Tag Archives: oxidative stress

Posted by in wellness

Nutrigenomics: Hittin’ Switches!

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?

Hell no.

I hit switches.

Music, please!!

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.

Say what!

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.

Westside!!! :)

Host, The Thyroid Sessions

Posted by in wellness

The Antioxidant Myth

Antioxidants are everywhere.

Just as the “low-fat” labeling boom of the 1980s gave us a collective excuse to inhale the entire package of Snackwell’s cookies in just one sitting, industry vogue has recently turned to antioxidants to steer product sales.

Take a trip down the cereal aisle and you are sure to see unproven health claims unconscionably plastered alongside cartoon characters. Some read “25% MORE ANTIOXIDANTS!”. But let us not forget that an additional twenty-five percent of zero is still zero.

A nightly glass or two (maybe three) of red wine isn’t just a way to relax (or binge) anymore. It has become an act of health and preservation. Resveratrol, found in the skins of red grapes and thus red wines, has been shown to have powerful antioxidant/anti-inflammatory properties. Yet, so easily we forget about the free-radical producing pesticides in each non-organic glass. At the same time, we wonder why our blood sugars crash in the middle of the night waking us up. There has to be a better way.

And let’s not forget my own personal favorite, dark chocolate. Even I can’t resist the temptation to grab a bar on the way to the raw cheese aisle at Whole Foods. Why not? It’s got antioxidants! ☺

No product on the market is more oxymoronic as the current line of Diet Coke with Antioxidants. Hello! The artificial sweetener aspartame creates free radicals. And just how in the world antioxidants can survive while bottled up at a pH of 3 is beyond me. You can use Diet Coke to clean your toilet!

Why all the antioxidant hype? Because we need them. Everyone who eats food and breathes air accumulates oxidative stress, or free radical damage. Industry has found itself the ultimate demographic (everyone) and turned it into a 37 billion dollar a year industry.

As I described in my previous posts, oxidative stress is associated with over 200 diseases. Just as our vehicles emit exhaust as a byproduct of the burning of fuel, our cells emit free radicals. These scavenger molecules are missing an electron in their outer shells and will do anything to fill them, including stealing electrons from your cellular apparatus. Such cellular thievery may damage DNA, proteins (enzymes), and cell membranes.

Simply put, your cells make up your body. When these cells are damaged, you body is damaged. Chaos and disorder ensue, creating the foundation for disease and accelerated aging.

The antioxidant craze is certainly well intended, however misguided in many ways. The very idea that consuming exogenous antioxidants through our diets will significantly reduce oxidative stress is a flawed paradigm backed by disappointing research and outdated dogma. That is not to say that antioxidant vitamins and phytonutrients play no positive role in health. There is no question that they do. Yet in terms of neutralizing free radicals, they are less effective than most would expect.

Let’s use vitamins C and E as examples. Vitamin C works in the watery parts of the cell, such as the cytosol or intracellular fluid. Vitamin E works in the fatty areas such as the cell membrane, or what is called the phospholipid bilayer. Vitamin E also protects the fatty membranes of the organelles within the cells (nucleus, mitochondria, etc.). This is why it is often recommended that we take our fish oils with vitamin E to protect the fats from oxidizing during digestion.

Vitamins C and E are by their very nature electron donors. They like to give. When a vitamin molecule detects a nasty free radical tip-toeing around your cells looking for someone to rob, it acts like a good Samaritan stepping between the victim (DNA, protein, membrane) and attacker (free radical), giving up its life (electron) to protect and preserve your cells.

When vitamins neutralize free radicals they are left with a small problem. Though less dangerous than the original free radical, good Samaritans are now missing an electron in their outer shells and have become free radicals themselves. A cycle of regeneration ensues. Vitamin C regenerates Vitamin E. Vitamin E returns the favor. Alpha lipoic acid can regenerate either.

The process described above is the foundation on which the antioxidant industry stands. It has made household names of acai, mangosteen, and gogi berries. ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity), a unit of measurement of antioxidants, has also become part of the health and wellness nomenclature. Increased awareness is certainly a step in the right direction. But the answer to whether or not dietary antioxidants are significantly effective at reducing oxidative stress is a definitive NO.

Surprised? You should be. So was I.

The fact of the matter is that the world has changed. Sources of oxidative stress go beyond our metabolism, with inflammation, infections, toxins, poor diet, stress, radiation, and excessive exercise all contributing to the free radical fire raging within. Instead of fighting the fire with fire hoses, dietary antioxidants are the equivalent of fighting that fire with enough water to fill a Dixie cup. You’re going to lose that battle every time.

Allow me to explain.

Our cells were designed to produce what are called antioxidant enzymes. These enzymes include glutathione, superoxide dismutase, catalase, and paraoxinase-1. Prior to the age of twenty, our genes instruct our cells to generate tons of these enzymes to neutralize free radicals. Yet as we enter the third decade of life, enzyme production slows. Just as an older vehicle emits more exhaust, free radical damage accumulates, oxidative stress rises, aging accelerates, and disease risk increases.

