Few topics in the wellbeing space are highlighted as much as inflammation, and whilst we know acute inflammation is healthy and necessary for healing, chronic inflammation can have negative effects on the body and brain. In this article functional medicine doctor Kenneth Bock shares how he balances inflammation in the lives of his patients and in his own life.
As it turns out, there are a few low-lift lifestyle practices you can implement into your day-to-day to help manage your levels of inflammation—some of which may surprise you (looking at the last tip!).
1. Learn Your Sensitivities
The first thing Bock emphasises is the importance of learning your personal food sensitivities. As he explains: “A lot of people are sensitive to gluten. So generally, if [I see] people with a lot of inflammatory conditions, I may suggest a gluten-free, dairy-free diet.” Of course, gluten and dairy aren’t always the culprits. Bock only suggests becoming curious about your diet and which foods you may be sensitive to (if any). “There may be certain things that are specific for you,” he adds. For Bock, himself, cutting out gluten was a necessary change: “I’ve been gluten-free for six years now,” he notes.
2. Avoid Excess Sugar
On the subject of food, Bock points out that excess sugar is a major contributor to inflammation—the king of inflammation, if you will. Consuming lots of sugar (especially added sugars in processed foods) can result in insulin resistance, which perpetuates a vicious cycle of inflammation: Chronic inflammation, in turn, fuels insulin resistance.
3. Embrace Supplements
Next, Bock references the “holy trinity” of supplements (a metaphor he snagged from New York Times bestselling author and health advocate Kris Carr): probiotics, vitamin D, and fish oils. “All of these [have] anti-inflammatory [properties]. Very basic,” he says.
He also touts vitamin E as an antioxidant, as well as bioactives that inhibit NF-ĸB activation (a molecule that can turn on the genes that lead to inflammation) like curcumin and resveratrol. But he likes to start with the Big Three above as a baseline.
4. Reduce Stress Where You Can
Aside from dietary practices, Bock expresses the significance of stress-reducing activities. Chronic stress can contribute to inflammation, as constant surges of cortisol (a stress hormone) can become pro-inflammatory. Plenty of experts recommend finding ways to manage your stress the best you can. “I play four and a half to five hours of singles tennis every week,” he shares, noting how the physical activity has helped him alleviate anxiety during the pandemic.
You don’t have to hit the court necessarily he says, just find whatever stress-relieving practice works for you, and try to implement it regularly. “Meditate, do yoga, exercise – its really key,” Bock notes.
5. Incorporate Love and Laughter
According to Bock, incorporating love and laughter into your life is essential: “It’s so good for the immune system,” he notes. “Laughing is the opposite of being inflamed.” In fact, laughter has actually been associated with increased stimulation of the vagus nerve, which can support healthy emotional regulation (additionally, research shows a weak vagal tone can contribute to inflammation). Consider this your sign to laugh and smile often—it’s backed by science.
While Bock finds these five tips helpful for supporting healthy levels of inflammation, he also stresses the importance of flexibility and resilience: “We have to be a little flexible,” he says. Point being: Non-negotiable is a bit of a strong term. If these tips work for you—great! But don’t beat yourself up if you can’t follow his advice to a T – perfection is never the goal.