How might we all increase the number or helpful activities of our own stem cells?
If possible isn’t that a better, simpler, & safer idea than getting a transplant of stem cells?
Think of it as preventative medicine via stem cells. Note that this post was updated in May 2020.
It’s not a sure thing by any means. And, yeah, it is not as simple as asking for a free or super boost in your Jamba Juice (see at right) such as with vitamin C or something.
However, below are five possible simple ways that research suggests theoretically might be helpful to give your existing so-called endogenous stem cells a boost. You can also read more on this in my stem cell book, Stem Cells: An Insider’s Guide.
Important: consult with your doctor before considering any of these ideas. This blog post is not meant as medical advice.
Update: You may also find this related post useful: “Five simple updated ways to protect your stem cells to stay healthy & younger”
1. Exercise and stem cells
The human body seems designed to increase stem cell numbers when we are more active. This makes great sense if you consider that the more active that we are physically that the more new cells that we’ll need as we are likely to lose more of our older cells by exercising. Here are two papers backing up the idea of exercise boosting our stem cell numbers.
- Macaluso, FKH Myburgh (2012) Current evidence that exercise can increase the number of adult stem cells. Journal of muscle research and cell motility. 33:3-4:187-98.
- Blackmore, DG, et al. (2009) Exercise increases neural stem cell number in a growth hormone-dependent manner, augmenting the regenerative response in aged mice. Stem Cells. 27:8:2044-52.
Exercise in a sense also mildly damages different tissues in the body such as muscles, which may stimulate production of new stem cells as well.
There is also interest in exercise programs for those patients undergoing hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (like bone marrow transplants) for blood cancers. These programs may enhance recovery. Here’s a paper in this area: Effects of partly supervised and home-based exercise program in patients undergoing hematopoietic stem cell transplantation: a case-control study..
2. Caloric restriction and fasting for stem cell stimulation
An article recently came out saying that fasting boosts stem cell numbers. The team from USC found that even just a few days of fasting increased the number of stem cells in our blood system. This potential connection between fasting and stem cell numbers also makes sense as our body probably needs to be more efficient at times of low food availability and boost resistance to infection.
Here are a couple more articles on the possible activation of stem cells by fasting:
3. Tai chi
Researchers in China have reported that people who practice the martial art Tai Chi saw a several-fold boost in their stem cell populations (by which they meant a specific type of cell called a “Progenitor CD34+Cells” cell. This seems a little too good to be true in terms of magnitude, but could fit in with the exercise boost discussed above.
Also, now in 2020 I have not found any more reports linking Tai Chi to stem cells so that’s less encouraging.
4. Sleep and stem cells
Although I wrote earlier about how activity could boost stem cell levels, it also kind of makes sense that stem cells may do their thing while we are asleep. Stem cell science also supports this idea as well. Unfortunately, as of May 2020 I haven’t seen much more convincing research in this area, but there is still some common sense that sleep may increase stem cell numbers.
5. Protect yourself and your stem cells from radiation
When you read this you probably are thinking of dental or chest x-rays or CT scans, but I think a far more important source of radiation for most of us is UV light from the sun.
It is smart to protect your skin stem cells. Become an educated user of sunscreens and about sun exposure. Their use is complex and in fact may be harmful if misused as most of us do. In any case, the best protection from skin cancer is shade or if you have to be out in the sun, clothing. Do not let sunscreen increase your sun exposure dramatically or its use will backfire.
Note that altering specific genetic switches can also boost stem cell production or mobilization (see video by leading stem cell researcher John Dick above), but in everyday life we don’t really know how to try to get similar results through changing our lifestyles.
Finally, something that I actively do not recommend. Stem cell supplements are not of any use based on today’s clearest evidence. They are at best a huge waste of money and at worst a risk to your health.
As an update in 2020, I have recently reviewed stem cell supplements and found they are mostly hype at best, and at worst could do some harm.