How Broccoli Microgreens Activate the Nrf2 Pathway to Prevent Disease

Over the last two decades, microgreens have become incredibly popular in the foodie community, and they’ve featured in several restaurant trends throughout the United States and around the world. Microgreens can bring new and complex flavors to food, making them essential for a myriad of gourmet meals.

While microgreens can certainly be delicious, they’re more than just a culinary ingredient. Recent research has identified microgreens, particularly those of the broccoli plant, to be a powerful health supplement. Sulforaphane in microgreens has been found to successfully treat inflammation, and even ward off degenerative neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Most recently, sulforaphane has been identified as a powerful activator of the Nrf2 pathway, an essential component of human biology that regulates genes and enzymes in the body.

The Nrf2 pathway has been described by some scientists as the master source of detoxification and cell defense. The latest research could help you to make one of the best decisions for your health today and in the years to come.

Cellular Damage is a Precursor to Health Complications

To understand why the Nrf2 pathway is so important, you’ll first need to learn how cellular damage can lead to further health complications.

Normal cells support body functions in a state of homeostasis. When cells are compromised by free radicals, oxidative stress and eventual DNA damage can occur. Free radicals are inherently unstable, and they travel through the body looking for healthy cells from where they can capture electrons. When they achieve their goal, the previously healthy cells become unstable free radicals. This leads to a knock-on effect where healthy cells are constantly under attack, while free radicals multiply. Damage occurs right down to the DNA level, leading to a multitude of potential health complications.

Diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and heart disease are all linked to excessive oxidation and free radical damage in the body [1].

It’s important to note that not all free radicals are bad. Sometimes, the body will produce its own free radicals to attack unhealthy cells that cause disease or illness. The problem comes when free radical activity is excessive.

Antioxidants are believed to help in minimizing free radical damage. Research is still limited, but early studies have shown the potential for antioxidants to reduce the damage that can lead to cancer and age-related diseases [2].

How the Nrf2 Pathway Helps to Protect Against Cellular Damage

If antioxidants can fight free radical damage and help to achieve balance, then where does the Nrf2 pathway come in? This is where the research gets particularly interesting.

Nrf2 is activated when the body needs it. Cellular signals essentially turn on a switch when the body needs to produce antioxidants to fight damage. Unfortunately, not everyone’s Nrf2 pathway operates with the same level of efficiency. Sometimes, a nutritional boost is needed to trigger activation, leading to faster response times against free radicals and damage.

At this point, you may be wondering why you can’t simply consume more antioxidant-rich foods to reduce cellular damage. Despite many phytochemical sources being known (such as turmeric, milk thistle, and even broccoli microgreens), the best antioxidants are produced by the body itself. By triggering the Nrf2 pathway, the body will start to produce more of its own antioxidants, making it better able to fight the precursors of disease and illness.

This pathway is currently one of the most heavily researched systems in the body. Scientists believe that being able to activate Nrf2 on-demand will open viable pathways to solve many of today’s medical problems caused by cellular stress.

Put simply, the Nrf2 pathway could be the most important disease-fighting mechanism in the human body.

Activating Nrf2 with Natural Sulforaphane Supplementation

Of course, theories are not hard scientific data, and your own health decisions should not be based around speculation. There is now an emerging body of evidence indicating that sulforaphane, a compound found in broccoli microgreens, could be the most powerful Nrf2 activator of all.

Sulforaphane induces phase II enzymes in the body, which can provide protection against the development of cancer. Research has confirmed that sulforaphane is linked to the Nrf2 pathway although the mechanisms are not fully understood. Scientists in Japan performed a study using an analog (synthetic) sulforaphane with good results, indicating that the compound could activate or at least benefit Nrf2 detoxification in the body [3].

A 2016 study from the University of Queensland, Brisbane in Australia also found sulforaphane to be a potent Nrf2 activator [4]. This study noted that the high bioavailability of sulforaphane made it an ideal supplement for preventing cellular damage. This, in turn, reduces inflammation in the body, one of the most significant factors in chronic disease.

However, there is one crucial point to note…

Not all sulforaphane sources are created equal. The most bioavailable compound is derived from Brassica genus plants. Broccoli microgreens are the most potent source known today and can contain up to 100x the concentration of sulforaphane found in a mature vegetable [5]. For sulforaphane to be activated in microgreens, the plants must be crushed, chewed, or chopped, and then immediately consumed. The integrity of the sulforaphane is compromised over time, so it’s important that microgreens are fresh and locally sourced.

Broccoli Microgreens to Activate Your Own Nrf2 Pathway

There’s a lot to take in with this information, so it’s important to summarize the key points.

  • Cellular damage and oxidation in the body are a precursor to disease.
  • Free radicals induce cellular damage. They originate from external sources (diet and lifestyle) and are also produced in the body.
  • Antioxidants from diet can reduce oxidative stress and cellular damage.
  • The Nrf2 pathway is a gene regulator that can induce the production of natural Antioxidants. These are more potent than dietary sources.
  • Sulforaphane, a natural compound most abundant in broccoli microgreens, can activate the Nrf2 pathway. This helps the body to fight cellular damage, oxidative stress, inflammation, and disease.
  • Fresh broccoli microgreens are the best source of bioavailable sulforaphane.

More research is needed for us to fully understand the Nrf2 pathway, and how sulforaphane helps to activate it. However, the early data shows that there’s a relationship between the two and that consuming sulforaphane-rich foods will benefit this critical gene regulation system.

Your diet is critical to your health. This becomes truer every year, as new research is discovered. Deciding to consume more sulforaphane through broccoli microgreens is a simple and cost-effective way to support and activate your Nrf2 pathway. This can potentially prevent the precursors to some of today’s most common and deadly diseases.

 

Sources
[1] https://www.livescience.com/54901-free-radicals.html Reference: What Are Free Radicals?
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22646769/ The emerging harm of antioxidants in carcinogenesis.
[3] http://www.jbc.org/content/277/5/3456.full A Sulforaphane Analogue That Potently Activates the Nrf2-dependent Detoxification Pathway.
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4736808/ Sulforaphane and Other Nutrigenomic Nrf2 Activators: Can the Clinician's Expectation Be Matched by the Reality?
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC23369/ Broccoli sprouts: An exceptionally rich source of inducers of enzymes that protect against chemical carcinogens