Stem cells exist throughout the human body. Stem cells are capable of repeatedly dividing to generate new stem cells in order to replenish dying cells as well as to repair damaged tissues and organs. As a person ages, that person’s stem cells age as well. Older, less healthy stem cells have a decreased capacity to generate new cells, which contributes to the process of aging. Fortunately stem cell health and production can be enhanced naturally through several ingredients present in stem cell supplements (also referred to as stem cell enhancers or stem cell activators.
The Role of Stem Cells
Unlike other types of cells, stem cells are capable of self-renewing — a stem cell splits into two cells, and the new cell can differentiate into one of many different kinds of cells. Early embryonic stem cells, originally created within the first few days of the life of an embryo, can differentiate into almost any kind of cell, in any kind of organ or tissue. Adults retain stem cells in all of their tissues and organs. Like embryonic stem cells, these adult stem cells can split and differentiate. However, these adult stem cells can’t differentiate into any type of cell. An adult stem cell will become a type of cell related to one particular organ or tissue type.
When an organ or tissue is damaged, stem cells specific to that organ or tissue go into action regenerating to form new, fully-functional replacements for the damaged cells. That’s why stem cells are vitality important to health — adult stem cells are the body’s means of self-healing in order to remain health and youthful.
Recent studies establish that the functioning of stem cells declines with advancing age. Aging cells suffer from inflammation, DNA damage and oxidative stress, resulting in a diminished ability of organs and tissues to repair themselves. The important result of this is that aging itself is directly linked to the accumulation of damaged stem cells.
For much more information on what stem cells are and their role in health and aging, refer to this article.
Nutrients That Promote Stem Cell Health
In recent years the number, and popularity, of stem cell supplements (enhancers) has grown considerably. The ingredient lists of these supplements can be long and varied, consisting of some well-known nutrients and some much lesser-known food and plant extracts, amino acids, antioxidents, and more. Here we examine the most popular ingredients in these supplements, explaining what each is, and why each is thought to be of benefit to stem cell health and reproduction abilities.
Spirulina (blue-green algae, or Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, or AFA)
Algae are simple aquatic plants that aren’t especially plant-like — algae doesn’t have roots, stems or leaves. Algae are members of a group of mostly aquatic photosynthetic organisms (capable of photosynthesis — producing organic compounds such a glucose from the energy of sunlight) belonging to the kingdom Protista.
Spirulina is an edible species of blue-green algae that grows in both fresh and salt water. Spirulina is also referred to as Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (AFA) or Klamath blue green algae and has long been recognized for its anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation issues can negatively affect brain stem cell replication, and a study has shown that Spirulina can limit this type of inflammation, leading to improved stem cell health. Another study, this one by the Department of Neurosurgery at USF, showed that Aphanizomenon flos-aquae helped to promote proliferation of all types of stem cells, not just brain stem cells.
Polyphenols are a category of chemicals that naturally occur in most plants. Polyphenols are micronutrients that act as antioxidants — they protect cells from damage caused by free radicals (reactive, or unstable, atoms that cause cell damage as they scavenge the body in an attempt to stabilize by stealing electrons away from other, more stable atoms).
It’s been shown that polyphenols can help treat or improve cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, weight management difficulties, neurodegenerative disease and digestion issues.
Numerous other studies show polyphenol-rich nutritional supplements can meaningfully boost stem cell function, thereby slowing down stem cell-related aging. Researchers detected significant increases in circulating bone marrow stem cells, brought about by the polyphenols stimulating the body’s stem cells.
Many foods, including blueberries, hazelnuts and tea, are high in polyphenols. That’s why you’ll find that many stem cell supplements list extracts of foods such as these among their ingredients. While it might appear to be a strange mix of nutrients, they’re included not for their differences but because of their commonality — polyphenols. Below are listed many of the foods high in polyphenols — you can expect to see extracts of at least some of these foods in almost any stem cell enhancer.
Cloves and Other Seasonings
When it comes to human-edible foods, cloves may by the richest source of polyphenols. Other seasonings ranking high on the polyphenols scale include dried peppermint and star anise. Because it can be problematic to integrate these spices into your meals, your best bet to gaining their anti-inflammatory power is by taking daily supplements that include one or more of them.
Cocoa Powder and Dark Chocolate
Behind seasonings like cloves, cocoa powder is the richest source of polyphenols. Because cocoa is the main ingredient in dark chocolate it should come as no surprise that dark chocolate is also very rich in polyphenols.
Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and Goji berries are all rich in polyphenols (especially blueberries). A berry extract is a very common ingredient in stem cell supplements.
Berries are far and away the fruits highest in polyphenols, but there are several non-berry fruits that supply a good dose. Aside from berries, black currants, plums and cherries are the richest in polyphenols.
Nuts may be high in calories, but they’re packed with protein, and some are quite high in polyphenols. In particular, look to hazelnut, pecan or almond extract in a stem cell supplement.
Black and Green Tea
Both black and green tea contain good amounts of polyphenols. If you aren’t a tea drinker, don’t despair — many stem cell enhancers include black tea or green tea extract.
Researchers have long recommended red wine (in moderation, of course) for its antioxidants. Rich polyphenol content — the polyphenol resveratrol in particular — is a big part of those antioxidants. This is why though over-consumption of alcohol is considered bad, moderate consumption of red wine is thought to be beneficial. If you prefer a glass of Rosé and white wine, enjoy. But realize you won’t be sipping that wine for the polyphenols — both Rosé and white wine have very low levels of polyphenols.
Resveratrol Synergy from Jarrow Nutrition has resveratrol in an amount equivalent to dozens of glasses of red wine (without the alcohol, of course). It’s also loaded with other polyphenols from green tea extract, grape skin and grape seed extracts, quercetin (a polyphenol found in many plants), and pterostilbene (a polyphenol found in blueberries).
Theoretically a stem cell can divide, again and again, to create unlimited new stem cells. In reality, though, a stem cell eventually “wears out.” Stem cell depletion and aging are, in fact, a strong contributor to human aging itself — tissue and organs in need of healing and repair aren’t adequately supplied with new, health stem cells to perform those fixes.
Every stem cell has telomeres — a protective cap-like structures that exists to protect the cell from DNA mutations. When a stem cell splits, the number of telomeres is reduced. Eventually the chain of telomeres becomes so short that it is no longer healthy for the stem cell to split — so it stops replicating.
Stem cells have the ability to lessen telomere loss by generating an enzyme called telomerase. This enzyme has the ability to supplement stem cell telomere, which has the effect of extending the cells lifespan and reproduction powers. Over time, though, the stem cells production of the telomerase enzyme slows, slowing down the production of telomeres, leading to an unhealthy stem cell unable to generate new stem cells. Supplementing the body with nutrients that stimulate the telomerase enzyme can revitalize aging stem cells and allow them to continue their process of cell splitting. Because of this, many stem cell supplements include ingredients that act as telomerase activators.
Polygonum Multiflorum (He Shou Wu or Fo-Ti)
Polygonum multiflorum, also referred to as He Shou Wu or Fo-Ti, is an herb that is one of the most popular traditional Chinese medicines (TCM). In Asia this herb is commonly used in fertility enhancement (by improving egg vitality in women and sperm count in men) and muscle strengthening. In the West it is gaining acceptance as a stem cell supplement ingredient due to the belief that it can increase the production of various types of stem cells as well as enhance telomere growth
Astragalus Membranaceus (Huáng Qí)
Astragalus membranaceus is another herb popular in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Astragalus has antioxidant effects that inhibit free radical production. In the body, free radicals damage cells and are linked to many health problems associated with aging. Astragalus molecules have been found to contribute to telomere growth. In TCM the root of the Astragalus membranaceus plant has been used for all of the following purposes:
- Protect both the heart and kidneys
- Possible cancer-fighting effects
- Anti-inflammatory effects
- Combating infections
- Boosting the immune system
Adult stem cells play a crucial role in encouraging tissue and organ healing and regeneration after damage. Over time, stem cells lose their ability to split — to replicate to generate new stem cells. This loss of functionality prevents tissues and organs the ability to quickly, or fully recover from damage. This weakening of stem cells weakens the entire body, and greatly contributes to aging.
Fortunately it’s possible to rejuvenate weakened, ineffective stem cells — a non-splitting stem cell can be brought back to functionality. The result is a partial reversal of tissue aging.
Dietary supplements that consist of a variety of specific nutrients has been demonstrated to restore the healing and regenerative capabilities of aging adult stem cells. Because it can be difficult to integrate the required foods and spices into meals, the best solution is to gain the anti-inflammatory power of these nutrients in the form of extracts that make up stem cell supplements, also known as stem cell enhancers or stem cell activators.