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Loss of stem cells as we get older plays a vital role in the aging process. Consequently, it makes sense that the scientific community and beyond would turn to stem cells in the pursuit of the ‘fountain of youth’. In this article we will discuss what stem cells are, emerging research on stem cells, and how we may be able to trigger the growth of stem cells in our own bodies. Buckle down – we’re about to get pretty ‘science-y’, but we’ll try to keep it as basic as possible.

What are Stem Cells?

Powercharging Your Body's Natural Stem Cells - HeaderStem cells differ from other kinds of cells in the body. All stem cells—regardless of their source—have three general properties:

  • they are capable of dividing and renewing themselves for long periods;
  • they are unspecialized;
  • and they can produce specialized cell types. (Organs such as the heart, lungs, skin, sperm, eggs and other tissues all have special types of cells – which are specific to that organ/tissue).

Stem cells are important for living organisms for many reasons, some being:

  • In the 3- to 5-day-old embryo, called a blastocyst, the inner cells give rise to the entire body of the organism, including all of the many specialized cell types and organs such as the heart, lungs, skin, and other tissues.
  • In some adult tissues, such as bone marrow, muscle, and brain, distinct populations of adult stem cells generate replacements for cells that are lost through normal wear and tear, injury, or disease.

Types of Stem Cells

In humans, there are two broad types of stem cells: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells.

Embryonic stem cells

As their name suggests, embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos (an unhatched offspring in the process of development in the second to eighth week after fertilization). Most embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos that develop from eggs that have been fertilized in an in vitro fertilization clinic and then donated for research purposed with informed consent of donors.

Adult Stem Cells

An adult stem cell – also referred to as somatic stem cells – is thought to be an undifferentiated cell found among differentiated cells in a tissue or organ. The adult stem cell can renew itself and can differentiate to yield some or all of the major specialized cell types of the tissue or organ. The primary roles of adult stem cells in a living organism are to maintain and repair the tissue in which they are found.

Emerging Research on Stem Cells

Research on adult stem cells has generated a great deal of excitement, but as with many expanding fields of science, research on stem cells raises scientific questions as rapidly as it generates new discoveries.

Given their distinctive regenerative abilities, examples of potential treatments include regenerating bone using cells derived from bone marrow, developing insulin-producing cells for diabetes, and repairing damaged heart muscle following a heart attack with cardiac muscle cells. However, much work remains to be done in the laboratory and the clinic to understand how to use these cells for cell-based therapies to treat disease, which is also referred to as regenerative or reparative medicine.

Experiments over the last several years have claimed to show that stem cells from one tissue may give rise to cell types of a completely different tissue. This remains an area of great debate and controversy within the research community.

Scientists have also found stem cells in many more tissues than they once thought possible. Scientists now have evidence that cells exist in the brain and the heart – two locations where adult stem cells were not at first expected to reside. This finding has led researchers and clinicians to ask whether adult stem cells could be used for transplants.

Typically, there is a very small number of stem cells in each tissue, and, once removed from the body, their capacity to divide is limited, thus making it difficult to generate large quantities of stem cells. Scientists are attempting to find ways to grow large amounts of stem cells in cell culture, so they can be utilized to treat injury or disease.

How can we Trigger Production of Stem Cells in our Own Body?

Prolonged Fasting

Studies show that prolonged fasting (24-48 hrs+) not only protects against immune system damage, but also immune system regeneration – shifting cells from a dormant state to a state of self-renewal.

When you starve, your body tries to save energy, and one of the tactics to save energy is to recycle many immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged.

Participating in periods of fasting periodically (of course ensuring that you’re getting in adequate nutrition when not fasting), can kill older and damaged immune cells and generate new ones.

Overall Diet

Poor diets consisting of heavy caloric intake, especially from highly refined foods, as well as a diet low in nutrients, can cripple your body’s immunity and ability to regenerate.

Your metabolism determines how many calories you burn during daily activity so if you don’t lead a moderately active lifestyle, a diet of high caloric intake can cause weight gain. Excess body fat puts a strain on your organs and bones, and the body naturally attempts to repair the damage while excess weight compromises the health of the stem cells found in your bone marrow and other tissue in the body.

Exercise

Stem cells respond just as positively to a challenging workout as they do to a diet rich in nutrients.

Workouts that challenge the muscles spark a growth factor response in the body and stimulates adult stem cell self-renewal. High impact workouts with weights and high intensity are ideal when attempting to increase stem cells.

If you’re unable to do high-intensity workouts exercise in general can still be an effective tool to increase stem cells. Any exercise that challenges your muscles can be beneficial.

*Important note: with any diet or lifestyle change or strategy, it is imperative that you seek the guidance of a healthcare team such as your doctor and registered dietitian, especially if you have a medical condition.

Felicia Newell
About the Author

Felicia Newell is a Registered Dietitian (RD), Nutritionist, and Health Coach. She is also the owner of Sustain Nutrition, and helps clients from all around the globe fight through the misinformation in the online world, and master their health goals in a way that also allows them to also enjoy life. After many years in practice and through extensive research, Felicia knows that the ‘restrictive dieting’ technique never works long-term, and she takes the realistic approach of the ‘80/20 rule’, as well as working with clients to find the specific strategies that work best for them. You can download her FREE Meal Planning Starter Kit to help get you on your way to crushing your health and wellness goals.

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