Desperately seeking stem cells: celeb quests for elixirs often mislead

What could go wrong with celebrities desperately hunting for stem cells as a fountain of youth? A flaskful of problems.

Some famous folks can’t seem to get enough of stem cells, even if those supposed therapies are unproven and risky. In recent years, dozens of celebs have gotten stem cell procedures of various kinds. The reason we know this is that they often talk in glowing terms about their experiences. Celebs sometimes even advise their fans and the public to follow suit.

It becomes marketing. Could such celebrity advice, even if just by example, about getting dubious stem cells cause real harm?

I believe it already has. What can we learn from this phenomenon? Let’s look at some high-profile, sometimes unusual cases.

Captain Kirk getting some amazing injection (probably not stem cells) from Dr. McCoy.

Celebrity advice on stem cells

Celebrities are just people so, of course, they can do whatever they feel is best for their health. Even if it’s a risky shot in the dark.

The trouble is that for every celebrity who gets one of these procedures and broadcasts it on Instagram or elsewhere, many everyday people seem to follow suit.

For that reason, those selling unproven stem cells will often give celebs free procedures. Instead of an Instagrammer getting free traditional beauty products they promote on their feed, they might get free stem cell-related products that are supposed to enhance beauty or do something even more supposedly miraculous. Reverse aging. Cure incurable problems. It’s not that simple, of course.

The clinics or doctors often pay the stars on top of the freebies to promote the cell “treatments”. Gushing celebrities are effective advertising. In a sense, the celebs don’t even have to directly tell their fans to get stem cells for this to function as marketing. Just their example on social media is enough. Some celebs still actively do obvious promotion of stem cells too.

Their advice often boils down to this: get these stem cells and be like me.

There’s usually zero evidence that the “stem cells” are actually helpful.

Lady Gaga stem cells
Lady Gaga reports using plant stem cells in her skin routine. Image from Instagram.

Risks vs any possible benefit?

To make things more complicated, the celebrities rarely disclose that they are getting something for the promotion. That’s not right, especially for marketing an iffy medical procedure.

Unproven stem cell and other similar procedures have concrete risks. The most common side effect of stem cells that we’ve seen documented in recent years is infection. This often results from the starting cellular material being contaminated. The worst case so far was with the flamboyant firm Liveyon. Dozens of people got septic and landed in the hospital or even the ICU.

Other possible risks include tumors, clot formation in the bloodstream, and unusual immune system reactions. There also can be scar formation.

7 celebs who got unproven stem cells

There are many more stories than these, but I’m highlighting seven celebrity stem cell stories because of their associated risks and other unique elements. Some did a better job than others in being upfront about what they were doing.

William Shatner

The actor most well-known for playing Captain Kirk on Star Trek is one of the few remaining living cast members from the original show. He seems to be doing well too and recently went to space in the real world. Shatner’s account of space is not what I would have expected, but it is really interesting.

Sadly, a couple of years back William Shatner got unproven stem cells and tweeted in a promotional way about it.

The supplier of those cells? A Southern California firm called Invitrx, which recently got its third FDA warning letter. Not good.

Joe-Rogan-stem-cell-Mel-Gibson, celeb stem cells
Joe Rogan and Mel Gibson talk about the supposed wonders of unproven stem cells.

Mel Gibson & his dad

Gibson appears to be a big fan of stem cells. He says it has helped both him and his father. Like Rogan (below) Gibson also seems to promote the Stem Cell Institute in Panama. Gibson might be the celebrity most mentioned by people asking about stem cell clinics.

Joe Rogan on stem cells

Joe Rogan has been promoting stem cells for years including the Panama place but also elsewhere. He’ll bring someone on the show, who might also be a celebrity (e.g., Mike Tyson), and chat about how great they both think stem cells are.

He says he has gotten cell injections himself too. There’s no balance in these stem cell discussions on his show that I’ve seen. They seem largely promotional in nature.

Sean O’Malley

MMA fighter O’Malley reportedly got a stem cell penis injection.

‘(They said) it could supposedly help with girth, performance, explosive orgasms. So I’m like ‘Well, it ain’t the first time I’ve had a needle in my wiener, hit me up doc!’ ‘Mine is still bruised. I’m about four inches bigger,’ O’Malley laughed. ‘We’re going back in January, I might get another poke.

This penis shot is highly risky and I believe there’s almost no chance of a lasting benefit. Here’s an overview more generally of the risks and lack of data supporting penis injections including so-called P shots.

Tony Robbins & his stem cell fountain

The celebrity advice guru has turned some attention to stem cells in recent years. Robbins has a new book and he’s involved in multiple businesses related to stem cells. The relatively new firm Fountain Life with Peter Diamandis looks highly dubious to me. Robbins is so convincing though that I’m concerned he’s going to sway many people to try unproven stem cells.

Lady Gaga

The superstar reports using stem cells in her skin routine. These are plant extracts and probably not actual stem cells. They are likely worthless.  She has nice skin but I doubt “stem cells” has anything to do with that.

Rafael Nadal and stem cells

Nadal reportedly has gotten stem cells for various tennis-related issues. These include especially his back. The Rafael Nadal stem cell treatment has become popular with others it seems. This one is concerning because it seems to be lab-grown stem cells, which increases risks.

Overall, fans of these and other celebrities are likely collectively sending millions of dollars to unproven stem cell firms. They are being given who knows what in return, with little if any potential benefit.

List of other celebs who got unproven stem cell therapies

  • Mike Tyson
  • Madonna
  • Kim Kardashian
  • Ronaldo
  • Many NFL and MLB players

3 thoughts on “Desperately seeking stem cells: celeb quests for elixirs often mislead”

  1. Inga Andersdotter

    I don’t even want to know exactly what Sean O’Malley meant by his comments, but I completely get your concern about the safety and efficacy of these treatments in celebrities or anyone else. The problem is that I understand why celebrities– and anyone else– get these treatments. It’s because the public has been hearing and reading for over a decade about constant promises of miracle cures that are supposedly right around the corner. People are desperate, and for much better reasons than cosmetic ones. If we had any kind of timeline or progress reports or realistic ideas about if and when anything will ever be medically approved and available, millions of dollars, thousands of bad reactions, and even some lives could be saved. Someone with authority needs to step up and say, “Here’s a timeline for when xyz treatment actually may happen,” followed by as many pages of disclaimers as they want, but SOMETHING. Is there any hope of this kind of specific information delivery (and again, qualified and disclaimed to anyone’s heart’s content) happening at any point soon?

  2. Well, Nadal is almost 40-years-old and he won 2 majors last year, so clearly those stem cells are helping him!

    People will take clinical real-world/real people results over socially-detached, chemistry lab results any day. Stem cells aren’t hurting people and people worldwide want/deserve medical alternatives. The SCT tide turned YEARS ago.

    Governments around the world – including the US – have recognized this. That’s why the FDA has effectively taken a “hand’s off” approach. And it’s the right approach. Why would the FDA spend money and manpower it doesn’t have policing something that is safe and helpful?

    Let’s face it, when it comes to influencing people, politics and policy, celebrities have FAR more power than academics and researchers. I bet there are members of Congress, the FDA and state governments that have THEMSELVES tried SCT. Of course, they’d never speak of it publicly.

    Now if only we could get medical insurance to cover it 🙂


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