One of the protective factors in our cells, called nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2, or “Nrf2” (pronounced “nerf two”) has been getting a lot of notice in the scientific world in the past few years. When oxidative stress or inflammation sets off alarms in the body, Nrf2 initiates genes that go to work to stop the damage.
Some research shows link between low activation of Nrf2 and cognitive and neural diseases including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Other conditions, including cancer can be a result of sluggish Nrf2 activity as well. But the good news is, that even if you do have low Nrf2 response, you’re not stuck with it.
Not surprisingly, researchers show that diet and lifestyle has a great contributing effect. If you’re eating a traditional Mediterranean, Okinawan, or Paleolithic diet, you’re doing a lot to ensure healthy, vibrant Nrf2 responses. To hedge your bets, you may also consider supplementing with oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs) from tannin-free French grape seed extract, a multivitamin, a carotenoid-rich supplement, or an omega-3 supplement each day to help fill in the gaps. Getting to know your inner Nrf2 may be one of the best things you can do for your health.
Pall ML, Levine S. Nrf2, a master regulator of detoxification and also antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and other cytoprotective mechanisms, is raised by health promoting factors. Sheng Li Xue Bao. 2015 Feb 25;67(1):1-18.
The transcription factor Nrf2, nuclear factor erythroid-2-related factor 2, activates the transcription of over 500 genes in the human genome, most of which have cytoprotective functions. Nrf2 produces cytoprotection by detoxification mechanisms leading to increased detoxification and excretion of both organic xenobiotics and toxic metals; its action via over two dozen genes increases highly coordinated antioxidant activities; it produces major anti-inflammatory changes; it stimulates mitochondrial biogenesis and otherwise improves mitochondrial function; and it stimulates autophagy, removing toxic protein aggregates and dysfunctional organelles. Health-promoting nutrients and other factors act, at least in part by raising Nrf2 including: many phenolic antioxidants; gamma- and delta-tocopherols and tocotrienols; long chain omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA; many carotenoids of which lycopene may be the most active; isothiocyanates from cruciferous vegetables; sulfur compounds from allium vegetables; terpenoids. Other health promoting, Nrf2 raising factors include low level oxidative stress (hormesis), exercise and caloric restriction. Raising Nrf2 has been found to prevent and/or treat a large number of chronic inflammatory diseases in animal models and/or humans including various cardiovascular diseases, kidney diseases, lung diseases, diseases of toxic liver damage, cancer (prevention), diabetes/metabolic syndrome/obesity, sepsis, autoimmune diseases, inflammatory bowel disease, HIV/AIDS and epilepsy. Lesser evidence suggests that raising Nrf2 may lower 16 other diseases. Many of these diseases are probable NO/ONOO(-) cycle diseases and Nrf2 lowers effects of NO/ONOO(-) cycle elements. The most healthful diets known, traditional Mediterranean and Okinawan, are rich in Nrf2 raising nutrients as apparently was the Paleolithic diet that our ancestors ate. Modern diets are deficient in such nutrients. Nrf2 is argued to be both lifespan and healthspan extending. Possible downsides to too much Nrf2 are also discussed. Nrf2 is not a magic bullet but is likely to be of great importance in health promotion, particularly in those regularly exposed to toxic chemicals.
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