- Nrf2 is a protein promising to be the next big thing in anti-aging science
- It lies within each of our cells and regulates the antioxidants that fight illness
- Certain foods activate the release of Nrf2 and its biological pathways
Getting old just happens right? But have you ever stopped to consider how aging actually works? For an industry set to rocket to $216 billion by the year 2021, men and women in white lab coats are working endlessly to figure out how to prevent wrinkles. Beyond vanity though, aging has a more serious implication; it causes illness. The older we get the more prone we are to ill health. Most recently, scientists have focused their efforts on what could be our most powerful agent in the fight against aging and age related disease; the best part – you don’t need to buy it. Introducing Nrf2: the body’s own secret agent.
Nrf2 is a protein within our cells responsible for regulating the production of antioxidants. It is known in scientific circles as the ‘master regulator’ because it also controls immune and inflammatory responses, tissue remodeling, cancer formation and cognitive dysfunction. Some believe that Nrf2 is the key to maintaining a youthful, healthy body. Just how significant is it though?
To answer this we must first understand what causes aging. Our cells are made up of proteins, molecules and DNA. When these are damaged, our cells become damaged and eventually die, driving the aging process and rooting illnesses along the way. Cellular damage, also known as oxidative stress occurs when free-radicals (unstable molecules caused through poor diet and lack of exercise) attack stable molecules such as those outlined above. When free-radicals attack, a healthy body mounts a counter-attack through the release of antioxidants. The problem arises when free-radicals outnumber the antioxidants. This ratio is now understood to be controlled through our genes and in particular through the activation of Nrf2. According to nrf2.com:
”When Nrf2 is activated in the nucleus, it turns on the production of antioxidant enzymes such as Catalase, Glutathione and Superoxide Dismutase (SOD). These antioxidant enzymes are powerful enough to neutralize up to one million free radicals per second, every second. This one to one million ratio proves to be a far more effective approach in combating aging and disease.”
Assuming Nrf2 is this powerful, why are incidents of cancer, heart disease and other conditions still so prevalent in this day and age? Why do we not look ten years younger? The answer: Nrf2 is latent until activated.
How to activate Nrf2
To date, the most plausible suggestion is diet. Through the study of Nutragenomics, it has been determined that a variety of foods are powerful activators of Nrf2. Nutragenomics studies how our diet can impact gene expression. This is remarkable when considering we have been taught from high school Biology that our genes cannot be altered, that they are set in stone. In fact, only last week was I told ‘this is genetic, there’s nothing you can do about it’ by an orthopedic doctor.
So what should you eat to activate Nrf2? Foods which contain a phytochemical compound known as sulforaphane are a great start. Turmeric, green tea extract, dark chocolate as well as coffee are all high in sulforaphane.
Other suggestions include:
- Cruciferous vegetables: cauliflower, cabbage, garden cress, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts and similar green leafy vegetables
- Fermented foods and drinks: pickles, sauerkraut, kim-chi, coconut kefir, kombucha
- Citrus fruits and juices: oranges, grapefruits, lemons
Not surprisingly, supplements born out of this burgeoning industry are beginning to crop up too. The most well-known and controversial is Protandim: a mixture of herbal supplements said to ‘reduce oxidative stress to levels of a 20 year old’ according to the supplements manufacturer ‘Life Vantage’. As with any supplement, err on the side of caution, the jury is still out.
The case for Nrf2 is compelling. Studies have shown its protective effects against cancer, asthma, organ degeneration, inflammation and aging.* The medical world is taking note and it won’t be long until we see a breakthrough finding that will propel Nrf2 to the forefront of anti-aging and disease prevention. Until then, stock up on green veggies, kimchi and that kombucha.
As always, pushing for health.
*Studies carried out predominantly on mice, however emerging data suggests results from animal studies translate to humans (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27770706).