Meditation Alters Gut Microbes for Better Health
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“In calming your stress response, meditation can help prevent the slowed digestion speed, altered gene expression, intestinal permeability, and disruptive changes to gut microbes caused by stress.” – Crystal Star
Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders are the most common disorders of the gastrointestinal tract in the general population. The most common disorder in this group is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders can involve the esophagus, stomach and/or intestines and are disorders of function (how these structures work), not structural or biochemical abnormalities. Estimates vary, but about 25% of people in the United States have one of these disorders. The conditions account for about 40% of GI problems seen by doctors and therapists.
The cause(s) of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders are not known. But emotion dysregulation is suspected to be involved. It is clear that psychological stress exacerbates the illnesses and anxiety amplifies the symptoms. This suggests that mindfulness or the lack thereof may be involved as mindfulness is known to be helpful in reducing the psychological and physical responses to stress and mindfulness is known to improve emotion regulation. In addition, contemplative practice has been shown to improve the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
The GI tract contains intestinal micro-organisms, flora, bacteria, that have major effects throughout the body through the bacteria-intestinal-brain axis. This can affect overall health. So, it would make sense to investigate the relationship of meditation practice with intestinal micro-organisms.
In today’s Research News article “Long-Term Vegan Meditation Improved Human Gut Microbiota.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7358775/ ) Jia and colleagues recruited healthy long-term (over 3 years) vegan meditators and a group of omnivore nonmeditators. The groups were equivalent in gender, age, BMI, and most of the blood biochemical and blood routine indicators. Fecal samples were collected and subjected to 16S rDNA sequencing which measures bacteria present.
They found that the two groups were equivalent in fecal microbial diversity. The majority of the bacterial fell into 4 divisions, Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Actinobacteria, and Proteobacteria. Of those divisions the vegan meditators had significantly higher levels of Firmicutes and significantly lower levels of Actinobacteria, and Proteobacteria. They further found that there were 14 bacteria types that distinguished the groups with the vegan meditators having significantly higher levels. These bacteria types are associated with improved immunity, reduced inflammatory responses, changed intestinal endocrine activity, improved colon health, and reduced likelihood of colon cancer.
It should be kept in mind that the groups were naturally occurring groups and there was no random assignment. So, the groups might differ for reasons other than meditation and diet. In addition, the groups differed in both meditation and type of diet. It cannot be determined whether meditation or the vegan diet or the combination of both was responsible for the differences in intestinal bacteria. Nevertheless, the results suggest that a vegan diet and meditation may alter the intestinal flora to improve health.
So, meditation alters gut microbes for better health.
“During stress, an altered gut microbial population affects the regulation of neurotransmitters mediated by the microbiome and gut barrier function. Meditation helps regulate the stress response, thereby suppressing chronic inflammation states and maintaining a healthy gut-barrier function.” – Ayman Mukerji Househam
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Jia, W., Zhen, J., Liu, A., Yuan, J., Wu, X., Zhao, P., Zhao, L., Li, X., Liu, Q., Huang, G., & Xu, A. (2020). Long-Term Vegan Meditation Improved Human Gut Microbiota. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2020, 9517897. https://doi.org/10.1155/2020/9517897
Meditation has been widely used for the treatment of a variety of psychological, cardiovascular, and digestive diseases as well as chronic pain. Vegetarian diets can effectively prevent hypertension, metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity, and certain cancers. Meditation and vegetarian diets have been recognized as components of a healthy lifestyle and have therefore attracted more people around the world. Meditation can help regulate overall health through the neural-endocrine-immune network. Changes in dietary habits can affect the composition of the intestinal flora, which in turn affects human physiology, metabolism, nutrition, and immune function through the bacteria-intestine-brain axis. Here, we aimed to investigate the effect of long-term meditation and vegan diet on human intestinal flora.
Materials and Methods
The present study used 16S rDNA sequencing technology to detect the differences in intestinal flora between 12 healthy vegan subjects receiving long-term meditation training and 12 healthy omnivorous subjects who never received any meditation training.
The results showed that, compared with the subjects in the omnivorous healthy control group who had never received any meditation training, the intestinal flora structure in the people who followed the long-term vegan meditation practices changed significantly. The intersection set between the results of the LEfSe analysis and the Wilcoxon rank sum test includes 14 bacterial genera. These 14 genera are defined as the dominant genera, and the AUC value was 0.92 in the ROC curve, which demonstrates that the 14 genera can be used as a biomarker to distinguish the two groups. Three beneficial bacteria genera (Bifidobacterium, Roseburia, and Subdoligranulum) were significantly enriched in the meditation group with a threshold of 4, according to the LDAs. The functional prediction of differentially enriched intestinal flora showed that the metabolism of tyrosine, propionate, niacin, and nicotinamide in the intestinal micro-organisms in the meditation group was significantly reduced compared with those in the control group, while the biosynthesis of flavones, flavone alcohols, butosin, and neomycin; flavonoid-mediated oocyte maturation; cytoskeleton protein pathways; and antigen processing and presentation were significantly enhanced.
These results indicate that long-term vegan meditation plays a positive role in improving the body’s immunity and adjusting endocrine and metabolic levels, enabling the body to be in a state of good health.