Stem Cells and diet and your arteries? 10 years ago, we saw the rise of the Atkin’s diet, which seemed counter intuitive. Eat all of the fatty foods you want, just reduce your carbs. After the book came out and it had helped me loose some weight, I remember reading the New York Times article, “What if it’s all been a Big Fat Lie” by Gary Taubes. Mr. Taubes explained that our fear of saturated fats originated with discredited research findings that somehow became government policy. The real dietary enemy in the war on heart disease and obesity wasn’t fatty foods, it was in fact sugar and refined carbohydrates. At the time, studying this “glycemic control” phenomenon and it’s effects on the body wasn’t in vogue, but it’s been great to see many such research articles on this topic the last few years. This week a publication helped add to the mounting evidence that blood sugar control and stem cells are linked. First, what’s “glycemic control”? It’s the ability of our bodies to keep our blood sugar in a very tight range. Some of us seem to be naturally better at it (likely due to our genes) than others. Those of us with bad glycemic control genes (it’s now believed that this may have been a genetic adaption to allow our ancestors to better survive the ice ages) have bodies that can’t react normally to high sugar or carbohydrate intake. This bad gene group (which may be about 1/3 to half of us) produces way too much insulin in response to these foods. I have a prior blog post that talks about how this can cause problems like weight gain, hypertension, and pre-diabetes (Metabolic Syndrome) and can even be associated with more arthritis.
How then does blood sugar tie in with stem cells? Turns out that in the study described above, diabetic patients with poor blood sugar control had fewer circulating stem cells to help repair damaged arteries and thus had stiffer arteries. This isn’t the only study to make this link, as a 2010 study found fewer circulating stem cells which had impaired function in type 1 diabetics. A 2006 study found the same thing and also found that treating the diabetes increased the number of circulating stem cells. The upshot? We’re often asked by patients what they can do to improve their chances of a better outcome with stem cell therapy used to treat arthritis. As discussed in a prior post, exercise seems to be key in helping the function of stem cells that repair muscle. In addition, there’s mounting evidence that improving your blood sugar control may also help your stem cells. Even if you haven’t been told you’re a diabetic, anyone with a family history of diabetes and who has put on considerable weight in middle age or has a “metabolic syndrome” (overweight, high blood pressure), could likely benefit from a low glycemic lifestyle. Perhaps the simplest way to do this is follow one of the diet plans that’s easier to follow than Atkins, like the South Beach Diet or the Zone. In summary, for better stem cells, get rid of the carbs!