THE REDOX BASIS OF ILLNESS
The REDOX Basis of Illness explores various illnesses from the vantage point of a REDOX signaling molecule.
All illness is expressed in one of two ways: a predominance of oxidative stress-related symptoms and signs (similar to rusting, but in a biological sense), or a predominance of inflammatory (reactive) signs and symptoms. Health can be achieved by addressing imbalances in these areas and then moving the REDOX needle back to the balance point.
We can choose to provide support foundationally by addressing our REDOX potential. This is done primarily through lifestyle adjustments and also by supplementing REDOX signaling molecules.
Cell death requires replacement. In youth, the body easily adjusts. With age, this cellular renewal slows down and sometimes results in scar formation. This is the beginning of arterial plaque, or hardening of the artery.
Our genetic blueprints have created a tendency to lean one direction or the other. Our job is to know where we are on the scale, and then get to work to move back to the middle. For example, a family in which members are diagnosed with cancer would be more prone to inflammation rather than oxidative stress.
Click through the scale graphic above to better understand each type of illness and the way it could relate to your own health.
People who suffer from high blood pressure have been shown to have higher levels of the byproducts of oxidative stress as well as an inability to produce adequate levels of intracellular antioxidants, which help to neutralize the unstable molecules that cause oxidative stress.
The results are an early disturbance of the endothelial cells that line the vessels, and this represents compelling evidence of the root causes for hypertension. These sensitive cells experience injury and stress, just as all other cells in the body. However, these cells’ ability to self-repair from exposure to toxins, mechanical injury, exposure to pro-inflammatory cellular “waste” products, and infiltration from “bad cholesterol” have broken down.
The weight of oxidative stress causes a shift in the REDOX potential, and the cell is unable to maintain balance. The result is cell death, cell dysfunction, or cellular defensive adjustments.
Cell death requires replacement. In youth, the body easily adjusts. With age, this cellular renewal slows down and sometimes results in scar formation. This is the beginning of arterial plaque, or hardening of the artery.
Cellular dysfunction can also cause abnormal signaling by REDOX molecules, producing a stress response that can create constriction and cause an elevation in blood pressure. Defensive adjustment leads to inflammation and further infiltration of immune cells and expansion of plaque formation that can harbor clots and may eventually even lead to stroke and heart attack.
Solutions are found in balancing the diet with fewer sugars and more complex carbohydrates. Additionally, maintaining proper weight and having daily exercise along with supplementing REDOX signaling molecules can create a balanced physiology and prevent the damage to the vessels from oxidative stress.
NEXT - HEART DISEASE
The number-one killer in the industrialized world is coronary artery disease (CAD). The arteries of the muscle of the heart are very susceptible to oxidative stress. The oxygen and nutrient requirements of the heart muscle cells are massive. The heart never rests! Thus, these vessels are critical lifelines for the heart muscle to be able to function.
Blockages cause major troubles for the cells. The body has established vast pathways of vessels and capillaries and to provide the needed “interstate” arteries as well as the tiny side “roads.”
Blockages (see HYPERTENSION) cause oxidative stress in the cardiac muscle cells. This oxidative stress can cause REDOX chemical reactions, which result in malformed proteins—proteins that fail to produce the contractions (muscle squeezing) necessary to pump blood throughout the body.
Oxidative stress in the muscle cells causes a chemical imbalance inside the cells (NAD(P) oxidase, and a breakdown in the mitochondria’s (cellular power plants) ability to create energy via electron chain transport system. This buildup (like rusting) and oxidative stress, coupled with a lack of ATP (energy) being produced by the muscle cell, causes weakness in contraction ability. Cells can actually die from exhaustion as well. Some cells weaken so much that they dilate (enlarge), resulting in heart enlargement (congestive heart failure).
Treatment is challenging. Symptomatic treatment may include stretching the vessels open with balloons placed in the arteries through angioplasty/angiography, which can be life-saving. Best, however, is to get at the heart of the problem (pun intended), by decreasing oxidative stress. Obesity, hypertension, and elevated blood lipids are REDOX mediated issues that respond to foundational lifestyle changes and supplementation of REDOX signaling molecules.
