New Research Demonstrates that Influencing Mood Can Reduce Inflammation


“This latest meta-analysis further confirms a clear connection between the brain and the gut,” explained mental health expert Peter Bongiorno, ND, LAc. “But this study goes one step further by identifying effective mood interventions that actually improved levels of inflammation in people with inflammatory bowel disease compared to those with no mood intervention.”

The meta-analysis was featured in eBioMedicine and analyzed 28 randomized clinical trials with 1,789 people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Not only did the mood interventions have a beneficial effect on general markers of inflammation, but the interventions also positively influenced disease-specific biomarkers such as fecal calprotectin and C-reactive protein.

“Also significant with this study is that the best outcomes for the patients did not come from drugs or even exercise, but instead from cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction,” explained Dr. Bongiorno, who has been in clinical practice for 20 years.

Previous research has looked at whether psychological treatments can improve immune system function and self-reported disease activity, but none have looked at how these interventions directly influence inflammatory and disease-specific biomarkers.

The researchers concluded that treatments to improve mood “directly influence the immune system and inflammation through psychoneuroimmunology pathways.”

Dr. Bongiorno believes the implications of this study are significant. “By utilizing effective mood interventions, we can potentially lower the need for anti-inflammatory drugs,” said Dr. Bongiorno. “These drugs are known to suppress the immune system and can come with significant side effects including cancer.”

An Integrative Approach

Inflammatory bowel diseases include Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which are chronic autoimmune conditions often requiring immunosuppressive medications and/or surgery to control symptoms and reduce flares. The authors of this latest study report that in addition to the challenging physical symptoms, rates of depression among people with IBD is over 25 percent.

Using treatment strategies that take advantage of the well-established gut-brain axis is becoming an integral part of an integrative approach to many conditions, including IBD.

Dr. Bongiorno said that calming the nervous system can sometimes be overlooked by both doctors and patients. “We often think a patient has food sensitivities because they eat food and have symptoms. But that’s not always the case,” he explained. “The problem can be that the gut is so inflamed it reacts to anything, even healthy foods a person may not otherwise be sensitive to. So, it’s not actually food-specific at all.”

Dr. Bongiorno, who is a best-selling author of several books on mental health, utilizes an integrative approach to address both sides of the equation: relaxing the mind while addressing the gut.

As with any integrative approach, Dr. Bongiorno's protocols are completely individualized; however, there are foundational steps he takes with his patients.

"On the mind side, I want to help the patient learn to relax with things like meditation, yoga, or psychological therapy, and I also have them use calming botanicals and nutrients such as passionflower, skullcap, nutritional lithium, CBD, or whatever is best for that patient,” Dr. Bongiorno explained.

Simultaneously, Dr. Bongiorno addresses digestion with interventions such as mindful eating, deep breathing before meals, chewing foods thoroughly, and sometimes calming demulcent herbals such as DGL or marshmallow extract.

Dr. Bongiorno also pointed out that herbs such as curcumin, saffron, and Rhodiola may be helpful because they are known to enhance mood and reduce inflammation.

“This latest study is important because it reminds us that the center of healing lies in the mind and our ability to relax the brain,” said Dr. Bongiorno.