Regenerative medicine is very exciting. But what’s even better than regenerative medicine?
If one can prevent a problem for occurring in the first place, it is far better than trying to treat it after the fact. Of course in many cases we do not know the causes of diseases so it is difficult to prevent them. However, many diseases are likely caused by problems with stem cells.
Therefore, stem cell research, including the work being done funded by CIRM, is likely to have enormous preventative medicine implications as well.
The average person can do some simple things to protect their and their family’s own population of stem cells and lower their risk of many diseases.
So what can we do? Don’t get scared, get educated.
Below are some suggestions. They may sound deceptively simple, but I think they can have a major impact. The main thread running through all 5 suggestions is educating yourself to make little changes that protect your stem cells.
1) Lower your risk of skin cancer by protecting your skin stem cells. Become an educated user of sunscreens and about sun exposure. Irv Weissman’s lab just published a paper on melanoma stem cells. It seems likely that much or all of skin cancer is the result of UV radiation from the sun damaging skin stem cells. However, it is also recently becoming clear that sunscreens have many potential problems. Their labeling is confusing and it is often unclear just how much protection they afford the user. It is also very concerning that there is growing evidence that some sunscreens may actually increase your risk of cancer either through the chemicals they contain such as Vitamin A derivates and/or through giving people a false sense of security that they are protected if they don’t burn. There is an excellent article on this including thoughts from several physicians here in the NY Times today. It’s important to note that a small amount of sunlight is likely to be healthy by producing Vitamin D in your skin. As it turns out, the majority of people have Vitamin D deficiencies. There has been some very exciting research, including on stem cells, on the importance of Vitamin D for our health. It may be particularly important for preventing cancer, but also other diseases. Whereas research on Vitamins A and E have been disappointing for showing health benefits, research on Vitamin D has proven its benefits and many new studies of Vitamin D are underway. In any case, the best protection from skin cancer is shade or if you have to be out in the sun, clothing.
2) Minimize your exposure to plastics, protect all your stem cells. The plastics industry has seen a revolution over the last few decades in their product base such that our lives are filled with products made of or stored in plastics. Unfortunately, the levels of plastics and plastic-related chemicals in our bodies has shot up in parallel. The safety of these plastics is largely unknown, however there is growing evidence that some of the chemicals in the plastics such as Bisphenol-A are dangerous and may increase your risk of cancer. Again, the likely target is stem cells. The plastics industry so far has been very successful in blocking regulation of their products, but that does not mean they are safe and the FDA has expressed growing concern about this issue and Bisphenol-A.
Some super simple ways to protect yourself include the following: NEVER microwave your food in a plastic container of any kind even if it says it is microwave safe (don’t be deceived–there is no such thing as a microwave safe plastic container), if you want to be really safe, never store your food in a container made of plastic, do not drink water out of plastic bottles, do not let your very young children play with/chew on plastic toys, especially those containing Bisphenol-A. Not only will these steps lower your risk of disease, you also won’t be contributing to the massive pollution of our environment by plastic such as the Texas-sized whirlpool of plastic in the ocean that contains an estimated billion pounds of trash, most of it plastic. Apparently there is another whirlpool of plastic in the Pacific Ocean as well.
3.) Don’t reprogram your stem cells into cancer: Eat food, not chemicals. A growing trend throughout the world is the consumption of food-like products that are not really food. It’s important to take the simple step of knowing what you are putting in your body. Any packaged food is something you should learn more about before eating. Read the label. Are there many ingredients that sound like chemicals and that you do not know what they are? If so, that’s a bad sign. If they sound like artificial chemicals, that’s what they are. They are not food. The safety of food additives is questionable. Many of these chemicals have no place in our digestive tracks or our bodies. They may alter the epigenetic programming of our stem cells or damage stem cells. As the reprogramming field advances, we are learning the power of chemicals to replace genetic changes in producing iPS cells from skin cells to perhaps one day be used in regenerative medicine. However, chemicals also have the potential to reprogram your normal healthy stem cells into cancer cells.
4.) Exercise your stem cells. No I don’t mean take them out for a walk like a pet. Research suggests that exercising regularly slows aging and may help maintain a healthier, larger population of stem cells, particularly in the brain, but also in other organs. Exercise is the true fountain of youth and much of its benefit likely stems from stem cells.
5) Minimize your exposure to radiation, protecting your stem cells from DNA damage. We have learned in the last year or so that many medical tests using radiation have not been administered properly, often exposing patients to enormous doses of radiation. If you need a medical test or are contemplating something like a whole body scan, don’t rush into it if at all possible. Learn as much as you can about the dose of radiation you will receive and the safety protocols in place by those administering the test. Some CT scans, even when performed properly which is what happens almost 100% of the time, deliver the equivalent of up to 500 chest xrays of radiation.