When the body is young and healthy it is able to take care of the balance between cellular damage and repair and rejuvenation. One way the body takes care of repairing damage is to signal the production of antioxidant enzymes or survival genes through something known as the Nrf2 pathway.
Nrf2 is a powerful protein that is latent within each cell in the body, unable to move or operate until it is released by an Nrf2 activator. Once released it migrates into the cell nucleus and bonds to the DNA at the location of the Antioxidant Response Element (ARE) or also called hARE (Human Antioxidant Response Element) which is the master regulator of the total antioxidant system that is available in ALL human cells.
This balancing act can become disrupted as one ages, or if the body is overcome by malfunction and disease resulting in further cellular damage. This damage is known as oxidative stress and is accompanied by free radical production. Oxidative stress and the associated free radical damage contributes to the progression of hundreds of diseases and aging symptoms.
Direct antioxidants such as vitamin C, Vitamin E, berries and juices have typically been used to neutralize free radicals and to prevent the damage they cause. One molecule of antioxidants from these sources neutralizes one free radical, i.e. they combat free radicals on a one to one ratio. However there comes a tipping point where the direct antioxidants are inadequate to take care of the damage.
A better approach to fighting free radicals is to use the body's own self defense mechanism. When Nrf2 is activated in the nucleus, it turns on the production of antioxidant enzymes such as Catalase, Glutathione and Superoxide Dismutase (SOD). These antioxidant enzymes are powerful enough to neutralize up to one million free radicals per second, every second. This one to one million ratio proves to be a far more effective approach in combating aging and disease.
Since the Nrf2 protein remains dormant in a cell until it is activated by a Nrf2 activator. The challenge is to determine what activates Nrf2 to take advantage of the one to one million free radical neutralization mentioned above?
Through the study of Nutrigenomics, it has been determined that a variety of foods are powerful activators of the Nrf2 pathway.
"While not necessarily rich in antioxidants, they directly and dramatically amplify our innate ability to produce vast antioxidant protection by signaling our DNA. In this way, specific molecules from Nrf2 activating foods can trigger the production of thousands of antioxidant molecules, providing far better protection against the brain-damaging effects of free radicals compared to standard antioxidant supplements." Dr. David Perlmutter M.D Huffington Post 1/25/11
This website explores credible scientific research of various Nrf2 activators as well as the related health implications of Nrf2 activation.