Switch on your Nrf2 signaling pathway

An informative interview to start this year with the author of Sulforaphane: Its “Coming of Age” as a Clinically Relevant Nutraceutical in the Prevention and Treatment of Chronic Disease:

The Antioxidant Dilemma with Dr. Christine Houghton

“The thing about science is, the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know. And I have this enormous respect now for signalling processes that are going on within the cell, and not just signalling. The way mother nature switches on, switches off, foot on brake, foot on accelerator, continuously all of the time.

Things have changed in understanding the function of Nrf2 for a start, in controlling in many ways those cellular defences. We could then switch on Nrf2. You switch on a whole host of protective molecules all at the same time.

We use NAC [N-acetyl-cysteine] in the lab all the time because it stops an Nrf2 activation. So, that weak pro-oxidant signal that you use to activate Nrf2, you switch it off by giving a dose of NAC. It’s a potent antioxidant in that right, but it’s blocking signalling. And that’s what I don’t like about its broad use.

The real advantage of sulforaphane is not only is it the most potent inducer of Nrf2, or activator, but it’s also highly bioavailable. It’s a very tiny, low-molecular weight, lipophilic molecule that just glides straight in through cell membranes. It’s about 80% bioavailable. Whereas big, bulky polyphenols are about 1% bioavailable just simply because of their chemical structure.

We focus on the intestinal epithelial cell as a key player because if you enhance function of that cell, and Nrf2 is part of that story, once you get those cells working as they should, they are modulating this whole underlying immune network.

I’m particularly interested in looking at core upstream factors that govern cellular defences. So, I want to look at genes that govern redox balance, inflammation, detoxification processes, cellular energetics, and methylation.

Intestinal epithelial, just like any other cell in the body, will respond to Nrf2 activation. It will respond to NF-κB downregulation. That’s going to enhance redox control. It’s going to reduce unregulated inflammation. It’s going to enhance detoxification processes. It’ll increase glutathione synthesis.

All of those core factors that any cell needs to work normally will be enhanced by activating Nrf2. And I use a high-yielding sulforaphane supplement of about 20 milligrams a day to do that. So, that’s the beginning.

Probiotics don’t typically colonise in an adult. That’s where we come back to this idea of restoring the gut ecosystem and using prebiotic foods.

In an ideal world, we’d be looking at 600 to 800 grams of non-starchy plant foods a day. In a real world, that isn’t always going to happen.

I never use the term leaky gut because it isn’t that. It’s a dynamic structure that becomes unresponsive.”


Hadn’t thought about weighing my daily AGE-less Chicken Vegetable Soup dinner (half) then tomorrow for lunch. Its total weight tonight was 2,575.5 grams.

  • Subtract 207.2 g wine, 985.6 g chicken broth, and 64.2 g noodles;
  • Add 131 g 3-day-old broccoli sprouts microwaved to ≤ 60°C (140°F) eaten earlier;
  • Subtract an estimated 170 g (6 oz.) chicken, didn’t measure juice squeezed from one lemon, didn’t estimate evaporation from 20 minutes cooking; and
  • Didn’t include either 81 g dry weight steel-cut oats which becomes 308 g for breakfast, or 103.8 g 3-day-old hulled oat sprouts.
  • Net 1,279.5 grams non-starchy plant foods

I’m doing alright by the “600 to 800 grams of non-starchy plant foods a day” guideline. Should exercise more, though, because I eat a lot.

Topics continued in Part 2.

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