Next-Gen Superfoods Could Assist Cellular Protein In Keeping Our Bodies Healthy

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
The next generation of superfoods that can help combat diabetes and cardiovascular disease could be centered around a protein that helps maintain the health and vitality of human cells, according to new research published by the journal Antioxidants and Redox Signaling.
According to Cancer Research UK, quite often the term superfood is used as “a marketing tool” to “describe foods with apparently special health-related powers,” such as blueberries, broccoli, garlic, raspberries and green tea.
While the organization points out that these products are often “hailed as having the power to prevent or even cure many diseases” with “little scientific basis” to support those claims, the newly-published research is an exception by looking at the impact of components of different types of food on the protein Nrf2.
Nrf2, according to researchers from the University of Warwick in England, it continually moves into and out of the nuclei of our cells in order to sense whether or not they are staying healthy. When the protein is exposed to a threat to the cell’s well-being, it begins oscillating faster and activates cellular defense mechanisms, which includes increasing the levels of antioxidants.
By artificially introducing substances, the researchers reported they were able to successfully increase the speed of Nrf2’s movements. Those substances could be potential components of new superfoods, and include broccoli-derived sulforaphane and quercetin, which is abundant in onions. Using what they learned in their research, the scientists were able to develop new food supplements can could decrease heart disease and diabetes risk.
Lead researcher Professor Paul Thornalley and his colleagues claim they are the first to record the protein’s continual movement cycle, in which it oscillates into and out of the cell nucleus once every 129 minutes. When stimulated by the vegetable-derived substance, Nrf2’s cycle increases and takes place every 80 minutes.
“The way Nrf2 works is very similar to sensors in electronic devices that rely on continual reassessment of their surroundings to provide an appropriate response,” Thornalley said. “The health benefit of Nrf2 oscillating at a fast speed is that surveillance of cell health is increased when most needed, that is, when cells are under threat.”
“By understanding how this process works and increasing Nrf2’s speed without putting cells under threat, new strategies for design of healthier foods and improved drugs can be devised. Current designs may have selected substances with suboptimal if not poor health benefits in some cases,” he added.
Professor Andreu Palou, coordinator of the EU-funded BIOCLAIMS research program, noted that one of the primary nutritional challenges in Europe is “to substantiate the beneficial effects of foods that are advertised to the consumers.” He added that the Warwick team’s approach “is opening a fascinating new window” in that area.
BIOCLAIMS, which stands for the EU’s BIOmarkers of Robustness of Metabolic Homeostasis for Nutrigenomics-derived Health CLAIMS Made on Food project, helped fund the research along with the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council UK (BBSRC) Diet and Health Research Industry Club (DRINC).
The paper was a collaboration between the University of Warwick’s Medical School, Life Sciences and Systems Biology Centre, and in addition to Thornalley, researchers participating in the project included Drs Mingzhan Xue, Hiroshi Momiji, Naila Rabbani, Guy Barker, Till Bretschneider and Tony Shmygol, and Professor David Rand.
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