Nrf2 Activators Can Help Beat COVID-19 and Prevent Long-Haul Effects (Bending The Curve Strategies: Part III)

Ancestral foods and modern supplements that enhance Nrf2 pathways are essential antioxidants integral to successfully bending the COVID-19 curve strategy.

By Dr. J.E. Williams |

Nrf2 Activating Supplements and Traditional Foods

In previous posts, I outlined natural ways to bend the infectious curve of COVID-19 in your favor should you get sick (Part I). I covered the basics of preventing infection, including getting enough rest, drinking plenty of fluids, wearing a mask, washing your hands, wiping surfaces, and avoiding crowds (Part II).

And I outlined the most useful immune-supportive supplements, including zinc, selenium, plus vitamins A and D3. I also gave directions on taming inflammation with the help of natural anti-inflammatory compounds like curcumin. However, there’s more to beating COVID-19 than avoidance, prevention, and taking immune-supportive supplements.

With increasing numbers of infections in the coming months, you need a strategic but flexible plan should you get sick. In this installment, you’ll learn about Nrf2 activators, the master regulator of the body’s antioxidant response against infection and inflammation.

This pandemic requires agility. In case of infection, you have to reshape your viral immunity strategy, especially with severe disease or in the slow recovery associated with post-COVID-19 long-haul symptoms.

SARS-CoV-2 is a wily virus. You have to be smarter. If you get infected, your first rule is to survive. Most COVID-19 patients do, however, a better approach is to improve your body’s disease tolerance to prevent the persistent symptoms of long-haul chronic COVID.

Chronic “long-haul” Effects of COVID-19:

• Shortness of breath due to lung damage
• Weakened immune system function
• Harm to the heart and blood vessels
• Persistent fatigue, muscle pain, and joint aches
• Sleep disruption
• Depression and other mood changes

Backend Antiviral Strategies

To survive this virus, you need both frontline and backend strategies. Frontline strategies are proactive and include enhancing immunity with zinc, vitamin C, and taking beta-glucan. Backend strategies are active practices that include natural antiviral compounds, foods, and supplements to dampen inflammation and support your body’s antioxidant activity.

Antioxidants play key roles in managing inflammation and inhibiting viral infection. I previously wrote about vitamin C, glutathione, and NAC for their antioxidant and antiviral activity against respiratory illnesses like influenza in my blogs and my book, BEATING THE FLU. These strategies are helpful, but you need more to beat COVID-19.

However, it would help if you had an expanded toolkit to beat SARS-CoV-2. In this blog, I introduce Nrf2 activators, a specialized group of natural compounds to help bend the COVID curve in your favor and prevent long haul effects.

Enhance Redox Homeostasis

A key strategy for beating COVID-19 is to enhance your redox homeostasis. Redox is oxidative-reduction reactions within cells that transfer electrons. Your body employs redox in all biochemical reactions necessary for life. For example, your metabolic system uses redox reactions to convert food plus oxygen to energy. Like with COVID-19, viral infections induce massive reactive oxygen species (ROS) that lead to severe cell and tissue injury. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and it’s useful for tissue repair because it supports collagen function. Zinc, selenium, and vitamin E are also antioxidants. But, to bend the COVID curve, you need targeted antioxidant support with Nrf2 activators.

Have you ever wondered why some countries have fewer severe COVID-19 cases? For example, Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia have lower incidences of severe infection and fewer deaths. They also have less obesity. And the people consume foods and herbs high in Nrf2 activity. In contrast, the United States has the highest number of cases and most deaths. Also, Americans tend to be obese and consume a diet deficient in Nrf2 foods. I don’t believe this is just a demographic coincidence.

What Is Nrf2?

Nrf2 is a protein that functions as a master regulator of the body’s antioxidant response. Technically, it’s a pleiotropic transcription factor protective against cellular oxidative stress involved in viral immunity. And it inhibits inflammation. Just what your body needs to bend the COVID curve.

Persistent inflammation is a hallmark of chronic viral infections. The immune system keeps on working even after the virus is gone. Even low-grade chronic inflammation causes an excess of inflammatory substances called cytokines. The substances are partly responsible for the buildup of ROS. Most importantly, unchecked ROS cause mitochondrial dysfunction resulting in the lingering symptoms associated with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and long-COVID.

