The Covid-19 pandemic brought some new terms into the global vocabulary. "Flattening the curve" and "Cytokine Storm" were just 2 of these. In this episode we will look more closely at Cytokines and why like so many processes in our bodies, they are a double edged sword, both critically important and for health and a key causal factor in chronic disease. More importantly, we will discuss the power of targeted and correctly prescribed nutrition in avoiding the negative impact of Cytokines and the prevention and treatment of chronic disease.
What are Cytokines?
Cytokines are small proteins that are crucial in controlling the growth and activity of other immune system cells and blood cells. When released, they signal the immune system to do its job. Cytokines affect the growth of all blood cells and other cells that help the body's immune and inflammation responses. They also help to boost anti-cancer activity by sending signals that can help make abnormal cells die and normal cells live longer.
So where is the problem?
There are a couple of problems when Cytokine activity becomes abnormal.
1. Cytokine release syndrome (CRS) — sometimes called cytokine storm or cytokine-associated toxicity — is a condition that develops when your immune system responds too aggressively to infection. This is what we witnessed with COVID-19 as our immune systems reacted to something never seen before.
2. What we are more concerned about in chronic disease management is the chronic effects of our lifestyles.
This includes exposure to environmental toxins (cigarette smoke, air pollutants, pathogens and radiation), oxidative stress, chronic inflammation and inflammation based diseases as a result of bad diets and lack of exercise, which overwhelm the bodies ability to produce cytokines and also the efficiency of the entire system.
So what is NRF2 and why should I care?
"We cannot address Cytokine malfunction without understanding the role of NRF2 (or NFE2L2). This is a protein, that is naturally found within the body. It is the master regulator of a range of critical processes including the protecting of Cytokines, ensuring the health of our detox systems, reducing inflammation, protecting the brain against neurodegeneration and restricting the formation & growth of cancer causing tumors . A vital part of any healthy lifestyle is ensuring that NRF2 can be produced and utilised. - Jenny Hague
Nutrition is medicine
It turns out that as usual a solution has been hiding in plain sight. In fact humans have known about it for thousands of years.
Our generation has just chosen to ignore it and listen to the relentless noise coming from the producers of our processed food and a medical system beholden to the belief that there is a pill for any ill. We have all been conditioned to believe that if our medicine comes from a pharmacy, in a pill or a capsule, it has to be more effective that what we can buy from our local green-grocer or grow in our gardens. The truth is, "its complicated" and using nutrition as medicine requires an understanding of issues like "what kind" "how much", "how often", "in conjunction with" etc.
Cruciferous Veggies & NRF2
Cruciferous veggies have been the topic of endless fights around dinner tables across the world as mothers and grandmothers have tries, cajoled and even forced, (in my case) children to eat their broccoli. It turns out that they were right and if we had all listened, we would have been in a much better place than we are today. It turns out that the active ingredient that is found in cruciferous veggies is one of the most powerful NRF2 activators known to man. This compound is called isothiocynate sulforaphane or simply "Sulforaphane"
There are some really important things to remember when it comes to maximising the benefits of this compound. In fact many of the ways we prepare these veggies today render them next to useless.
1. The highest concentrations are found in broccoli sprouts, 3 day old sprouts to be specific, so grow them yourself. Super simple to do.
2. Eat your cruciferous veggies raw. Sulforaphane is really unstable and oxidises easily so cooking or even blanching destroys most or all of the good stuff.
3. Chop them finely and leave them for up to 90 min before serving. Sulforaphane is actually produced as as protective measure by the plant so when chopped up, the magic happens.
4. When combined with mustard seeds, the efficacy increases 4 fold, so 30g becomes 120g, just like that!
5. Vitamin C is vital in the biochemistry of this process so make sure you are taking enough Vit C, otherwise you start with one hand tied behind your back.
6. If you prefer supplementing, be careful what you buy, it is very difficult to create a supplement that allows for the uptake of sulforaphane. It is also important to supplement with other important elements like magnesium and Omega 3. Your best bet is to book a free call with Functional Medicine Practitioner Jenny Hague and get the best advice.
6. Buy organic if you can and even better grow them yourself. Use the link below to order from our partners Eco-Organics.
But wait .. there is more
Apart from the very clear preventative benefits of these often maligned veggies, there is also some very real hard evidence of some curative applications for sulforaphane.
Chronic pain - Sulforaphane is being used to treat chronic pain conditions as a potential opioid replacement or allowing physicians to reduce the amount of traditional pain meds.
Ref: The therapeutic potential of Nrf2 inducers in chronic pain: preclinical studies. Pharmacol Ther. 2021 Sep;225:
2. Prostate cancer - Sulforaphane impacts on numerous pathways that induce prostate cancer including growth factor pathways and insulin signaling.
Ref : Braca M, et PLoS ONE 2008; 3(7): e256&
Functional Medicine has the answers.
Working with a trained functional medicine practitioner will ensure that you not only get to the root cause of pain or dis-ease but also get the right advice for you.