How Superfoods Activate Antioxidant Pathways – InVite Health Podcast, Episode 247
Invite Health Podcast, Episode hosted by Amanda Williams, MPH.
Most of us have heard of superfoods. We’ve heard that they are very beneficial to our health and that we should include them in our daily diet for overall wellness. This is certainly true, but we really want to understand why that is. Clearly, we know that superfoods have a common value to them. They are nutrient-rich. They are packed with powerful antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, healthy proteins and good carbohydrates, a lot of different things the body really needs in order to function properly.
I want to focus specifically today on the transcription factor Nrf2. This is really important because it activates the transcription of over 500 genes in the human genome. Most of those genes have these cytoprotective functions. That means that they offer cellular protection. When we look at different antioxidants that we can obtain from our foods and then we look at the activation of Nrf2, then we can start to put those pieces together.
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The science behind the actual role of Nrf2 when it comes to oxidative stress and toxicity in the body is really quite impressive. I want to talk a little bit about that today in the setting of superfoods.
What are free radicals?
Reactive oxygen species, often called free radicals, can do significant damage at a cellular level. They’re constantly generated within the body from internal metabolism, but also from external sources. We have pollutants in the air, pesticides on food, chemicals in processed foods and more. We know that these can certainly create havoc when it comes to cellular detoxification.
The antioxidants that we obtain from superfoods can help to offset the negative effects of the reactive oxygen species. That’s why we look at superfoods as being so incredibly important, especially when we are thinking about our diet and what we are taking in on a regular basis. You may think you’re eating something healthy, but if it’s containing additional reactive oxygen species, then maybe it’s not so great for you.
Nrf2 and detoxification
When we look at the different phases of metabolic detoxification, we know that Nrf2 plays an incredibly important role in this.
Nrf2 stands for nuclear factor erythroid 2 and it is a member of these transcription factors. It plays this really integral role in terms of managing these reactive oxygen species that are either created in the body or that we are exposed to from an external source. If we can have foods that we know help in terms of the activation of Nrf2, then that’s really a very good thing.
We’ve been able to narrow this down, through scientific research, to find all of the different natural compounds that have a really finite ability to help to enhance Nrf2 activation. When we look at the things that are coming from cruciferous vegetables, for example, as well as berries and curcumin, all of these things are ways in which the Nrf2 transcription factor can actually be enhanced and activated. All of this is very important because we know that Nrf2 is not only a master regulator when it comes to detoxification, but it also plays a very important role as an anti-inflammatory and as a cytoprotective mechanism. If we can target what is going wrong in the body with foods, that is always a good thing.
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Superfoods and Nrf2
When we think about superfoods, this encompasses many different individual foods, but also classes of foods. We can think about seeds and nuts, for example. If we look at pecans specifically, we know that these are very healthy because they have a good, healthy fat spectrum. They also have a really nice broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals, which is why they have been looked upon as being this superfood for heart health.
Onions and garlic also have a high amount of active constituents. All of these things can help with that Nrf2 transcription factor. All of that is incredibly beneficial when we look at how it is that the Nrf2 is working. We know that when it comes to the way the body is managing different pathways, certainly Nrf2 is a main control of that, in terms of that stability within the human body.
Learn more about the importance of superfoods and Nrf2 by tuning into the full podcast episode.
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