Timing is Everything

One of the primary mechanisms by which sulforaphane and other isothiocyanates exert their many beneficial effects on the body is through activation of nuclear erythroid-2-p45-related factor-2, or Nrf2, the master regulator of cellular defenses that protect against oxidative stress due to injury and inflammation. But lifestyle factors activate Nrf2, too, such as sauna use, intermittent fasting, and exercise. Two ongoing studies are focused on the role that exercise plays in switching on the activity of Nrf2 to slow the negative effects associated with aging.

Aging is the decline of physiological processes and mechanisms that accrue in an organism over time. It is the primary risk factor for many age-related conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and neurodegenerative disorders. A critical component of aging is oxidative stress, which damages cellular components such as DNA, mitochondria, fats, and proteins.

Dr. Tinna Traustadottir, a researcher at Northern Arizona University, is investigating whether aging is associated with impaired exercise-induced Nrf2 signaling and whether engaging in moderate exercise training will restore Nrf2 signaling in older, sedentary adults.

The study involves 15 young adults (ages 18 to 28 years) and 15 older adults (ages 65 years and older) who will engage in an eight-week exercise program. Two control groups (10 participants each, roughly the same age as the exercisers) will maintain their normal sedentary lifestyle. The study investigators will measure Nrf2 levels and antioxidant activity in the participants’ blood in response to the exercise.

The findings from this study can potentially inform private physicians and public health professionals about the role that exercise plays in reducing the risk of chronic disease and drive public health interventions centered on exercise in older adults.

You can read more about this trial here.

A related study will investigate whether sulforaphane can bolster the exercise-induced induction of cellular protective responses like Nrf2. In this study, Traustadottir and her team will isolate cells from blood samples taken before and after the study participants engage in exercise and treat the cells with sulforaphane to see whether the cells’ responses are altered.

“Studies like these are critical to our ability to translate interesting and promising leads developed in animal studies to real live human beings – a.k.a. people,” says Chemoprotection Center Director Dr. Jed Fahey.

Fahey also noted that, as with most things in life, timing is everything when it comes to supplementation. For example, the timing of when a supplement is taken – whether it’s based on time of day or the proximity to a meal, exercise, or sleep, as well as timing of sampling for efficacy tests, such as blood, urine, breath, imaging, or biopsy – has not been scrutinized as much as the dose of supplements, but may be equally as important. “Furthermore, in a recent conversation that I had with Dr. Traustadottir, she reminded me of how much we still need to learn about the timing of exercise vis-à-vis supplementation, such as with sulforaphane or glucoraphanin or a combination of glucoraphanin plus myrosinase.”

Teresa Johnson