Although not a likely dinner topic, life happens deep within our cellular mitochondria with chemical reactions known as redox signaling.  Learn why redox imbalances are responsible for every illness from diabetes to cancer.

They call them Redox Signaling Molecules.  The National Institute of Health (NIH), Stanford, Harvard, Cornell, and many other top medical research institutions are utilizing huge sums of money and dedicating entire labs toward studying these tiny molecules, after finding they are a cornerstone to preventing disease.

Our bodies are made up of cells. Inside of every cell we have mitochondria (some cells have thousands).  When functioning optimally, mitochondria produce redox signaling molecules called Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). The ROS molecules fall into two categories: reductants that cause reduction reactions or oxidants that create oxidation reactions.

Redox signaling processes take place in nature every time there is a chemical reaction, including inside our cells. Both reductants and oxidants are important, and in order to maintain optimal health, we require them in balanced numbers.

Oxidants remove electrons; when they are exposed to oxygen they oxidize and change color—think rust on a nail or an apple turning brown.

Reductants deliver electrons. One of the most important redox signaling process that takes place in the mitochondria is with the addition of electrons to oxygen molecules.  

 A Matter Of Balance

Our cells require balance or homeostasis for peak performance. When there is a buildup of oxidants in our cells or disequilibrium inside the cell this notifies us of damage and a poorly functioning cell. The buildup of oxidants is called oxidative stress.

The redox signaling process can be likened to smoke signals. Oxidants inside our cells can go rogue and result in major health damage if they aren’t cleaned up and controlled. The overabundance of oxidants in cells are the mechanism that tells the cell something is wrong and initiates the process where the body begins to repair, kill, or replace the cell.

When there are too many oxidants in the cell, it signals the genes inside of the nucleus to fix the problem. Hopefully, the action from the genes will fix the problem and homeostatic balance will be restored again inside the cell—this is the redox signaling process. This process is of the utmost importance for detection of damaged cells, as well as repair, and replacement of damaged cells inside of tissue.

Redox imbalances have been correlated with every single disease including aging, Alzheimer’s, atherosclerosis, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, cancer, dementia, ALS, chronic infections, gut disorders, arthritis, and more.  

“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,” writes Robertson D. Ward, M.D. FAAFP.  

Recently, the scientist who discovered the DNA double helix, James Watson, announced that redox signaling is the cause of diabetes. Consequently, he’s dedicated the remainder of his life’s research to redox research.

Redox Signaling Key To Cell Repair

In order to understand the importance of redox signaling, we need to have a clear understanding of the metabolic process and some basic terms:

Free radicals form when a group of atoms, having an odd number of electrons, (resulting in one or more unpaired electrons) interact with oxygen. While this can be a bewildering idea, it’s true, our bodies rely on oxygen in order to survive. However, if not balanced by supplements or the body’s own antioxidant mechanisms, this oxygenation process is also expensive to our health and contributes to disease, aging, and deterioration.

Oxidative damage occurs when these unstable free radicals interact with other molecules in the body. As these unstable reactive radicals domino, one unstable molecule steals an electron from the next and so on. This results in a snowball effect and creating imbalance in reductants and oxidants greater than the body is able to remedy or mitigate.  

The deleterious effects of oxidative damage affect DNA and cell function. Cells may function poorly or die if this occurs. To prevent free radical damage the body must deploy its defense system of antioxidants including Glutathione, Super Oxide Dismutase (SOD), and Catalase, or utilize external supplemental sources of antioxidants. Redox signaling supplements can increase our body’s production of these endogenously produced antioxidants.

Antioxidants are molecules which can safely interact with free radicals and terminate the chain reaction before vital molecules are damaged.  Antioxidants work by reducing oxidants into their reduced form through donating electrons without becoming free radicals themselves. 

Reduction is a type of redox signaling reaction. Every time molecules are reduced, they change shape and function.  This is good news for our bodies. As the oxidative stress in our bodies is balanced, either through natural processes or with proper supplementation, remediation and recycling can occur in the following imperative areas: repairing damaged molecules including DNA, chelating or removing toxic metals, increasing natural endogenous production of antioxidants, enhancing protection from free radicals, or promoing apoptosis (death of cancerous or mutated cells). 

Each person’s cell redox potential affects the whole mechanism of every cell in the body including the expression of genes. When redox signaling is operating well, genes then express the molecules that are necessary to restore the homeostatic balance that are either replacing, recycling, or repairing the cell.  This homeostatic restoration balance takes place through redox signaling. Plainly put, if our redox signaling molecules are not functioning optimally, our genes cannot function optimally.

The importance of this cannot be overstated: redox signaling processes in the cells are the fundamental processes by which the cell detects damage and then start the repair and replace mechanisms taking place in the mitochondria, including autophagy and apoptosis.

Apoptosis is a process of cell death also referred to as cell suicide. Apoptosis should begin only two hours following detection of too high levels of oxidants in the cell. In cancer, apoptosis does not occur, allowing cancer cells to become immortal. The cells are unable to detect damage and unable to repair themselves. In this case, the mitochondria have broken down as a result of their lost ability to carry on the network of redox signaling, impairing the apoptosis process from taking place. When a cancer cell goes rogue it continues to replicate itself and spreads to other parts of the body leading to death.

Autophagy is the single pathway to remove and recycle older mitochondria that are broken.  This process removes poor functioning mitochondria without killing the cell. This process occurs most often during sleep. Autophagy has been of major interest to the Paleo and biohacking communities in recent years as we are learning of various supplements, lifestyle changes, and dietary changes that have the ability to increase autophagy, and improve redox potential and mitochondrial health.  

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Redox Signaling

Some of the most popular tools include implementing proper circadian rhythm sleep patterns, use of Asea, and other supplements, including dietary tools such as raw cacao, blocking the blue light spectrum, and cryotherapy.

With regard to chronic infection and chronic disease, viruses, bacteria, and parasites thrive in bodies that have compromised mitochondrial function.

We now know the redox signaling messengers inside the mitochondria are the place where life happens—after more than 17 years of clinical trials and millions of dollars spent, we are just beginning to connect the dots in this ever expanding exploration of redox signaling, disease, and wellness.

Watch: What are Redox Signaling molecules inside the cells

Morgan Mellas is a Functional Medicine Practitioner and Lyme Literate Physician. Over the last 10 years she has guided clients toward healing the root problem of their ailment leading to regaining and maintaining optimal health. Morgan believes symptoms and diseases are the body’s way of communicating there is a problem. She has helped adults and children with her approach incorporating natural remedies from the earth, biohacking, quantum physics, and re-mediating poor mitochondrial function.

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  • Robert BigDaddy Ulvberget

    I’m so lucky to have this in my life! Redox has really changed everything!