NEXT - ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
Alzheimer’s disease, an age-associated dysfunction of brain cells that is degenerative in nature, is clearly connected to oxidative stress. Highly specialized brain cells are slower to replace themselves and warrant the body’s protection. The brain has mechanisms that aid this—the blood-brain barrier, for example, and the myelin sheath surrounding nerve fibers are protective of nerve cells.
Damaged mitochondria in combination with chronic oxidative stress often result in the body’s inability to correct imbalances of cellular waste and toxins. Glutathione (a potent antioxidant produced by the body) plays a role in cleaning up but is ineffective without the presence of certain REDOX signaling molecules to help neutralize oxidizing free radical toxins.
This deficiency, usually from sluggish, damaged mitochondria, can be genetically predisposed but may also (especially when manifest in the earlier years) result from habitual smoking, insufficient diet, and stress. Additionally, brain cells have naturally high levels of certain fatty acids, which are especially susceptible to oxidation. The vast blood supply that normally serves the brain is a key factor in the input of oxygen and nutrients and the outtake of waste. Any brief restriction of the blood supply to brain tissue is devastating, and even minor chronic deficiency of good circulation is equally debilitating to the ability of brain cells to maintain balance away from the oxidative zone.
NEXT - MACULAR DEGENERATION
Age-related macular degeneration (MD) perfectly exemplifies the devastation of oxidative stress on specialized tissues. Highly specialized brain cells are slower to replace themselves and warrant the body’s protection. The macula has many retinal cone cells (those affected by MD) which have rich oxygen demands, and are injured easily by toxins. Tremendous circulatory strength helps to eliminate the products of cellular combustion, which are large. This oxidative stress load (from cellular combustion) can grow as we get older. Age-induced narrowed circulation along with slower cellular metabolism and energy production by the mitochondria compound the problem. It is this uncorrected oxidative exposure that results in macular degeneration.
Blindness from this condition affects millions of Americans, most commonly after the age of 65. Demographic research demonstrates that MD is more prevalent in those who smoke habitually and are frequently exposed to toxins. Studies have shown that consuming a diet rich in lutein (a potent dietary antioxidant-provoking amino acid) helps to decrease risk of MD. Supplementing the body with balanced stabilized REDOX molecules may help prevent and assist in treatment of this condition.
NEXT - OSTEOARTHRITIS
Osteoarthritis is a condition of uncorrected (by the body) wear and tear that leads to a breakdown in the integrity of the cartilage that lines the joint. Damaged cartilage cannot support ongoing joint movement, and this leads to deterioration and secondary inflammation. Aging can lead to sluggish mitochondria within the cartilage cells (chondrocytes). When the mitochondria are no longer able to maintain the health of the cell, chondrocytes die at a rapid rate, create pro-inflammatory cytokines, and activate certain transcription factors (NF-kB) which instigate an inflammatory response within the joint compartment lining cells (synovial sheath).
Eventually, the fluid in the joint becomes toxic and aggravates the health of the cartilage cells. The bone under the cartilage becomes mechanically and oxidatively stressed as well.
Osteoarthritis is a condition that is best addressed at its foundation—it is a REDOX condition at its core. Regular (not extreme) exercise actually promotes cartilage vitality. There are no vessels in cartilage, so it gets its nutrients and oxygen through diffusion through fluid and tissues directly, and movement promotes this transfer of resources. Maintaining healthy REDOX potential will insure the best way to create a balanced internal environment for cartilage repair and maintenance of a smooth cellular surface to lubricate a joint.
NEXT - STROKE
Roughly 90% of strokes are acute blockages (thrombosis) in the vessel.Because brain cells need significant and sustained blood flow to receive oxygen and nutrients, any restriction in blood supply results in serious consequences. From a REDOX perspective, maintaining brain health means maintaining the health of the cerebral vessels (see HEART DISEASE ).
