If you keep up with the latest medical advances, you may have heard a lot about stem cells. They’ve been touted as a possible miracle cure for a variety of diseases. But most people are still in the dark about what stem cells are and how they actually work in your body.
This article outlines what stem cells are, how they benefit you and some basic steps you can take to preserve your stem cells for as long as possible.
What Are Stem Cells?
Your body is made up of billions of cells. Most of them perform a specific function, like a red blood cell, for example, or a lung cell. But stem cells are different. They are undifferentiated, meaning they aren’t limited to a specific function. In fact, most of the time they lie dormant, but when they are called into action, they’re capable of remarkable things.
Stem cells are capable of self-renewing indefinitely, and they can differentiate into a variety of other cell types. When you are injured or ill, your stem cells go to work replacing your damaged or dead cells by replicating them and filling in the gaps, so your body can continue to function normally.
In recent years, stem cell research has generated a lot of excitement because of their potential for regenerating organs and tissues and for treating complicated conditions like heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. There’s still a lot more work to be done on the potential treatment applications of stem cells, but the current research should pique your interest enough to encourage you to care for your existing stem cells.
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How Do I Maintain My Stem Cells?
As we age, stem cells lose some of their ability to self-renew and differentiate. But there are things you can do to slow this aging process down. We’ve outlined some of the most common steps you can take below.
Watch what you eat.
Overeating is a common problem today. Not only does it lead to obesity and other health problems, but it may also hurt your stem cells.1 On the other hand, studies have shown that even short-term calorie restriction may improve the function of your stem cells.2 Calculate how many calories you should be eating in a day and track your food for a few days to see if you are hitting your goal. If you find yourself consuming more than is necessary, you may want to cut back.
One of the biggest contributors to overeating is sugar, and this is especially hard on stem cells. One study showed that insulin resistance and persistently high blood glucose levels impair stem cells’ ability to regenerate.3 Watch how much sugary and starchy foods you are consuming, and try to replace them with fresh fruits and vegetables.
You also want to avoid a high-cholesterol diet. Unlike sugar, high cholesterol levels don’t impair stem cells’ ability to multiply. Instead, it encourages it. High cholesterol triggers your body’s stem cells to mobilize into the bloodstream and differentiate, but it actually ends up making the problem worse. This rapid cell division can lead to cardiovascular issues.4 Evidence also suggests it could accelerate tumor growth as much as a hundredfold.5
Consider adding some supplements.
Deficiencies in certain vitamins have been shown to have a negative impact on stem cells. For example, vitamin A deficiency can interfere with blood stem cells’ ability to function properly, eventually leading to the loss of these stem cells.6
Vitamin D is another one to watch out for. It can be obtained from sunlight as well as through foods, but research indicates that a majority of people are deficient in it. If you aren’t getting enough vitamin D through your regular diet, you may want to consider adding a supplement. After all, vitamin D3 can help to enhance neural stem cell function.7
Resveratrol has been shown to assist heart stem cells in functioning effectively, and it shows promise for speeding the recovery process after a cardio event.8 Unlike the other vitamins mentioned above, you won’t find resveratrol in a multivitamin, so you will have to purchase it as a separate supplement if you are interested in taking this. Otherwise, you can find it in red wine, blueberries and chocolate, among other things.
It’s no secret that regular aerobic exercise is good for your overall health, but it may also help to keep your stem cells functioning optimally. Exercising helps to prevent obesity, which, as mentioned above, impairs stem cell function. But it may have additional benefits beyond that. Recent studies are uncovering evidence that aerobic exercise helps to activate and mobilize your cardiovascular and muscular stem cells, which can help to keep your heart and other muscles strong.9
Weight lifting may give you some of these benefits as well, though results are more concentrated in the muscle stem cells. One study found that weight-lifting exercise stimulated muscle stem cells, encouraging them to release growth factors that spurred the creation of new muscle cells.10 This helps to slow the natural loss of muscle mass that happens as you age.
Avoid corticosteroids and anesthetics as much as possible.