The symptoms of CFS caused by chronic latent viruses, like Epstein-Barr Virus (HHV-4) and HHV-6, are well-known. They include an overwhelming sense of unwellness, non-restorative sleep, and reduced exercise tolerance —similar to those experienced by sufferers of long-COVID.

Nrf2 Activation

When functioning normally, Nrf2 promotes healthy mitochondrial metabolism, including ATP production and adequate nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide hydrogen (NADH) levels. As a cofactor essential to metabolism, NADH assures you have enough energy. It also restores redox balance.

When an infection resolves, inflammation calms. But with a persistent infection, inflammation persists. It’s during this post-infection stage that Nfr2 activation occurs. It suppresses proinflammatory cytokines by inhibiting their gene expression, thereby restoring your immune system to balance. This is the normal recover cycle, and the way to beat viral infections like COVID-19.

Benefits of Nrf2 Activation:

• Normalize mitochondrial metabolism and function
• Restore redox balance
• Reduce inflammation by suppressing cytokine production

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Nrf2 Foods

A brilliant research article by a team of scientists in Boston credits traditional foods with disease prevention properties. Ancestral traditional foods were simple, wholesome, and healthy. They included beverages like ciders and locally brewed beer and wine. Carotenoids from carrots, pumpkins, winter squash, collards, and kale are ancestral foods rich in Nrf2 compounds. Tangerines are also a good source, as is carrot juice. Cruciferous vegetables are prime sources of Nrf2 activators, in particular broccoli sprouts.

Fermented foods high in Lactobacillus Plantarum and L. Brevis help convert nutrients in plant foods into potent Nrf2 activators. Yogurt, sauerkraut, olives, and pickles are good food choices. If you’re not dairy or wheat sensitive, or histamine intolerant, you’ll find the natural probiotics in fermented foods useful for prevention and recovery from viral infections.

Nrf2 Supplements

Natural Nrf2 compounds include berberine, curcumin, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), genistein, quercetin, resveratrol, sulforaphane, and probiotics containing Lactobacillus Plantarum and brevis. One way Nrf2 compounds work is to exert a common antioxidant action against insulin resistance associated diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes. These metabolic conditions make those infected with COVID-19 more susceptible to severe symptoms and death.

Nrf2 Activators

CompoundDaily Supplement DosageFood / Herb Sources
Astaxanthin4-12 mgSalmon, shrimp, krill
Bacopa200-400 mgBacopa monnieri
Berberine500-1,000 mgBarberry, goldenseal
Carnosol50 mgRosemary
Curcumin500-1,500 mgCurcuma longa
EGCg200-400 mgGreen tea
Kaemperol100 mgApples, kale, onions
Lutein20-40 mgKale, spinach, collard greens
Luteolin100 mgCelery, apples, onions
Lycopene20-40 mgTomatoes, watermelon
Perilla150-300 mgPerilla leaves & seeds
Resveratrol40-200 mgBlueberries, red grapes
Sulforaphane1,000-3,000 mcgBroccoli

Nrf2 Renew supplmentThis is a shortlist of Nrf2 natural activators. Others include milk thistle, pomegranate, ginkgo, and olive leaf. Your goal is to include more ancestral foods in your diet. And for added protection during the pandemic, take Nrf2 supplements. It’s unnecessary to take all of these as supplements. But, a combination product like Nrf2 Renew from AllergyResearch covers the most useful compounds.

Closing Thoughts

Nrf2 pathway protect against oxidative stress, chemical toxicity, and inflammation triggered by the immune response to viral infection. A strong redox reaction can beat back the damaging effects of the COVID-19. One of the elements of a successful antioxidant response is by reinforcing Nrf2 pathways. Relatively small but consistent amounts of Nrf2 activators protect against cell damage caused by disease, aging, and infection. The top three Nrf2 activators are sulforaphane, curcumin, and resveratrol. To support recovery from viral infections, including COVID-19, and prevent long-haul effects, get enough Nrf2 compounds in your diet, including fermented foods and fresh vegetable juices. To enhance recovery from viral infections, take Nrf2 supplements and probiotics.