Recovery from stroke requires REDOX balance. REDOX signaling molecules render brain cells capable of redesigning both themselves and the interconnections necessary for them to perform critical functions. REDOX chemistry is critical in signaling the replication of neighboring cells to replace damaged ones—this process requires activation of transcription factors, which ignite cellular replication. Partially damaged cells seek to restore mitochondrial actions to rebuild the integrity of the cell membrane and allow nutrients in and waste out.
NEXT - OBESITY
Obesity is a global epidemic primarily impacting populations of industrialized countries. In the US, obesity rates exploded after the “cola wars” of the late 1970’s and coincided with dramatic increases in sugar consumption, especially among children. Excess calorie consumption leads to weight gain and for most adults, losing the pounds can be a significant challenge.
The answer lies in REDOX chemistry. Obesity leads to a dramatic increase in oxidative stress. In studies, obese subjects show increased superoxide production, protein kinase activation, and endoplasmic reticulum stress in tissues with excessive fat cells. Lipotoxicity is a term describing the oxidative stress load of excessive fat cells in various places in the body. Lipotoxicity leads to altered sugar and fat metabolism as well as high leptin (human obesity protein that regulates appetite) levels. Eventually fat chemicals begin to accumulate in places other than the normal fat deposits—in the pancreas, liver, heart, kidney, and blood vessel walls. These chemicals block the normal function of organs and impede inter-organ and cellular messaging, resulting in signaling molecule message breakdown.
Research is now ongoing to discover an intervention to restore a healthy REDOX potential and correct the weight loss obstacle of oxidative stress. I have personally witnessed how supplementing with REDOX signaling molecules helps greatly in restoring energy levels and reducing the burden of oxidative stress. The results are encouraging.
NEXT - DIABETES
DIABETES TYPE 2
Type 2 diabetes diagnosis rates have grown in epidemic proportions in the past 40 years, with no slowing in sight. Sedentary lifestyles coupled with diets of processed, calorie-dense foods and sugar drinks have set the stage for this condition. It is a condition based in a failure of insulin to function at a fundamental level, resulting from various forms of oxidative stress. Target tissues (liver, muscle and fat) lose the ability to receive appropriate signals from insulin.
The answer lies in REDOX chemistry. Obesity leads to a dramatic increase in oxidative stress. In studies, obese subjeIn a healthy body, insulin binds to the tissue receptor specially designed to fit insulin. However, oxidative stress inhibits the various special steps in the “phosphorilization” of various chemical components in the Krebs cycle, and sugars cannot get transported into the cell. The cell starves for energy. Sugar levels in the blood stream (outside the cells) rise, resulting in the familiar negative symptoms of type II diabetes. Additionally, high sugar levels activate transcription factors that ignite gene expression and further insulin resistance.
Because insulin’s action is a REDOX chemical reaction, solutions can be found at this foundational level. Caloric restriction and exercise are restorative, and balancing the oxidative environment may prove helpful with REDOX signaling supplements.
NEXT - INFLAMMATION SECTION
The most promising novel therapeutic strategies now target the correction of REDOX abnormalities in treating asthma. People with asthma have very low levels of endogenous antioxidants like SOD and catalase. The airway tissues are under oxidative stress so massive that inflammation develops through the airways. It is so severe that in ICU’s today doctors measure the amount of REDOX molecules (nitrous oxide) in exhaled air to measure the severity of the case from hour to hour. Genetic factors that cause the expression of antioxidant gene polymorphisms are linked to susceptibility.
The immune system seems to be confused about who is a friend (tissues) and who should it attack, and the endothelium of the airways becomes a target for attack resulting in inflammation. Insufficient cellular communication is a root cause, and, of course, is related to imbalances of REDOX molecules. Supplementing with certain molecules can restore opportunities for the body to balance the molecules and restore homeostasis. Sinus allergies have similar pathways of disease in different tissues.
NEXT - ULCERATIVE COLITIS
INFLAMMATORY BOWEL DISEASE
Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) are mostly comprised of Ulcerative Colitis (UC) and Crohn’s Disease (CD). Together they afflict 2 million people in the United States. Each condition is debilitating and often leads to frequent hospitalizations and lost workdays.
