We often get asked how patients can get more or better stem cells, or improve the quality of their stem cells before a procedure. The research is finally at a point where there are a few pointers we can give, along with our 7 years of experience. Here’s our top 10 list. Realize that age cures many sins, so if you’re under 30 years-old, only pay attention to the medications on the list:
1-Cut the sugar – We Americans consume way too much sugar. What do I mean by sugar? The white granular stuff plus bread, pasta, juice, super sweet fruits, etc. All of this produces too much insulin production, which combined with far too little activity, causes a metabolic syndrome. Consider going on a strict Atkins, Zone, or South Beach diet. These are all low glycemic diets-meaning that they can help control blood sugar and excessive insulin release. You’ll want to do this for a few months before your procedure-checking your Hemoglobin A1C (HBA1C) before and after (it may take 6 months for this to fall). The HBA1C you’re aiming for is 5.1. Another quicker test to see if you’ve beaten sugar addiction is what I call the chocolate bar test. Get a 70%, 80%, and 90% bar and taste them. If you try the 70% bar and feel it’s not sweet enough, go back to square 1, you’re a major sugar addict. If the 70% was sweet and the 80% was not sweet enough and very bitter, then you’re on your way, but not there yet-strict up the diet and cut more sugar. If you try the 80% and it’s a little sweet and the 90% tastes bitter, you’re about on track.
2-Reduce your calories – Even short-term calorie restriction can improve stem cell function. Try reducing your food intake by 20% for two weeks before you get your stem cells taken (making sure that you don’t substitute sugar as above).
3-Reduce your triglycerides – Triglycerides (TRG) are the storage system in the blood for carbohydrates that go unused. This one goes hand in hand with the first two recommendations and is also related to excess weight. This is one of our observations that comes from years of culturing cells. Stem cells grow poorly in patients with high TRG or who are obese. Get your triglycerides measured and reduce your carbs and food intake to bring them down to normal before you have your stem cells drawn.
4-Lift heavy weights and stay aerobically active – Research shows that more active older animals have better stem cells that create more bone, exercise increases muscle stem cells, and weight lifters have better stem cells. In our clinic we have different activity level monikers-“Boulder active”, “American Active” and “Coach Potato”. Boulder active refers to Boulder, Colorado, the most physically fit city in America and just at the door of our clinic. This means 8-12 hours a week of exercise hard enough that carrying on a normal conversation during the activity would be tough. For example, this is bike riding in 50-100 mile clips (with mountains and at altitude), running a mountain trail for 2 hours with 1000 foot elevation gain, or scaling a 200 foot rock wall. American active is the usual health club scene. A bit of sauntering on the eliptical or using machines to lift weights, but a high reps and until a set number is reached. Couch potato means you don’t do either of these. We want our patients (if feasible) to be somewhere between Boulder and American active. This means that if you go to a gym, get a personal trainer to push you. If you lift weights with machines, do 5-8 reps at a weight that will cause the muscle to fail (means you can’t physically continue). If you run or bike, push it an extra 20-30% faster or longer. If you’re able, consider one of the popular cross fit routines like Insanity or PX90. What if your injuries preclude these workouts? Then try getting in the pool or focus on things you can do. What if you’re in poor shape with no hope of getting in better shape? Then just up your activity levels as best you can and focus on other areas discussed in this list. Our goal is not to create elite athletes, but to take the best stem cells we can.
5-Take your Supplements – Consider vitamin D3 or get some outdoor time-Several studies show that D vitamins and D3 in particular can help reduce stem cell aging, maintain their ability to turn into other needed cells, and make them healthier. There are actually a number of common nutritional supplements that may benefit stem cells or cartilage. Curcumin, Quercetin, Glucosamine, and Chondroitin. Vitamin C has also been shown to promote stem cells toward cartilage.
6-Take your resveratrol (or drink some red wine in moderation). Several studies have shown that the SIRT-1 enzyme pathway helps MSCs differentiate and proliferate. In addition, this supplements helps control blood sugar, which fits in with the metabolic syndrome discussion above.
7-Low oxygen is better…sometimes – Even though you might not live at altitude, low oxygen levels help keep stem cells stay viable and grow. However, they differentiate better at normal oxygen. You may consider a vacation to a high altitude spot before your stem cell harvest. This may be why many elite athletes get benefit from sleeping in low oxygen conditioning tents. How about hyperbaric oxygen (HBO)? There is a study showing that HBO can help the stem cells of older patients only (animal study)-again, more on the side of helping stem cells to turn into other tissues.
8-Avoid Quinalone antibiotics – These toxic drugs hurt tendon cells as well as stem cells. They are commonly given for urinary tract infections and some orthopedic infections.
9-Avoid prescription medications – Again, based on our almost decade long experience with growing stem cells, many prescription drugs hurt stem cells. We have seen time and time again an inability to grow a patient’s stem cells that is reversible when we take the patient off the medication. Talk to a clinic physician to see if you’re on a bad stem cell drug. In the meantime, getting off everything you can 1-2 weeks before the stem cell harvest is a good idea (this needs to be cleared with your family or prescribing doctor).
10-Once the stem cells go back in, stay active – Pressure on MSCs improves their ability to turn into bone and cartilage. While much of our orthopedic tissue healing mantra comes from fractures (which do best casted)-animal data of cartilage healing doesn’t show that decreased activity makes better cartilage-in fact it makes cartilage healing worse.