Alvin H. Danenberg, DDS • Nutritional Periodontist
March 14, 2015
Nrf2 is not just a few random letters with a number attached. Nrf2 actually means something – something important. For those inquisitive minds that like scientific names, Nrf2 stands for nuclear factor erythroid-2-related factor 2. Actually, Nrf2 is critical for your health. I will describe what this strange “word” is and how it becomes a powerhouse for your body.
Nrf2 is a protein – but a very specific protein. It is called a transcription factor. As a transcription factor, it lives in the cytoplasm of the human cell, and it is ultimately responsible for sending genetic information from the human DNA located in the nucleus of the cell to RNA, which then creates chemicals that help cells perform many health-promoting functions.
The DNA is the unique biological formula for each of us. Every cell in our body (except red blood cells) contains this architectural script for the entire body in its nucleus. There are approximately 25,000 genes in the human DNA. Nrf2 assists more than 500 of those genes to function in ways that increase antioxidant activities, produce anti-inflammatory changes, stimulate mitochondrial biogenesis, improve mitochondrial function, stimulate death of damaged cells, and remove toxic material.
Recently, a great deal of research has uncovered Nrf2’s ability to affect detoxification and excretion of both organic pollutants and toxic metals. This is critical in light of our repeated exposures to toxic materials and heavy metals. However, much of what Nrf2 does and how it works are still being discovered.
In order for Nrf2 to function properly, an activator must awaken it. Without an activator, Nrf2 is stored quietly in each cell without benefit to the cell. Once Nrf2 is activated, it moves to the nucleus of the cell to begin its communication with the DNA.
Current research has identified some of the activators that will awaken Nrf2. The majority of these activators turn out to be various nutrient-dense foods, moderate exercise, low-level oxidative stress (hormesis), and caloric restriction (intermittent fasting).
Once activation has occurred, Nrf2 has been shown to prevent and treat a large number of chronic inflammatory diseases including various cardiovascular diseases, kidney diseases, lung diseases, diseases of toxic liver damage, cancer (prevention), diabetes along with metabolic syndrome and obesity, sepsis, autoimmune diseases, inflammatory bowel disease, HIV/AIDS, and epilepsy.
Modern diets throughout the world cannot provide the necessary nutrients to activate Nfr2 effectively. However diets like the Paleo diet are effective in activating Nrf2. Some of the more powerful nutrient activators are:
- Sweet potatoes (especially purple sweet potatoes)
- Leafy, dark green vegetables
- DHA and EPA from fatty fish
- Cruciferous vegetables
Martin L Pall and Stephen Levine published a paper in February 2015 that reviews the recent research surrounding Nrf2. They reviewed 141 peer-reviewed papers. Their article is well worth reading! In their summary, they make the following statement, “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.”