Heavy Drinkers Destroy Stem Cells for Life?

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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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NOTE: This blog post provides general information to help the reader better understand regenerative medicine, musculoskeletal health, and related subjects. All content provided in this blog, website, or any linked materials, including text, graphics, images, patient profiles, outcomes, and information, are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always consult with a professional and certified healthcare provider to discuss if a treatment is right for you.

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