by Sean Croxton
“I’m hittin’ switches all day…”
That first line from one of my favorite gangsta rap songs perfectly captures the spirit of today’s blog.
Nutrigenomics is a topic that sparked my interest almost two years ago when I began skeptically investigating a certain supplement and its claims. Eventually, it led me to such classic books as Deep Nutrition, The Primal Blueprint, Genetic Nutritioneering, and now Forever Young by Dr. Nicholas Perricone.
Nutrigenomics is exactly as it sounds. It is the combination of nutrition and genomics. In other words, it is the study of how nutrients and other substances influence the expression of our genes.
For some, genetics unfortunately hold us hostage. Many of us erroneously assume that our genes are all-powerful, leaving our health at the mercy of our genetic blueprints. For example, my father and his mother both died of pancreatic cancer. Two generations of such a ruthless disease should have me quaking in my Nikes.
But what should I do? Should I just count down the days, months, or years until I get the formal diagnosis?
I hit switches.
The switches I hit turn my good protective genes ON and my bad genes that cause cancer and other diseases OFF.
You can do it too! And we can all do it through the foods we eat and/or the supplements we take.
The public, media, and medical professionals always tend to lag about twenty years behind the scientific research. One thing that we haven’t quite caught on to is the fact that the benefits of foods go well beyond ORAC values, antioxidant profiles, and macronutrient ratios. Nutrients like catechins, polyphenols, and stilbenes actually affect gene expression.
Today, we’ll focus on what are known as transcription factors. Transcription factors are not really genes. Rather, they are protein messengers in our cells that are activated by different stimuli (i.e. food). When activated, they migrate to the cell’s nucleus, where they attach to receptor sites on the genes and flip the ON switch for specific genetic activities and expressions.
Transcription factors are not always nice guys. NF-kB and AP-1 accelerate the processes of disease and aging. When NF-kB is activated, it skedaddles over to the nucleus and tells the genes to crank up the production of what are called inflammatory cytokines. Not good. This is why NF-kB has been linked to a multitude of diseases, including AIDS, allergy, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, and atherosclerosis.
And those are just the A’s. (I stole that from Bill Maher.)
AP-1 (activator protein 1) activation tells your genes to make more collagen-digesting proteins, causing microscars in the deep layer of the skin that give rise to wrinkles.
Anyone want wrinkles?
Better question. Anyone want to hit the switch on NF-kB and the many diseases linked to it?
I didn’t think so. Keep those two turned OFF.
The hero of this story is nuclear factor (erythroid-derived )-like 2. It’s a mouthful!
Fortunately it has a nickname, NRF2.
Just like the bad guys, when activated, NRF2 moves to the nucleus of the cell and attaches to genes. But instead of turning on inflammation, it tells your genes to turn ON the production of more than a dozen protective anti-inflammatory enzymes as well as antioxidant enzymes like glutathione, the chief cellular antioxidant (more on this later in the week).
Now that’s a switch you want to hit! Turning on NRF2 is like hitting the three-wheel motion. (I wonder how many readers know what that means. See pic in the upper right.)
So which foods turn the good guys ON and the bad guys OFF. Well, I’ll be blogging all about the Big Three (tea, turmeric, and cocoa) tomorrow. For now, let’s discuss just how these foods and drinks hit the right switches.
As I mentioned earlier, we tend to focus on ORAC scores and such, but we completely tune out other important substances like Michael acceptor pharmacophores.
We’ll just call them MAPs. A pharmacophore is like a key that unlocks a door. In this case, the MAPs on the food molecules mentioned (as well as many others) have a set of structural features that are recognized by a receptor thus hitting the switch on the appropriate transcription factor and sending either the good or bad guys into action.
What is quite interesting is the fact that these beneficial food molecules are actually electron deficient and pro-oxidative! They cause oxidative stress.
If you go back to seventh grade science class, you know that molecules that are deficient in electrons will do whatever they can to steal electrons from another molecule in order to fill its outer shell. This causes damage to molecule being stolen from, including damage to the DNA (may cause cancer), enzymes, and cell membrane. I did a pretty decent job explaining this in my Antioxidant Myth blog from last year.
You would think that these foods would be harmful to your health. However, they are quite sneaky. The mild oxidative stress they cause actually tricks NRF2 into waking up and going to work. NRF2 rushes over to the nucleus, binds to the gene receptor, and turns ON the production of the protective anti-inflammatory and antioxidant enzymes.
At the same time, these foods turn OFF the bad guys.
Trickery at its finest.
Stay tuned! This week is all about how to take the power away from your bad genes and show them who’s boss through the foods you eat and the switches you hit. Why stay 20 years behind the research? Do it NOW.
Tune in tomorrow! We’re gonna set up shop, never close, and get riches. And never stop eating well and hittin’ switches!
If you don’t get it, watch the video.