The best therapy for reducing disease-causing inflammation

It seems like everyone is trying to curb chronic inflammation nowadays… and for good reason. It contributes to a variety of diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases and cancer. Some of the most popular inflammation-fighting approaches are eating an anti-inflammatory diet and taking anti-inflammatory drugs. But both these tactics come with downsides…

There’s no denying eating an anti-inflammatory diet is a great investment in your health. But like any healthy diet, it’s not easy or cheap. Often, people stick to specific diets for a while and then fall into old eating habits again that continue to drive up inflammation levels. An anti-inflammatory diet involves eating high-quality organic, grass-fed and free-range food… which I think is an ideal way to eat if possible. But let’s face it, it isn’t financially feasible for everyone.

Anti-inflammatory drugs can help people who already have diseases caused by chronic inflammation. But they come with side effects that range from annoying to downright dangerous. Some of these side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, headaches and an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Luckily, a new study shows diet and drugs aren’t the only — or even best — way to keep inflammation at bay. Cognitive behavioral therapy can significantly slash your inflammation levels — no diet changes or prescriptions needed.

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The mind therapy that tames inflammation-producing molecules

A new review of 56 randomized clinical trials has identified an effective but surprising way to slash inflammation levels — cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that helps you identify dysfunctional thoughts and feelings and swap them for more functional (and realistic) ones. It’s helpful for anxiety, depression, addiction, phobias and a variety of other mental health issues. But as you know, the mind and body are intricately connected, and it seems improving your mental state through cognitive behavioral therapy also impacts your physical health in a positive way.

This latest review, which was conducted by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, looked at randomized clinical trials that explored how several different types of mental health interventions impacted inflammation and immune health. Some of the interventions that were included in the review were CBT, CBT plus medication, grief and bereavement support, a combination of two or more psychotherapies, and psychoeducation, along with several others.

After careful analysis, researchers found that psychotherapy in general had a positive impact on inflammation and the immune system. But CBT stood out as the most effective mental method of lowering inflammation and improving immune health. That’s because CBT triggered the greatest reduction in pro-inflammatory cytokines.

Pro-inflammatory cytokines are molecules produced by your immune cells to help your body fight infections and heal wounds. But for many people, these cytokines are chronically elevated, which triggers ongoing inflammation that can lead to conditions like heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.  You may remember reading that some of the worst outcomes for patients with COVID-19 had to do with cytokine “storms,” which produced major inflammatory damage.

“Out of all of the interventions we examined, CBT was the most effective for reducing inflammation, followed by multiple or combined interventions,” said senior author of the study Dr. George Slavich, director of the UCLA Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research. “Moreover, we found that the benefits of CBT on the immune system last for at least six months following treatment. Therefore, if you’re looking for a well-tested, non-drug intervention for improving immune-related health, CBT is probably your best choice.”

Getting started with cognitive behavioral therapy

If you’re interested in using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to reduce inflammation, you have a few different options. The most popular (and likely most effective) method is to seek out the help of a mental health counselor for CBT sessions, which can be performed in-person or remotely.

Often, cognitive behavioral therapy is covered by your insurance, particularly if you have a condition that’s known to benefit from it, like anxiety, depression, phobias or insomnia.

If you’d like to explore cognitive behavioral therapy on your own for financial or other reasons, there are a variety of online cognitive behavioral therapy courses and programs, including some free ones (a quick Google search can upturn several). These courses can’t replace therapy with a trained therapist who can provide you the support and guidance you need to make deep changes in how you’re thinking and interpreting the world around you. But they’re a good way to dip your toe into cognitive behavioral therapy if you’re not sure it’s for you. They’re also a great option for people who can’t afford CBT with a therapist.

Whatever route you decide to go, spend some time exploring cognitive behavioral therapy. It can make you feel better mentally and, based on this new research, improve your physical health in an incredibly important way by lowering inflammation.


Cognitive behavior therapy tops other psychotherapies in reducing inflammation — MedicalXpress.

Everything you need to know about inflammation­ — Medical News Today.

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) — Cleveland Clinic.

Cognitive behavioral therapy — Mayo Clinic.

Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and