Modern antioxidant dogma would like us to believe that antioxidant food sources, juices, and supplements will make up for the age-related reduction in antioxidant enzyme production, but this is simply impossible. Check this out!

On average, our bodies produce 300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 free radicals daily.

That’s 300 sextillion! Who knew that was even a number?

Here’s the rub. As described above, one exogenous (dietary) antioxidant neutralizes a single free radical. Are you taking in 300 sextillion antioxidants daily? Not even close. You would need to consume the antioxidants found in 375 oranges or 87 glasses of red wine or about 120 vitamin C tablets (500mg) a day to neutralize that many free radicals!

Maybe it’s about time we throw away our Dixie cups.

Antioxidant enzymes neutralize free radicals at a rate of one million per second! They are what kept us healthy and spry throughout our early years. The question is how do we persuade our cells to make more of them.

The answer is this supplement, the most effective indirect antioxidant on the market. (It’s a network marketing company, so I’m not allowed to say the name online…)

What is an indirect antioxidant? Well, instead of directly consuming dietary antioxidants, this supplement and its synergist blend of natural ingredients used for centuries instruct our DNA to activate what are caused survival genes. These genes instruct your cells to produce more antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-fibrotic enzymes.

Fire hoses on!

Peer-reviewed published studies have found that after only 30 days on it, oxidative stress is reduced by 40-70%. The age-related increase in oxidative stress literally disappears. The oxidative stress of an 80 year-old looks like that of a 20 year-old.

If this sounds too good to be true, you are not alone. Even I was huge skeptic. However the independent tier-one research out of universities like VCU, LSU, and Harvard, as well as my own personal testimonial of rapid exercise recovery, unusually fast hair growth, and more youthful skin were more than enough to convince me that it was no snake oil. Add to that the fact that the formulator Dr. Joe McCord was awarded the Elliott Cresson Medal for discovering the field of free radical biology in living organisms.

A cursory look at its ingredients is not as impressive as one might imagine. Turmeric, bacopa, milk thistle, ashwaganda, and green tea extract might even occupy space in your kitchen cupboard. But it is the synergism among these plants in their exact proportions that gives Protandim its potency. Take one out or change the proportion of another and we have a completely different product. If this sounds like a selling point, I refer you to the Synergism study on my website demonstrating their collective cogency.

As stated above, oxidative stress is associated with over 200 diseases. There are 27 institutions currently studying the supplement and its effects on various disease states. As a dietary supplement, claims of reducing disease risk are prohibited. However, I invite you to read the published research on Pubmed. Exciting things are happening.

A new era in antioxidant protection is upon us. It is one based on sound science, the credibility of Dr. McCord, and plant spices used safely for thousands of years in Eastern healing.

Move over, red wine.

Jump off a cliff, Diet Coke.

I’m ditching my Dixie Cup.

But I’m not giving up my dark chocolate.

Sean Croxton

Posted by in wellness

Anti-Aging: I Will NOT Starve Myself!

This is Part 3 of my series on aging and oxidative stress. If you missed Part 1 and Part 2, please check them out.

I’ve never been a fan of calorie restriction. Just the thought of it makes me ravenous and irritable. I like to eat! However according to science, my exuberance for forage comes with a hefty price.

Food is my best friend. Aging is my worst enemy. Research shows that we can’t have one without the other. Studies on various animals and fungi have consistently demonstrated the benefits of caloric restriction on the aging process. Thus the conundrum:

Feed my belly and shorten my life? Or live longer and just learn to deal with the hunger pangs? Hmm…

All food must be metabolized. It is the process of metabolism (the conversion of food to energy) that produces pro-aging molecules called free radicals. More food. More metabolism. More free radicals. More aging. Ugh!

As much as I’d like to meet my great-grandchildren, a 1200-calorie diet doesn’t sound so appealing. Sorry, kids.

In fact, I have the double whammy, a love for eating and intense exercise. Yes, exercise is good for us. However it also increases the metabolism, which generates more free radicals! It’s not fair.

Research on endurance athletes shows that they have a higher incidence of free radical diseases such as heart disease, neurological disorders, and cancer. My own clinical experience has confirmed this finding as every single athlete I have worked with has had sky high lipid peroxides, a marker for free radical damage. Of course this doesn’t mean that we should stop exercising. But if you’re a triathlete, marathoner, cyclist, or even a Crossfitter, you should keep an eye on your lipid peroxides. Endurance athletes should also work just as hard topping off their antioxidants as they do their glycogen stores.

Free radical damage goes far beyond diet and exercise. Additional free radical instigators include:

Inflammation: As an appropriate response to infections, injuries, and burns, the body increases its metabolism thus increasing free radical production. Smoldering infections are very common, lingering around outside of conscious awareness and accumulating cellular damage.

Stress: Stress comes in many forms, but mental/emotional stress may result in free radical damage to the brain’s vital neurochemicals (epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine). To make matters worse, stress also breaks down the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory. The result may be neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Environmental Toxins: Toxins such as aluminum, mercury, lead, and cadmium trigger free radical production in the brain. Pesticides, herbicides, food additives, and recreational drugs also contribute.

