Mankind has searched for the “fountain of youth” for centuries. Recently, there has been a great deal of interest in the use of stem cells to combat the effects of aging. Can stem cells be “the fountain of youth” or a part of it? Stem cells have been shown to provide significant benefit in numerous areas including arthritis, neuropathy, and helping heal acute injuries. This article will discuss the principles and current state of the effort to combat the effects of aging. It will also introduce the use of stem cells in combating the effects of aging, or anti-aging.
Frequently Asked Questions
A: Although significant research has gone into the causes of aging, we still have much to learn. Much of aging appears to be how our cells are programmed. As we age, we produce fewer and fewer new cells to replace and replenish old cells. The things like collagen and elastin that support our cells are also produced in smaller amounts. We also have fewer stem cells as we age. Stem cells are responsible for most of healing and cell renewal in our bodies. Possessing fewer numbers of stem cells is thought to be a significant contributor to aging. Some other known contributors to aging are:
- Diet, some foods that can protect us and others can do harm
- Environmental factors such as sunlight and injuries accumulate over time
- Genetics, some families and individuals live longer due to their genetic makeup
- Disease. As we live longer we have more opportunities to develop disease and diseases can cause aging
We can change our diets and avoid some of the environmental factors. However, we can’t change our genes or avoid all disease. There are certainly other factors that contribute to aging that we do not yet understand. As we gain a better understanding of aging, we are better able to combat its effects.
A: Thousands of books and articles have been written about combatting aging and healthy lifestyles. So many differing ideas and approaches are available that it can be difficult to know what is best. However, a few things stand out as being widely accepted as beneficial. Diet is probably the most important aspect that we control ourselves. The American Heart Association recommends a diet1 that emphasizes:
- A variety of fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Low fat dairy products
- Skinless poultry and fish
- Nuts and legumes
- Non-tropical vegetable oils
The American Heart Association also recommends limiting certain foods such as:
- Red meat
- Sodium (salt)
- Saturated and trans fat
- Sweets and sugar sweetened beverages
There are many lifestyle habits beyond diet that help support anti-aging. The most widely supported recommendations are:
- Regular exercise
- Routine use of sunblock on exposed skin, SPF 30 or higher
- Adequate sleep
- Avoid smoking and second-hand smoke
- Practice stress management
Having a healthy lifestyle is now well established as an effective anti-aging strategy. It is the foundation upon which other anti-aging techniques build.
A: Much of modern medicine is really about combatting the effects of aging. High blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and many other common medical problems are all associated with aging. Most cancers are more common as we age as well. So much of what we treat with modern medicine is really dealing with the effects of aging. Physicians realize that most of our efforts are about managing disease, not curing it. We can control blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol, but we really can’t “cure” them. The same will probably always be true of aging. We will be able to manage its effects, but never “cure” aging. However, as we learn more we will be able to address more the causes of these problems rather than just managing the effects. In the past 50 years, modern medicine has added more than a decade to our average life span. There is certainly even more to come.
A: Increasingly stem cells are being used to treat disease and injuries. Although controversy exists over the best sources of stem cells and how to use them, there is little doubt stem cells can help with many disorders. We believe that using stem cells from an individual’s own fat is the best approach in the majority of cases. Stem cells are being utilized for many disorders including:
- Acute and chronic sports injuries
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- Auto-immune disorders like Rheumatoid Arthritis and Systemic Lupus Erythematous and others
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Vascular disorders
- Gastrointestinal disorders like Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis
- Neurologic disorders like Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, Stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and others
- Urologic diseases like Peyronie’s disease and erectile dysfunction
- Heart disease like congestive heart failure
- Eye disease like macular degeneration
- Respiratory problems like asthma
More can be learned about each of these disorders by clicking on the links on this website.
A: Stem cells are being used with increasing frequency in cosmetic medicine. Stem cells can be injected directly into the skin on the face and other areas. This has been shown to reduce wrinkles, skin discoloration and promote skin rejuvenation. It can also reduce the appearance of scars, stretch marks and promote skin tightening. Studies show adding stem cells to other cosmetic surgeries like liposuction, breast enhancement and abdominoplasty (tummy tuck), speed up healing and give a better cosmetic result. Adding stem cells to resurfacing lasers has been shown to enhance the final results as well. This is likely true when added to radiofrequency skin tightening as well. Much more can be learned about this rapidly growing field in our cosmetic stem cell section on this site.
A: Using stem cells for anti-aging has been a dream for many years. Unfortunately, we are at least 10-20 years from having studies that confirm an anti-aging effect from stem cells. Therefore, anything said now is based on theory. We have increasing evidence that stem cells can help with disease and make us look better, but what can we theorize about stem cells for helping us not grow old? Are stem cells a fountain of youth? Our bodies’ ability to repair and renew diminishes as we age. Stem cells are responsible for most of this repair and renewal process. As we age, so do our stem cells. They become less and less able to do their repair and renewal job. We also have fewer of them as we age. When we harvest stem cells from fat, we are taking stem cells that would otherwise remain dormant, and enabling then to potentially increase and improve the repair/renewal process. This may have the effect of restoring the repair/renewal abilities of our bodies to a level like when we were younger. We can even do better than that with our new ability to freeze and store stem cells. For example, a 40 year old individual can freeze and store stem cells right now. In 20 years at age 60, if he or she wishes they can then thaw and use the stem cells. Now they have literally restored their repair/renew process to 20 years younger by using stem cells that are 40 and not 60 years old. This is a very exciting idea and will be talked about and studied extensively in the years to come.
For many years, the most anyone could do to help themselves live longer and healthier was eat right and exercise. Modern medicine added treatments for disease/disorders that has further added to longevity and good health. Now stem cells have the potential to significantly add to both the duration and quality of our lives. This science is in its infancy, but in the years to come may represent essentially a “fountain of youth” for generations to come. A truly exciting subject with much more left to learn.