UC, if untreated, for example, will lead to colon cancer after approximately 15 years of active disease. Today’s medical therapies include conventional anti-inflammatory medicines, which can lead to refractoriness or intolerance after ongoing use. Additionally, immune modulators have significant side effects, risk, and often, poor responses.
What are our options as patients? What can we do for our health that can significantly impact our healing in addition to staying involved with medical treatments?
IBD conditions all share the same basics in cellular pathology. If afflicted by the disease, the body activates white blood cells (WBCs) that generate various pro-inflammatory cytokines AND excess oxidative reactions, which shifts the REDOX equilibrium in the lining of the gut. This then maintains inflammation by inducing REDOX sensitive signaling pathways and transcription factors. This continuing cycle eventually leads to the breakdown of the gut barrier. Think of it like this: poorly thinking WBC’s give off inflaming chemicals that are irritating and therefore generate oxidative products which upset the REDOX balance and can further lead to activating the WBC’s in the tissue. In healthy tissues, this is really part of nature’s way to get healing started. In normal inflammation situations, the inflamed tissues draw in WBC's which cause swelling that increase helpful blood supply. But in cases of IBD, this cycle is amplified many fold, and leads to tissue breakdown.
What are the options to end the revolving door of this vicious cycle? Botanical supplements such as probiotics, berberine, and omega 3 fatty acids can contribute in stabilizing the breakdown of the intestinal lining. When this is combined with eliminating foods that cultivate harmful bacteria, such as bread, pasta and sugar, results often can be positive. A novel solution, that is available to us today, is actually supplementing our bodies with a balanced blend of REDOX molecules. When taken internally or topically, they restore the REDOX balance and break the inflammation/oxidation cycle. I have personally witnessed this assist patients in healing many cases of IBD, especially when traditional and natural steps were not yet effective. REDOX molecules can also be applied topically to the abdomen. Because of the rich supply of lymph tissues in the abdominal region of our body (80% of lymph nodes are located adjacent to the 26 feet of small intestine) the results are often physically tangible in minutes.
In summary, IBD is an immune deficiency set of conditions, which are serious and sometimes life altering. Traditional treatments are notoriously problematic. By taking steps to be proactive with supporting GI health with botanicals, and supplementing REDOX molecules, transformation can be profound.
NEXT - THYROID
The thyroid gland creates several forms of thyroxin, which impacts all cells by giving them a modulating hormone that acts to keep them on an even keel—too much thyroxin, and metabolism speeds up—too little and the result is swelling and sluggishness.
Throughout life, REDOX-driven chemical reactions can confuse the immune system and initiate a gradual, self-destructive attack on the thyroid. REDOX imbalance can lead to the up-regulation of certain transcription factors, which in turn cause the expression of certain genes such as the thyroglobulin gene. Its expression frequently results in the breakdown of thyroxin production (the most common thyroid problem) and illness (fatigue, weight gain, goiter, and swelling).
Traditional therapies involve supplementation of thyroxin by prescription. Additionally, novel approaches also include correcting REDOX molecule imbalances with supplementation to restore proper communication. The results can be a gradual reversal of the attack on the thyroid gland and restored thyroxin levels.
Mol Endocrinol. 1996 Jul;10(7):801-812
NEXT - HORMONE IMBALANCE
SEX HORMONE IMBALANCE
Generally, with aging and stress, sex hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone decline, sometimes with devastating effect. REDOX balance can help with hormone production in specific organs, as well as keeping hormone receptors operational. Decline of these hormones deprive cells of balance and therefore support.
Unlike the days around the turn of the 19th century, life expectancy is past 50—it’s more like 80 and beyond, making it imperative to preserve hormone production.
Decline in ovarian production of sex hormones has been shown to directly affect the expression of genes that regulate the production of antioxidants like glutathione and SOD. This stress to the body’s REDOX potential by disabling antioxidants through creating imbalances in REDOX potential is vital to avoid so we can be able to repair and detoxify cells.
