Improve Stem Cells: Is Your High Cholesterol Hurting Your Stem Cells?

by Chris Centeno, MD /

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improve stem cells

I’ve blogged a few times about ways to improve stem cells. However, one of the most obvious may be cleaning up your lifestyle. A new study suggests that cholesterol may be a big player in that effort.

Cholesterol is a key building block of the body which is a critical component of cell walls. It’s been much maligned this past few decades by Madison avenue pharma campaigns because we have drugs that lower cholesterol. More recently the American Heart Association and others have defocsued attention on the cholesterol number they’ve had us following for years, finally recognizing that it’s not a great proxy for heart disease.

This most recent study looked at mice who were fed a diet to raise cholesterol and triglycerides (lipid levels) versus a control group without that diet. The high lipid level mice had poorer homing of transplanted stem cells to the target. Basically, the natural ability of the stem cells to find the damaged area and fix it was reduced. In addition, the stem cells in the high lipid mice were less able to form bone.

If this were just any animal model, I’d take these findings with a grain of salt, as we would have no idea if this happens in humans. However, our extensive experience in culturing human stem cells to obtain a bigger number for treatment has already long since taught us a similar lesson. Growing cells of patients with high lipid levels is indeed tough and they have a much higher stem cell culture failure rate. When we tracked it down, while high cholesterol levels were weakly associated with lack of growth, high triglyceride levels were much more strongly correlated.

This new study and our clinical experience bring up two important points. The first is obvious, stem cells may not work as well in patients with high lipid levels. Since we also noted that statin drugs hurt stem cells, treating these patients may not be as easy as just giving patients a new pill to take. Second, high triglyceride levels are a big issue which can be easily fixed through diet and exercise. Reducing sugary and starchy carbs and upping exercise will help push your triglyceride levels down.

The upshot? Using stem cells in real patients is a lot more complex than the animal models predict. Since these are living cells, unlike a chemical drug, they react to their environment. So if you’re planning a stem cell treatment, make sure you focus on getting your body as clean and healthy as it can possibly be!

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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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