Radiation: While the sun is not as evil as it made out to be, excessive sun exposure can deplete the skin’s antioxidant supply. The sun’s rays penetrate the skin, interacting with the skin cells to produce free radicals. Without sufficient antioxidant protection, skin damage and various cancers may result. As a general rule, tan but don’t burn.

X-rays: It is ironic that women over the age of 40 are encouraged to have yearly mammograms as a preventive measure, but each x-ray exposure increases her free radical production and cancer risk! Free radicals from x-rays may damage DNA, creating the conditions for cancer. Though a single exposure is minor in nature, the effect is cumulative. It is important that anyone exposed to radiation supplement with antioxidants to increase their defense against oxidative stress and its associated diseases.

Low Magnesium: Most people are deficient in many nutrients, however a deficiency in magnesium doubles the number of free radicals in the body, making them twice as dangerous. Magnesium works within the cells. Therefore a blood test will not indicate accurate levels. Be sure to request a red blood cell (RBC) magnesium test from your doctor or practitioner.

We’re all doomed! In a world of overeating, inflamed, stressed out, toxin-exposed people who love to play in the sun, request x-rays for minor injuries, and train for marathons while fueled by low magnesium diets, it’s no wonder life expectancy is declining.

Tell my great-grandkids I love them.


The chips are stacked against me, but I am still committed to aging gracefully. Lab testing is available to track down infections and inflammation. My mental/emotional stress load is up to no one but me. I can reduce my toxic load by using quality natural products, drinking clean water, and consuming whole foods from properly-raised animals and organic fields. I can avoid excess sun and radiation exposure. And I can keep my magnesium levels up by consuming nuts, leafy greens, and tolerable grains.

But I refuse to starve myself! Those lab rats may have lived longer on less food, but I’m sure they were miserable.

This is war. When free radicals attack, we have to fight back. In addition to lifestyle modifications, maximizing our antioxidant defenses is the most powerful weapon in the ongoing battle against oxidative stress. But is it as easy as supplementing with vitamins, eating our fruits and vegetables, and drinking our gogi berry juice? Not a chance.

Tune in next time.

Sean Croxton
Owner, Underground Wellness

Posted by in wellness

I Don’t Wanna Get Old!

This is Part 2 of my series on aging and oxidative stress. Please read my previous post, Oxygen is Killing Us.

I don’t want to get old. Really, I’m just not interested.

Yeah, you can lecture me on the wisdom we acquire as we age. I couldn’t agree more. I’m totally down with that. But that’s not what I’m talking about. The aging I’m referring to is the kind that shuffles down the street, drives 50 mph in the fast lane, and knows when a storm is coming by how his joints feel. Nope. You can count me out of that one.

And no, I’m not in denial. I’ve been known to pluck a gray hair or two. I know my hairline isn’t what it used to be. Yet if it were possible to slow down the aging process and avert the litany of degenerative diseases that come along with it, who wouldn’t be intrigued by that prospect?

In the late 1950s, a scientist by the name of Denham Harman, M.D., Ph.D., proposed what is known as the free radical theory of aging. As you may recall from my previous blog post, free radicals are an inevitable byproduct of metabolism. They hold the dubious distinction of being a fact of life and at the same time a contributor to death and disease.

With all due respect, Harman’s postulation resides within the realm of what I consider to be common sense. If our bodies are made up of trillions of cells, it is not a stretch to surmise that the condition of the cells determines the condition (and function) of the body. The accumulation of wear and tear on our cell membranes and the structures, organelles, and DNA within them is without question a major factor in aging and degenerative diseases.

A weathered, dilapidated home with poor plumbing and a leaky roof was at one time brand new. So goes the human body.

To review, the mechanism by which free radicals sabotage cellular function is through a process called oxidation or oxidative stress. In other words, there is an ongoing looting spree going on within our bodies. The free radicals aren’t actually up to no good, they’re just following the laws of chemistry.

If you flash back again to high school chemistry, you likely recall that electrons prefer to travel in pairs. One is the loneliest number, even for atoms and molecules. Carrying a single unpaired electron, free radicals do what they have to do to hook up. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough electrons to go around. In order to complete itself, a free radical must steal an electron from another cell.

Just think of it as the guy who procrastinates on asking his dream girl to the prom. When he finally asks, she’s already taken. Frustrated and frantic, he scrambles to find a date. Eventually, he steals another guy’s date. Imagine the drama!

Within your cells, the drama can be DNA damage. When this occurs, cells may not divide properly, resulting in a malfunctioning and possibly cancerous cell. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For the sake of brevity, a malfunctioning cell gives rise to malfunctioning organs, which give rise to malfunctioning systems, which give rise to the diseases of aging. These diseases include, but are not limited to, heart disease, the many neurodegenerative diseases, osteoporosis, and diabetes.

Free radical damage (oxidative stress) plays a role in over 200 diseases. Most of us will succumb to at least one of them.

Again, I’m not interested.

Instead, I choose to use the wisdom of my years to control the free radical fire burning within. To forever walk with long strides. To remain independent until it’s my time to go. To age gracefully.

That’s how it should be.

Stay tuned for Part 3!

Sean Croxton of Underground Wellness