Local anesthetics are used to numb a particular area of the body while corticosteroids are a popular treatment for relieving inflammation. There may be times when an acute health condition warrants the use of these medications, but you should avoid them as much as possible. Studies have suggested that these medications may inhibit the proliferation of skin stem cells, limiting your body’s ability to heal itself following a major injury.11
The Bottom Line
Stem cells are an exciting new field of study, and there is still a lot we don’t know about them. But what we do know suggests that it’s important to take care of the stem cells you’ve got, so your body can continue to function at an optimum level. Following the steps listed above is a good place to begin.
1 Perez, L.M., de Lucas, B., Lunyak, V.V., Galvez, B.G. (2017, Sept.) “Adipose stem cells from obese patients show specific differences in the metabolic regulators vitamin D and Gas5.” Molecular Genetics and Metabolism Reports. 12: 51–56.
2 Cerletti, M., Young, C., Jang, L., Finley, W.S., Haigis, M.C., Wagers, A.J. (2012, May) “Short-Term Calorie Restriction Enhances Skeletal Muscle Stem Cell Function.” Cell Stem Cell. 10(5):515-19.
3 Cramer, C., Freisinger, E., Jones, R.K., Slakey, D.P., Dupin, C.L., Newsome, E.R., Alt, E.U., Izadpanah, R. (2010, Dec.) “Persistent high glucose concentrations alter the regenerative potential of mesenchymal stem cells.” Stem Cells and Development. 19(12):1875-84.
4 Lang, J.K., Cimato, T.R. (2014, May). “Cholesterol and Hematopoietic Stem Cells: Inflammatory Mediators of Atherosclerosis.” Stem Cells Translational Medicine. 3(5): 549–552.
5 Wang, B., Rong, X., Palladino, E.N.D., Wang, J., Fogelman, A.L., Martin, M.G., Alrefai, W.A., Ford, D.A., Tontonoz, P. (2018, Feb.). “Phospholipid Remodeling and Cholesterol Availability Regulate Intestinal Stemness and Tumorigenesis.” Cell Stem Cell. 22(2): 206-220.
6 Cabezas-Wallscheid, N., Buettner, F., Sommerkamp, P., Klimmeck, D., Ladel, L., Thalheimer, F.B., Pastor-Flores, D., Roma, L.P., Renders, S., Zeisberger, P., Przybylla, A., Schonberger, K., Scognamiglio, R., Altamura, S., Florian, C.M., Fawaz, M., Vonficht, D., Tesio, M., Collier, P., Pavlinic, D., Geiger, H., Schroeder, T., Benes, V., Dick, T.P., Rieger, M.A., Stegle, O., Trumpp, A. (2017, May 18) “Vitamin A-Retinoic Acid Signaling Regulates Hematopoietic Stem Cell Dormancy.” Cell. 169(5):807-823
7 Shirazi, H.A., Rasouli, J., Ciric, B., Rostami, A., Zhang, G.X. (2015, April). “1,25-Dihydroxyvitamin D3 enhances neural stem cell proliferation and oligodendrocyte differentiation.” Experimental and Molecular Pathology. 98(2):240-5.
8 Ling, L., Gu, S., Cheng, Y. (2017, Mar.) “Resveratrol activates endogenous cardiac stem cells and improves myocardial regeneration following acute myocardial infarction.” Molecular Medicine Reports. 15(3): 1188–1194.
9 Wahl, P., Brixius, K., Bloch, W. (2008). “Exercise-induced stem cell activation and its implication for cardiovascular and skeletal muscle regeneration.” Minimally Invasive Therapy & Allied Technologies. 17(2):91-9.
10 Valero, M.C., Huntsman, H.D., Liu, J., Zou, K., Boppart, M.D. (2012, Jan. 11) “Eccentric Exercise Facilitates Mesenchymal Stem Cell Appearance in Skeletal Muscle.” PLoS ONE, 2012; 7(1): e29760
11 Birkenmaier, C., Redeker, J., Sievers, B., Melcher, C., Jansson, V., Mayer-Wagner, S. (2011). “An evaluation of medications commonly used for epidural neurolysis procedures in a human fibroblast cell culture model.” Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine. 36(2):140-4.
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