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Nrf2 is a critical pathway to health, as it is the most important pathway to increase our natural and innate antioxidant defense.

Introduction to NRF2

Nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2, also known as NFE2L2 or Nrf2, is a protein (transcription factor).

Nrf2 increases the expression of antioxidant proteins that protect against oxidative damage triggered by injury and inflammation.

Substances that stimulate the Nrf2 pathway are being studied for the treatment of diseases that are caused by oxidative stress.

Nrf2 is found in the highest concentrations (in descending order) in the kidney, muscle, lung, heart, liver, and brain (R).

Antioxidant Defense  and Detoxification System Stimulated by Nrf2



Nrf2 stimulates NQO1, which donates electrons and detoxifies a variety of chemicals and drugs.  NQO1 is important for phase 2 detox. 

I suspect that people sensitive to “everything” have less NQO1 or less of an electron supply.

Nrf2 produces two of the most important rate-limiting steps in glutathione (GSH) production. Glutamatecysteine ligase, catalytic (Gclc) and glutamate–cysteine ligase, modifier (GCLM) bind together to form glutathione.  These are produced by Nrf2.

The glutathione S-transferase (GST) allow glutathione to bind with drugs and toxins, which then allow the body to eliminate potentially harmful and toxic compounds. GSTs are produced by Nrf2 activation and represent an important route of detoxification.

Sulfiredoxin 1 (SRXN1) and Thioredoxin reductase 1 (TXNRD1) give over electrons to peroxiredoxins, proteins important in the detoxification of hydrogen peroxide and peroxynitrite.

Nrf2 stimulates Heme oxygenase-1.

Heme oxygenase-1 (HMOX1, HO-1) is an enzyme that catalyzes the breakdown of heme into the antioxidant biliverdin, the anti-inflammatory agent carbon monoxide, and iron.

HO-1 defends against sepsis, hypertension, atherosclerosis, acute lung injury, kidney injury, and pain.

The UDP-glucuronosyltransferase (UGT) family catalyze the conjugation of a glucuronic acid to drugs, chemicals, and toxins, making them more water-soluble and readily excreted.  Nrf2 has been shown to induce UGT1A1 and UGT1A6.

Bilirubin and Tylenol are examples of substances that are glucuronidated.

My clients are more likely to have higher bilirubin, and this can come from less of ability to glucuronidation enzymes.

Multidrug resistance-associated proteins (Mrps) are important membrane transporters that eject various compounds from various organs into bile or plasma, with subsequent excretion in the feces or urine, respectively.

Mrps have been shown to be increased by Nrf2 and alteration in their expression can dramatically alter the pharmacokinetics and toxicity of compounds.

People with CIRS or biotoxin related issues usually have a problem excreting toxins in an efficient way, and almost certainly the Nrf2 pathway will help excrete these toxins more easily.

Ideally, you’d want to combine Nrf2 activators with cholestyramine (disclaimer: not for personal use) if you have a biotoxin problem.


The Negatives of Nrf2 Activation

Activation of NRF2 may promote the development of cancerous tumors.  It can also contribute to the development of heart disease by raising cholesterol levels and cholesterol content in the liver.

Having low cholesterol might be an indicator of less Nrf2 function (although there are many other pathways that lower cholesterol).


Top Ways to Increase Nrf2

Other Ways to Activate Nrf2

Inhibitors of Nrf2

SIRT1 decreases Nrf2-related gene production since acetylation allows Nrf2 to bind to DNA better and produce antioxidant genes (R).  This is a downside of SIRT1.

NAC inhibits Nrf2 (R), but it decreases oxidative stress directly.


NRF2 23andme SNPs

If you want to interpret your genes, you should use SelfDecode.

You need to order 23andme to see your results and plug it into SelfDecode.

SelfDecode is the best gene analyzer around and helps you interpret your genetics from 23andme and ancestry.

The NRF2 gene has some SNPs that can tell you if you’re a high or low producer.

  1. RS10183914 (NRF2) TT
  2. RS16865105 (NRF2) AA
  3. RS1962142 (NRF2) GG
  4. RS2886161 (NRF2) TT
  5. RS35652124 (NRF2) TT
  6. RS6706649 (NRF2) CC
  7. RS6721961 (NRF2) GG
  8. RS6726395 (NRF2) AA
  9. RS7557529 (NRF2) CC

Health Tools I Wish I Had When I Was Sick

At SelfHacked, it’s our goal to offer our readers all the tools possible to get optimally healthy. When I was struggling with chronic health issues I felt stuck because I didn’t have any tools to help me get better. I had to spend literally thousands of hours trying to read through studies on pubmed to figure out how the body worked and how to fix it.

That’s why I decided to create tools that will help others cut down the guesswork:

  • Lab Test Analyzer – a software tool that will analyze your labs and tell you what the optimal values are for each marker — as well as provide you with actionable tips and personalized health and lifestyle recommendations to help you get there.
  • SelfDecode – a software tool that will help you analyze your genetic data from companies such as 23andme and ancestry. You will learn how your health is being impacted by your genes, and how to use this knowledge to your advantage.
  • SelfHacked Secrets – an ebook where we examine and explain the biggest overlooked environmental factors that cause disease. This ebook is a great place to start your journey if you want to learn the essential steps to optimizing your health.
  • SelfHacked Elimination Diet course – a video course that will help you figure out which diet works best for you
  • Selfhacked Inflammation course – a video course on inflammation and how to bring it down
  • Biohacking insomnia – an ebook on how to get great sleep
  • Lectin Avoidance Cookbook – an e-cookbook for people with food sensitivities
  • BrainGauge – a device that detects subtle brain changes and allows you to test what’s working for you
  • SelfHacked VIP – an area where you can ask me (Joe) questions about health topics

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  • Virgil R.

    You should update the article – Supplementing with nicotinamide riboside will also up-regulate NAD: – this is actually a study on humans 😉

    1. Caroline Lam

      Hi Virgil,

      Thank you for the comment. I looked at this a couple times, I believe the paper is about NRPT (nicotinamide riboside and pterostilbene) and not NRF2 (Nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2)?


  • Alex Gierczyk
    1. Joseph M. Cohen

      Interesting 🙂

  • lostfalco

    Hey Joe, great article as usual! I’ve theorized that LLLT increases nrf2 expression and in my effort to confirm that bias (Kahneman would not be proud) I searched for some articles to back me up. It’s still kind of a stretch at this point…but not too big of a stretch based on the 111+ genes that LLLT has been shown to upregulate (I’m sure you’re familiar with Hamblin’s work on this). Here’s a rodent study using 635nm light on bone cells that confirms my bias. =)

    “Exposure to LED light likewise significantly decreased RANKL-facilitated NF-κB activity, p38 and ERK phosphorylation and intracellular ROS generation, and increased gene expression of nuclear factor E2-related factor 2 (Nrf2).”

    1. Joseph M. Cohen

      Ahh, rodent studies are more than welcome on Selfhacked 😉

      Thanks! Keep up the good experimentation work.

    2. Joseph M. Cohen

      Updated post 🙂

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