Only when you know the question, will you know what the answer means

42.

The answer to life, the universe, and everything.

I’ve used this joke a lot, but I’m about to be a Dad, so get used to me re-using jokes.  I think that’s part of becoming a Dad.  That, and I can rarely think of a better way to exemplify what I’m trying to say when I come across broad, over-arching answers.

This topic tends to come up with me one of two ways:

  • I’m making fun of something that is being touted as the new answer to everything (or is being advertised that way to do one thing… get you to buy and consume whatever it is).
    • My call for this year is tea.  No one particular tea, but ones with cool names in general, not the “normal” teas we’re used to seeing (like orange pekoe, earl grey or english breakfast), but the exotic sounding ones, like matcha, yerba maté, and other crazy stuff that might not even be tea but is being sold that way because we don’t know how else to conceptualize it otherwise.
  • I’m trying to explain the “Wellness and Lifestyle” model of healthcare.  Which, if we’re watching the slow decline of society into chronic illness, and chronic illness management, we desperately need.

Todays post is the latter of those two options.  Reading through research lately has been fun/tedious, but every once in a while you come across something seriously awesome.  I’m embarrassed I haven’t come across this sooner, to be honest.  but here it is:

Is it possible to have TOO much Nrf2? Stay Tuned... (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Steve Cushman/Released)

Is it possible to have TOO much Nrf2? Stay Tuned… (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Steve Cushman/Released)

Nrf2, a master regulator of detoxification and also antioxidant, antiinflammatory and other cytoprotective mechanisms, is raised by health promoting factors

This article is simply awesome.  Here is laypersons summary of their abstract:

  • Nrf2 is short for nuclear factor erythroid-2-related factor 2 (yeah… Nerf 2 is a little easier to say/reference)
  • It’s a “transcription factor”, meaning it leads cells to “read” certain parts of our DNA and causes certain physiological cascades afterwards.
    • And this one activates the transcription of over 500 genes!
  • Things that it does:
    • detoxifies the body of molecules that can be toxic when accumulated to unhealthy levels as well as toxic metals
    • Anti-oxidant activities (reduces “bad” oxidation of molecules that can lead to mutations, aging, or unnecessary waste)
    • Produces anti-inflammatory changes (think, Advil, or fish oil)
    • Stimulates the creation of new mitochondria, and improves the function of already existing mitochondria (think, more energy, easier)
    • Stimulates autophagy – a cleaner for your cells, that gets rid of “trash” that can be problematic if not kept under control
  • Things that increase our amount of Nrf2:
    • Phenolic antioxidants, like plants, herbs and (wait for it…) tea
    • gamma and delta-tocopherols, tocotrienols.  Vitamin E – healthy fats, olive oil, avocado, etc.
    • Long chain Omega 3 fats EPA and DHA – from fish, krill, squid, grass-fed meats, etc.
    • Carotenoids like lycopene (in tomatoes and grapes)
    • isothiacynates from cruciferous vegetables (kale, spinach, broccoli, etc.)
    • Sulphur compounds from allium vegetables (garlic, onions, shallots, etc.)
    • Terpenoids (herbs like cinnamon and ginger)
    • Low level oxidative stress (low intensity exercise, like walking)
    • More intense exercise
    • Fasting/Caloric restriction
  • Chronic Inflammatory Diseases that are prevented/treated by increasing Nrf2?
    • 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
    • Epilepsy
    • lesser evidence also points to the improvement of 16 other diseases

Sounds pretty impressive eh?  I like part of the conclusion, “Nrf2 is argued to be both lifespan and health span extending.” [emphasis mine]  FINALLY a focus on not just increasing the length of our lives, but also the quality of those years.

Get out for a hike for some low intensity restorative exercise!

Get out for a hike for some low intensity restorative exercise!

The authors also speak to the potential of having TOO much Nrf2 (which is smart to hopefully nip the “if some is good, let’s crank the knob up to 11!” bud), as it can cause a type of acne in certain cases, and more life-threatening risks in very extreme situations (in mice with a gene removed from their body that would regulate Nrf2, so it just continues to accumulate).  So it DOES NOT follow a, “if some is good, more is better” model either.  Very interesting… Almost like all those things that improve it should be employed, but not to excess.

News Flash – Being reasonable is healthy.

So if we want to improve our bodies detoxification pathways (which are a real thing, that your liver and kidneys help with), tidy up our cells, improve our mitochondrial health and generally improve our lives doing the things that help improve this particular transcription factor is not a bad idea.  What are those things?

  • Eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruit (of various colours and textures) and quality meats and fats
  • Use some herbs and spices to make your food a bit more interesting
  • Consider supplementing with a modest amount of Omega 3 fats from high quality sources
  • Move your body at a low, steady pace, most of the time.  Then at a hard pace every once in a while.
  • Avoid overeating, and maybe consider fasting or taking on the mindset from Okinawa of “Hara Hachi Bu” – meaning to eat only until you’re 80% full

Stay Healthy Friends!

Dr. Adam Ball