August 14, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

My review of stem cell supplements: underscienced & wildly overpriced

I thought I’d take a look again into the world of stem cell supplements since it’s been a few years.

What I found wasn’t a pretty picture. (Note that “supplements” here refer to things people can ingest to somehow supposedly help their stem cells, not “supplements” that us scientists add to the media we use to grow stem cells.)

Supplements in general

For context, I’m fairly skeptical of supplements in general unless one has a documented deficiency in something like iron or maybe (maybe not) Vitamin D, or if you are vegan maybe you should take B12.

As a 10+ year prostate cancer survivor the only supplement I take still is in fact Vitamin D, but I’m having my doubts even about that. Ten years ago it made sense to me theoretically that a hormone like Vitamin D might help prevent cancer recurrence based on in vitro results growing cancer cells in a dish, but the literature hasn’t been very encouraging on any benefit in actual people. I’m mulling it over.

The idea of zinc supplements given right at the beginning of colds has been controversial but a new study this year gives some weight to it perhaps shortening the length of colds.

stem cell supplements
A google image search result for stem cell supplements.

Stem cell supplements claims

So what about supplements claiming some link to stem cells?

There’s not much foundation for them and they cost a bundle.

The main claims of these supplements is that they’ll either make you as a patient have more stem cells, happier stem cells, or aid in stem cells differentiating into the desired cell type.

A big surprise for me was that searching Clinicaltrials.gov finds many studies of the effects of specific supplements on stem cells, but little data. One that did have data was focused on a supplement called NutraStem and tested its effects on CD133+ or CD34+ cells as compared to a placebo. It didn’t seem to work.

Supplement ads and products

A Google search for “Stem cell supplements” yields an array of results and ads.

While Google has rightly (and generally very effectively) banned stem cell clinic ads, it still feels like anything goes with stem cell supplement ads. You can see a screenshot above for some results. An Amazon search yields tons of overlapping and sometimes wild results too, some approaching a thousand dollars a pop.

Take a look at a “grassfed bone marrow” (I’m imagining a test tube of living bone marrow with someone trying to feed it grass) supplement claiming to have something to do with stem cells:

“Contains all the nutrients, specialized cells (including stem cells and base cells), collagen, growth factors, fat soluble activators and substances that the body uses to build, repair, and maintain all tissues”

grassfed bone marrow stem cell supplement
Grassfed bone marrow product coming up on Amazon with a search for “stem cell supplement.”

I doubt there are living stem cells in there. And, what are “base cells”? Basal cells?

Stem-Kine

One purported stem cell-related product that pops up often on Google searches is something called Stem-Kine from Neil Riordan, who runs a stem cell clinic firm in Panama. A decade ago he published some on Stem-Kine claiming a link to mobilizing stem cells, but I’m not convinced at all.

Physicians in the hospital can reproducibly mobilize stem cells in donors or patients but this is done using powerful, proven drugs, and has been the subject of tons of published research such as related to preparing stem cell transplants after chemo in cancer patients. (By the way, you might find this guest post on a family’s experience with stem cell donation to be an interesting read.)

These supplements are super expensive too. How much does Stem-Kine cost? For a case of 60 x 700mg capsules on Amazon you’ll pay about $70, which seems ridiculous to me.

But could it work?

It’s hard to say without more data, but I doubt it and anything like this has risks too. Further, it’s not clear that mobilizing bone marrow stem cells in a healthy patient on a regular basis is a wise thing to do.

Regenexx supplements

The Regenexx brand has a whole supplement product line now. One supplement, called “Advanced Stem Cell Support Formula” costs about one hundred bucks for 32 fluid ounces which is about $400 a gallon.

The description says it’s a “proprietary blend of vitamins, herbs, and supplements that may help support healthy stem cell function and cartilage production.”

The Amazon page for this or a very similar product lists these ingredients: “Vitamin C 1000mg, Vitamin D 2000IU Proprietary Blend 3455 mg of Glucosamine Sulfate and HCl, Chondroitin Sulfate, Curcumin, L-Carnosine, Resleratrol (resVida), Bitter Melon, BioPerine Does not contain wheat, gluten, sugar, soy or dairy. Contains ingredients derived from shellfish and corn.”

Is there any published clinical data to back up this expensive supplement’s use in people? Not that I could see.

Note that Advanced Stem Cell Support Formula comes in citrus or strawberry banana flavor. A good-sized Jamba juice with fresh strawberries and bananas, and a boost of some vitamins in it costs about $6 or $7. I haven’t had one of those in years, but they sound good even if rather full of sugar.

Big picture take-home

Overall, in my view “stem cell” supplements are not worth the money, probably won’t do anything terribly exciting in a positive way, and could have risks. You can watch a Q&A YouTube video I did below in which one question and answer was related to stem cell supplements.

Note that I actually had an old post (Top 5 possible natural stem cell boosts) on possible simple ways to possibly boost stem cell numbers in a more general sense, but admittedly even these ideas are speculative and do not involve supplements or paying money. For example, try to sleep a healthy amount and especially exercise more in certain ways. At this point in my view exercise seems like maybe the only possibly reliable and safe way to impact certain kinds of stem cell numbers.

We’ll see in coming years or decades if any specific supplement can convincingly do something useful that is stem cell-related based on more research.

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