Meditation might help a person’s gut health — but it takes a lot of meditation over a long time.

Tibetan Buddhist monks appear to have gut microbes that differ substantially from others living near them, a new study reports.

Those differences have previously been linked to a lower risk of anxiety, depression and heart disease, according to the study authors.

The findings suggest that regular deep meditation practiced for a number of years appears to regulate the gut microbiome and improve health, the researchers said. The report was published online Jan. 16 in the journal General Psychiatry.

Meditation is more frequently being used to help treat mental health problems like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, traumatic stress and eating disorders. It can also help a person deal with chronic pain.

To see whether meditation has a deeper effect on human health, the investigators analyzed stool and blood samples from 37 Buddhist monks from three Tibetan temples, as well as 19 people living nearby.

These monks use a form of meditation derived from the ancient Indian medical system known as Ayurveda. They have been practicing this meditation at least two hours a day for between three and 30 years, the researchers noted.

Stool sample analysis revealed that the monks’ guts were significantly enriched with a number of bacterial strains.

“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,” lead researcher Dr. Jinghong Chen of the Shanghai Mental Health Center in China, and colleagues reported.

Analysis indicated that the microbes could be influencing their inflammation levels and metabolism, the study team noted in a journal news release.

Further, blood samples revealed that cholesterol markers were significantly lower in the monks than in their neighbors.

The researchers said the potential health benefits of meditation should be further researched.

“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,” the authors concluded.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about meditation.

SOURCE: General Psychiatry, news release, Jan. 16, 2023