gut-brain axis – AKA, the link between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system.
So, as stress can affect gut bacteria, meditation may be a preventative or helpful method for easing it.
It’s worth pointing out, however, that Tibetan monks practice Ayurvedic meditation at least two hours a day, with many doing it for as long as 30 years – something that simply isn’t doable for the average person.
But it’s still worth trying – as any amount of meditation could make a difference, compared to none at all.
How to meditate:
How to actually build a meditation practice that works:
- Ditch expectations
- Start small
- Try different types of meditation
- Learn to accept (and redirect) thoughts and distractions
- Be patient
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