The human body is designed to last. The primary mechanism which insures our longevity is a system of antioxidant enzymes that squelch free radicals at a rate of about 2 billion per second, sopping up these destructive molecules as fast as they are generated, protecting our cells from aging. I wrote about this antioxidant enzyme system back in June in Frank’s Column, and how it is the key defense system that controls longevity (and particularly the span of ‘healthy’ years) in any species. To review, the primary antioxidant enzymes are Superoxide Dismutase (SOD), Glutathione Peroxidase (GPx) and Catalase. Now comes a better understanding of a mechanism that controls production of these enzyme, along with understanding that there are several more of these enzymes involved in protecting us from the aging process.
Scientists refer to this as the Nrf2/ARE pathway, which serves to protect each cell from both internally generated and externally encountered free radicals. It is a transcription system that observes the oxidative stress within and outside a cell and then moves to the nucleus of the cell to turn on genes that produce these antioxidant enzymes. The transcription protein Nrf2 is normally bound to a molecule called Keap1, but when the cell is stressed Nrf2 is released, moves to the nucleus where it interacts with the Antioxidant Response Element (ARE) and activates over 200 genes involved in repair, free radical protection and detoxification within the cell.
Part of this gene expression results in increased production of these primary antioxidant enzymes. In addition to this, a number of anti-inflammatory factors are produced that regulate the immune system’s response to our own tissues. Degradation of the Nrf2/ARE pathway functions are thought to be involved in several degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, ALS, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis. The Nrf2/ARE pathway also up-regulates detoxification mechanisms in the liver, enabling removal and elimination of toxins and heavy metals from the body. It protects us from cancer, heart disease, mental decline and inflammatory diseases like arthritis. So a key factor in maintaining health is to keep the Nrf2/ARE pathway running at peak performance.
Wouldn’t it be great if there were substances we could take or eat that would prime or activate these protective systems? Indeed, God has provided just what we need; they prove to include the phytochemicals we now think of as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances found in healthy foods, particularly those found in colorful vegetables and fruits. These include polyphenols, flavanoids and terpinoids; compounds such as curcumin, ECGC from green tea, resveratrol from grapes, quercetin from onions and apples, sulforaphanes from cruciferous vegetables, lycopene from tomatoes and probably thousands of others.
The key take-away for this is that our greatest primary cellular protection system is activated (or not) by what we eat. Once again, the foods that grant us this protection are real foods as they come from trees, bushes, vegetables grown in rich soil, fish and animals that eat their natural diet along with their byproducts such as milk and eggs, and unrefined oils and fats, as long as they haven’t been ‘processed’ to give them infinite shelf life. So dump all the manufactured food ‘products’ you get in boxes, bags and most canned items, margarines, refined vegetable and seed oils, non-dairy creamers, egg beaters and imitation anything; learn to prepare and eat real foods as they come from nature for a long and disease-free life.
Good living – Frank
Frank Wilhelmi – Retired/consultant electronic engineer researches and reports practical strategies for optimizing health and fitness into advanced age. “I have a passion for living life to the fullest, and helping others to do the same.” A rapidly growing body of knowledge now enables us to extend our health and fitness decades beyond popular expectations.