Stem Cells 101, the Value Proposition
The Key purpose of stem cells is to maintain, heal and regenerate tissues wherever they reside in our body. This is a continuous process that occurs inside the human body throughout its life.
If we did not have stem cells, our lifespan would be about 1 hour, because there would be nothing to replace exhausted cells or damaged tissue. In addition, any time the body is exposed to any sort of toxin, the inflammatory process causes stem cells to swarm the area to repair the damage.
As an example: Say you went to the gym in the morning and did some squats. As a result of that, you would get tiny tears inside the muscle. The stem cells that reside beneath the muscle would come out and repair those little tears.
The reason that, if you continuously go to the gym, you would start to build new muscle, is because those stem cells, hard at work underneath your muscle, are helping to repair and build that new muscle. This would apply to all of the tissues inside your body.
Sure, it is easy to think of stem cell therapy as a magic bullet, but is wise to implement strategies that nourish and thereby help optimize the stem cells we already have in our body.
As noted by Kristin Comella, named # 1 on the Academy of Regenerative Practices list of Top 10 stem cell innovators, has been a stem cell researcher for nearly 20 years: “You have to create an appropriate environment for these cells to function in. If you are putting garbage into your body and you are constantly burdening your body with toxins, your stem cells are getting too distracted trying to fight off those toxins.
By creating an appropriate environment, optimizing your diet and reducing exposure to toxins, that will allow the stem cells that we’re putting in to really home in and focus on the true issue that we’re trying to treat.
The other thing we’ve discovered over the years is that [stem cell therapy] is not the type of thing where you take one dose and you’re cured forever. Our tissues are constantly getting damaged … You’re going to have to repeat-dose and use those stem cells to your advantage.
When you think about a lizard that loses its tail, it takes two years to grow back the tail. Why would we put unrealistic expectations on the stem cells that we’re trying to apply to repair or replace damaged tissue? This is a very slow process. This is something that will occur over months and may require repeat dosing.”
In the past, stem cells were isolated from bone marrow, and were used for bone marrow transplants for cancer patients since the 1930’s. But, stem cells come from just about any tissue in the human body, as every tissue contains stem cells.
Human bone marrow has very low amounts of mesenchymal stem cells now believed to be the most important, from a therapeutic perspective.
Mesenchymal stem cells help trigger an immunomodulatory response or a paracrine effect, which means they send signals out to the rest of your body, calling cells to the area to help promote healing.
What researchers have discovered recently is that a more plentiful source of stem cells is actually your fat tissue. Body fat can contain up to 500X more cells than bone marrow, as far as these mesenchymal type stem cells go.
One thing that is also critically important when you’re talking about isolating the cells is the number of other cells that are going to be part of that population.
“When you’re isolating a bone marrow sample, this actually is very high in white blood cells, which are pro-inflammatory.
White blood cells are part of your immune response. When an injury occurs, or a foreign body enters your system, white blood cells will attack. Unfortunately, white blood cells do not discriminate, and can create quite a bit of damage as they clean the area out,” Ms. Comella says.
Stem cells, in particular the mesenchymal cells, quiet down the white blood cells and then start the regeneration phase, which leads to new tissue.
Bone marrow tends to be very high in white blood cells and low in the mesenchymal cells. Isolating stem cells from fat tissue is preferred not only because it’s easier on the patient, but fat also contains a higher population of mesenchymal cells and fewer white blood cells.
“The benefit also of isolating [stem cells from] fat is that it’s a relatively simple procedure. There’s typically no shortage of fat tissue, especially in Americans.
Also, as you age, your bone marrow declines with regards to the number of cells in it, whereas the fat tissue maintains a pretty high number of stem cells, even in older individuals.
We can successfully harvest fat off of just about anyone, regardless of their age or how thin they are. The procedure is done under local [anesthesia], meaning that the patient stays awake. They don’t have to go under general anesthesia. We can harvest as few as 15 cubic centimeters of fat, which is a very small amount of fat, and still get a very high number of stem cells,” Ms. Comella says.
A stem cell procedure can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000, depending on what is being done, and rarely if ever will insurance cover it.
Still, when compared it to the cost of long-term medications or the out-of-pocket cost of getting a knee replacement, stem cell therapy may still be a less expensive alternative.
Also, a single extraction will typically yield enough stem cells for 20 to 25 future treatments, should one decide to store stem cells for future needs.
“I think it is accessible for patients,” Ms. Comella says. “It’s an out-patient procedure. One should plan to be in clinic for about 2 hours; no real limitations afterwards, just no submerging in water, no alcohol, no smoking for a week. But other than that, patients can resume their normal activities and go about their regular daily lives.”
Interestingly, Ms. Comella notes that patients who eat a very healthy diet, focusing on Organic and grass fed meat, have body fat that is very hearty and almost sticky, yielding high amounts of very healthy stem cells.
“We can grow much better and faster stem cells from that fat than [the fat from] somebody who eats a grain-based diet or is exposed to a lot of toxins in their diet,” she says. “Their fat tends to be very fluffy, buttery yellow. The cells that come out of that are not necessarily as good a quality. It’s just been very interesting. And of note, patients that are cigarette smokers, their fat is actually gray-tinged in color. The stem cells do not grow well at all.”
