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Study on Buddhist monks show meditation can improve gut, mental health

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(TibetanReview.net, Jan17’23) – Mindfulness techniques including deep meditation can boost good bacteria in the gut, a new study has revealed, based on a study on Tibetan Buddhist monks, published in the journal General Psychiatry. The study authors have found that Buddhist monks who practice deep meditation on a daily basis had higher concentrations of several beneficial strains than their secular counterparts, with vital benefits for physical health and mental wellbeing.

After analyzing the gut bacteria of 37 monks from three temples in Tibet, the study authors found that the devotees had higher concentrations of several beneficial strains than their secular counterparts, reported iflscience.com Jan 17.

“Tibetan Buddhist meditation, known to originate from ancient Indian Ayurveda, can be defined as a form of psychological training,” the researchers have explained. “This practice is known to exercise the mind and allows self-regulation of the body to cultivate well-being and provide insights into the true nature of all phenomena.”

The study, conducted by a team from Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, has said microbes in the guts of the meditating Tibetan Buddhist monks differed substantially from those of their non-meditating neighbours. A healthy balance of good gut bacteria has been linked to a lower risk of anxiety, depression, and cardiovascular disease.

Meditation helps people better manage their emotions and enhance their self-awareness. Scientists believe that taking in deep breaths helps dilate blood vessels, allowing more blood to flow through them and lowering blood pressure.

“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 researchers have said in a media release.

They have said that over several years, meditating may help to regulate the gut microbiome and potentially lower the risks of physical and mental ill health.

Bacteria can affect mood and behavior through the gut-brain axis. This includes the body’s immune response, hormonal signaling, stress response, and the vagus nerve — the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system which oversees an array of crucial bodily functions.

Meditation is increasingly being used to help treat mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, traumatic stress, eating disorders, and chronic pain, noted the studyfinds.org Jan 16. Now, the analysis in the journal General Psychiatry suggests it also alters the composition of the community of trillions of organisms that live in our intestines.

Stool sample analysis revealed significant differences in the diversity and volume of microbes between the monks and their neighbours. Species known as Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes were dominant in both groups – as researchers expected. However, Bacteroidetes and Prevotolla were enriched seven-fold in the monks. There was also a high volume of Megamonas and Faecalibacterium.

“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 have written.

Computer models were stated to indicate that several protective anti-inflammatory pathways, in addition to metabolism – the conversion of food into energy – were enhanced in the monks.

Blood scans were stated to have shown that levels of agents linked with a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease, including cholesterol, were also significantly lower. The researchers have suggested that the role of meditation in helping to prevent or treat psychosomatic illness definitely merits further research.

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