Heavy Drinkers Destroy Stem Cells for Life?

by Chris Centeno, MD /

alcohol stem cell damageThe issue of alcohol use always comes up in stem cell treatments – is it good or bad? Should I abstain or continue to have a glass of wine or two? Now a recent study has weighed in on the topic, albeit with a model of Fetal Alcoholism Syndrome (FAS) rather than a model that replicates what happens when you have that nice little glass of wine with dinner.

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are likely the main active cell type in most stem cell treatments. These cells can be impacted by a wide variety of things, including common medications. In fact, our decade long experience has helped us navigate these waters by figuring out which medications are toxic to MSCs and should be avoided. The hard part comes in advising patients on lifestyle choices like having a glass of wine. Most of the studies out there show some impact of alcohol on MSCs, but most like the new study are focused on the effects of hard drinking versus the social drinking in which most patients partake.

The new study used a rat model to expose rats in the womb to “heavy drinking” by the mother. The results of the study found that the rats in the womb who had been exposed to the mother’s “heavy drinking” had MSC’s that performed poorly. The alcohol exposed MSC’s were negatively affected in their osteogenic and adipogenic induction capabilities which are processes that allow the body to make new bone and allow cells to differentiate appropriately. This may be one cause of growth retardation in FAS children.  More interestingly, though, was the finding that these changes were both genetic and epigenic.  This means that their MSCs were “marked for life” via methylation, which distorted several key signaling pathways.  Unfortunately, it also may mean that the altered genes can have effects on the MSCs in the children of children of heavy drinkers. More research will be needed to confirm that last issue.

The upshot?  While this study evaluated the effects of big time alcohol use in rats, the fact that they found epigenetic damage to  mesenchymal stem cells is really concerning. This may mean that the kids of heavy drinkers have genes that are marked for generations, impacting the stem cells in their kids kids. Does this impact that glass of wine with your stem cell treatment, likely not.

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6 thoughts on “Heavy Drinkers Destroy Stem Cells for Life?

  1. Joan

    Does alcohol interfere in success of stemcell treatment when using the persons (adult) own cells?
    The treatment is for a torn disc in back

    1. Regenexx Team

      Joan,
      Alcohol can have profound negative effects on stem cell function, so it should be avoided for 6-12 weeks post treatment. One glass of red or white wine with dinner is not a problem, but more than that could pose a risk to the cells.

  2. Dana Corey

    I just had PRP done on my knee two days ago. I had two Margaritas at dinner day two. Will this negate my healing? I will refrain from ETOH for the next six weeks. I am worried now about my healing/post op.

    1. Regenexx Team

      No, that should be fine. Just keep alcohol consumption moderate.

  3. Hilly

    I had bmac stem cells in both my knees and a wrist done last week. One of the Knees injected more than the other due to cartilage damage and to speed up post acl reconstruction and meniscus surgery.
    I had a glass of saki with ramen right after the procedure and a glass of wine 2 days after with dinner. Will this effect the stem cells ?? Worried

    1. Regenexx Team

      Hilly,
      Every patient is different. We recommend avoiding alcohol for 6 weeks post procedure because it can interfere with stem cells. One glass of wine with dinner occasionally should be okay.

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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