The beauty of stem cell therapy is that it mimics a process that is ongoing in the human body all the time. Our stem cells are continuously promoting healing, and they do not have to be manipulated in any way. The stem cells naturally know how to hone in on areas of inflammation and how to repair damaged tissue.
“All we are doing is harnessing the cells from one location where they’re sitting dormant and relocating them to exactly where we want them and we need them to work,” Ms. Comella says. “Basically, anything inside your body that is inflamed, that is damaged in some way, that is lacking blood supply, the [stem] cells can successfully treat.
That means orthopedics, knee injections, shoulder injections, osteoarthritis, acute injuries, anterior cruciate ligament tears … in your back — back pain associated with degenerative disc disease or damaged tendons or ligaments, herniated and bulging discs. You can also use it in systemic issues, everything from diabetes, to cardiac, to lungs — any tissue organ inside your body that’s been damaged.
Autoimmune diseases [can also be treated]. The stem cells are naturally immunosuppressant, meaning they can help quiet down an over reactive immune system and help the immune system function in a more normal way. Neurological diseases, traumatic brain injury, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson’s. All of these have to do with tissue that’s not functioning properly. The cells can be used to address that.”
The list of different diseases that could benefit from this intervention is very impressive.
And one can dramatically improve the benefits of stem cell intervention by combining it with other healthy lifestyle factors that optimize mitochondrial function, such as eating a healthy Real Food diet, exercising, sleeping well, avoiding toxins and detoxifying from toxic influences.
Stem cells can be used as part of an anti-aging program. Ms. Comella has used stem cells on herself for several years, and report feeling better now than she did a decade ago.
“The ability to reduce inflammation inside your body is basically making yourself live longer. Inflammation is what kills us all. It’s what makes our telomeres shrink. It’s what causes us pain and discomfort. It’s what makes the tissues start to die. The ability to dose yourself with stem cells and bring down your inflammation, which is most likely caused by any sort of toxin that you’ve been exposed to — breathing air is exposure to toxins — this is going to lengthen your lifespan.
I typically will do a dose every 6 to 12 months, regardless of what’s going on. If I have anything that’s bothering me, if I tweak my knee at the gym, then I absolutely will come in and do an injection in my knee. I want to keep my tissue healthy for as long as possible.
I want to stay strong. I don’t want to wait until something is wrong with me. I think that this is the future of medicine. This is what we’re going to start to see. People will begin to get their regular doses of [their own] stem cells and it’ll just be common practice.”
Keep in mind there is a gradual and progressive decline in the quality and the number of stem cells as we age, so when considering this approach, it would be prudent and advantageous to extract and bank stem cells as early on as possible. There are stem cell banking services available.
“Your stem cells are never as young as they are right now. Every minute that you live, your telomeres are shrinking. The ability to lock in the youth of your cells today can be very beneficial for you going forward, and for your health going forward. God forbid something happens. What if you have a heart attack? You’re not going to get clearance to get a mini-lipo aspirate procedure.
If you have your cells waiting in the bank, ready for you, it becomes very easy to pull a dose and do an IV delivery of cells. It’s almost criminal that we’re not doing this for every single one of our cardiac patients. This should be standard practice. We should be having every single patient bank their stem cells at a young age and have them waiting, ready and available. The technology is there. We have it. I’m not sure why this technology is not being made available to everyone,” says.
“I think stem cell therapy is very different than traditional medicine. Stem cell therapy may actually make it so that you don’t have to be dependent on pharmaceutical medications. You can actually repair the tissue and that’s it. This is a very different way of viewing medicine,”Ms. Comella says.
The amniotic products available in the US are not so much stem cell products as they are growth factor products.
According to Ms. Comella, they can be useful in creating an immunomodulatory response, which can help to promote healing, but that differs from the living stem cell procedures that can be done by either isolating cells from body fat or bone marrow. As a general rule, clinical benefits are not achieved when using an amniotic product, primarily because they do not contain living stem cells.
“I want to contrast that to what are called embryonic stem cells,” Ms. Comella adds. “The products obtained from cord blood, from women who are having babies, are not embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are when you are first bringing the egg and sperm together. Three days after that, you can isolate what is called an inner cell mass. This inner cell mass can be used to then grow cells in culture, or that inner cell mass could eventually lead to the formation of a baby.
Those are embryonic stem cells, and those are pluripotential, meaning that they have the ability to form an entire being, versus adult stem cells or stem cells that are present in amniotic tissue, [which] are multipotential, which only have the ability to form subsets of tissue.
When dealing with different diseases or damaged tissue or inflammation, mostly you want to repair tissue. If somebody has damage in their knee, they do nnot necessarily need embryonic cells because they do not need a baby in their knee. They need new cartilage in their knee.”
Stem cell therapy is very different than traditional medicine. Stem cell therapy may actually make it so that we do have to depend on pharmaceutical medications. And we can actually repair the tissue and be done with it. This is a very different way of viewing medicine.
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