During the normal female cycle, there is also variability in the REDOX balance. During high estrogenic phases, there is more free radical production in uterine cells. Hormones and their receptors are all influenced by REDOX potential and balance. The signaling that is required to link hormones to their receptors is also a REDOX reaction.
Maintaining a balanced REDOX potential is imperative to preserving cellular vitality. Supplementing REDOX molecules, hydration, getting proper sleep, eating a plant-based diet, and exercise are vital in preserving hormonal balance and REDOX potential.
REDOX Biology 2013 19;1:340-6 JCEM ISSN :0021-972X
NEXT - AUTOIMMUNE
Conditions like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroiditis, and other autoimmune dysfunctions are rooted in REDOX imbalance, which causes massive confusion of the immune system. From the perspective of REDOX chemistry, these disorders are fundamentally similar—the immune system perceives normal body activity as dangerous and attacks healthy tissues. Inflammation, cellular dysfunction, and even cell death result.
Traditional medicine focuses on drugs that inhibit immune response. This is problematic and even dangerous because normal functions are also affected adversely—unusual infections develop or even cancer can proliferate due to lack of attention from a non-functional defense system. What if the immune system had better communications? What if it could clearly see good from bad? With a proper presence of a balanced REDOX potential, the body can often repair itself.
Autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are characterized by overproduction of certain REDOX signaling molecules, creating an imbalance. This damages lipids, proteins, membranes, and nucleic acids, resulting in massive inflammation. Additionally, these molecular messengers in excess activate nuclear factor Kappa-B, which directs the expression of a series of genes involved in the inflammatory response.
Solutions revolve around restoring REDOX balance. REDOX balance makes appropriate molecular recourse available to the cells. Hydration, plant-based diets, adequate sleep, and REDOX supplementation often allow the wheels of cellular machinery to turn, and balance evolves over time.
Clin Exp Immunol 2008 Jun; 152(3): 415-422
NEXT - CANCER
Negative side-effects to these therapies may be as challenging as the disease itself. Cancer is a failure of the immune system to recognize and eliminate defective and/or mutated cells when they develop. As normal regulatory metabolic principals do not govern cancer cells, they reproduce unchecked and eventually overtake the systems of the body.
The cellular breakdown that results in cancer is impacted by two factors: REDOX-directed gene expression that weakens and confuses the immune system and REDOX imbalance that causes direct immune cell dysfunction. Recent science has emerged showing that cancer treatments which include gene therapies are ineffective due to repetitive mutations that outstrip drugs. Today, evidence suggests that cancer is primarily a REDOX disease.
Unlike healthy cells, cancer cells derive energy primarily from glycolysis even though they have oxygen present—in other words, cancer cells crave glucose. Also, cancer mitochondria are hyperpolarized electronically, meaning that REDOX reactions in the mitochondria cannot operate as normal, leaving REDOX balance potentials very “off.”
It seems clear that a focus on REDOX potential with regard to cancer prevention and treatment is beneficial. Until more definitive research has been completed, sleep, eat plant-based food, exercise daily, hydrate, and complement health with a REDOX supplement.
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NEXT - SKIN
Skin wraps the body in a protective shield, which itself is a living organ actively burning fuel, repairing, and replacing itself 24/7. Environmental factors such as UV light and airborne and topical toxins negatively impact skin health, prompting an adaptive response which is driven by REDOX chemistry. Oxidative damage varies by the degrees of REDOX potential of the tissue affected, since cellular repair is slowed by an imbalance of REDOX signaling molecules.
Skin disorders like psoriasis, a chronic immune-mediated inflammatory condition, are also based in REDOX imbalance, since cellular signaling pathways like transcription factor Kappa B are known to rely on proper REDOX balance. While the ingestion of antioxidants has some value, it is widely known that REDOX signaling molecules provide the electron-rich REDOX molecules that endogenous antioxidants require to operate efficiently to eliminate the free-radical exposure that override cell defenses. Activate your REDOX potential with sleep, hydration, plant-based nutrition, and supplementing with REDOX molecules.
Free Radic Biol Med. 2009 Oct 1;47(7):891-905.