Every bite of food you eat, every drink you take is talking to your DNA, the very essence of what makes you, you.
DNA was first isolated on April 1st, 1869, and from this discovery was launched a scientific revolution, which, in 1990, prompted the initiation of the human genome project: sequencing the genetic code that make a human being. This was finally accomplished in 2003 and from there, the field of nutrigenomics was born. Nutrigenomics is science of how food interacts with our genes. We have learned that the three-billion letter DNA sequence was not at all as fixed as it seemed. The expression of these letters can be switched on or off based on what signals the genes receive from the environment, and in the case of nutrigenomics, from food.
Plants contains compounds called phytochemicals (phyto, as in plant) that are biologically active in the body. There are beneficial phytonutrients in all of the foods, drinks & herbs you have heard are good for you, like brocolli, green tea, ginger, etc.
How? You have probably heard of free radicals and antioxidants. Free radicals form when we breathe oxygen and often cause cellular damage similar to the browning of a cut apple’s flesh. In terms of the human body, this leads to a host of health issues. Antioxidants are molecules that can neutralize these free radicals, stopping their destruction, and there are two types: exogenous (direct) such as Vitamin C and endogenous (your antioxidant enzymes).
It turns out that simply eating more exogenous antioxidants to balance out the free radicals is not the answer we once thought it was. Alas, the situation is not quite so simple. Not only is direct antioxidant consumption unable to keep up with free radical production, it can actually block the body’s own endogenous production of much more effective antioxidant enzymes.
Interestingly these antioxidant enzymes aren’t active all the time-they need a signal to be turned on. So, how do we effectively and efficiently turn on these power house enzymes to protect our cells from the accumulated damage of living?
Yep-photochemicals. Certain foods and herbs have been shown to activate a “switch” that is the master regulator of the DNA’s antioxidant system, an are of genes known as the “antioxidant response system” (ARE), the Nrf2 pathway. Nrf2 is a transcription factor that helps you express specific cytoprotective (cellular protection) genes.
What does this mean for human health?
In 2015, Washington State University conducted a meta-analysis of the thousands of studies on the many aspects of health benefits of activating the Nrf2 pathway. They found the list ranges from general inflammation to gastrointestinal diseases, and from mental health disorders to arthritis and many, many more. Some of the most studied include obesity, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases.
Every January many people begin to think about tackling excess body fat because of its negative health effects. How can the Nrf2 pathway reduce obesity? In the article, “The Role of Nrf2: Adipocyte Differentiation, Obesity, and Insulin Resistance” published in the Journal of Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity the authors concluded, “intermittent Nrf2 activation reduces total body weight and fat tissue content under HFD (high fat diet) conditions”. With regard to cancer, a 2014 study published in the journal Topics in Current Chemistry, the authors found that “Nrf2 signaling… blocks the formation of dimethylbenz[a]anthracene evoked mammary tumors in rats as well as other tumor types in various animal models”. In other words, Nrf2 blocker tumor formation.
Finally, in an article published in the journal Neuropharmacology, “Nrf2-regulation in brain health and disease: implication of cerebral inflammation” the authors concluded: “emerging evidence suggests that Nrf2, in addition to its antioxidant functions, may also play an important role in regulating inflammation in the brain” (Sandberg et al). Recently, depression has been found to be the result of cerebral inflammation.
The sheer health implications of naturally effectively activating the Nrf2 pathway are best summed up in this quote from the above mentioned Washington State University review article: “ …we may be on the verge of a new literature on health effects of Nrf2 which may well become the most extraordinary therapeutic and most extraordinary preventive breakthrough in the history of medicine. It is our opinion that raising Nrf2 is likely to be the most important health promoting approach into the foreseeable future.”
For this reason, I am forever thankful to the doctor who told me about the five herb blend that turns on this pathway, and why I will always take my little yellow pill.
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