By Dr. Darin Stokke, DC Lifestyles Healthcare Group
Stem cells have long been known to be an integral part of our body’s ability to grow, heal and repair itself. It has also been known that these tiny cells may hold the key to treating a wide range of disease processes. In fact, the medical use of stem cells go back over a century ago when doctors first attempted to administer stem cell rich bone marrow by mouth to patients with leukemia. While that attempt was initially deemed a failure, researchers continued to study the effects of stem cell therapy on mice and eventually demonstrated successfully that mice with defective bone marrow could be restored to robust health when injected with marrow taken from healthy mice. So began the journey of our modern day stem cell therapy.
Each and every one of us have varying amounts of stem cells in our body. Stem cells are cells with the potential to become anything our body needs to grow and repair. At conception, the first two cells that come together start the process of growth and hold the potential to become every and any cell our body will need. During the growth of the baby these stem cells slowly begin to specialize into the three main types of tissues of the body; ectoderm (skin and nervous system), endoderm (gut and internal organs) and mesoderm (muscles, bones and heart). All of these cells still have identical DNA however the genes are now switching them on to become the specialized tissues and organs a healthy body will need.
As babies, all of us had an abundance of these stem cells as they were crucial for growth, development and immune functioning. In fact, in that first year of life, about one in every 10,000 cells is a stem cell. As we age, our need for growth diminishes as do the amount and quality of our stem cells. By the time we reach 30 years of age only 1 in every 250,000 cells is a stem cell and by 80 that number drops to 1 in every 2 million cells. This is why, as we age, we notice more degeneration, slower healing, and less repair of our tissues slowing our recovery time after work and exercise.
From a therapeutic standpoint it’s obvious that if we can successfully restore healthy, vibrant and undifferentiated stem cells into the diseased tissues of our body, there may be hope to alleviate a wide variety of disease processes. It’s almost like a “jump start” to the body so that repair can happen. Therapeutically there 5 sources of potential healthy stem cells. The first source, fetal stem cells, are the most controversial source and also 100% illegal to use in therapy or for research in the United States. No one should or can use fetal stem cells. Next, amniotic fluid and the placenta both have stem cells that are easy to get after delivery of a healthy born baby born to a healthy mom but both have varying degrees of stem cell potency for harvesting. The most commonly used source today is our own stem cells. Our stem cells can be collected from our own tissues through a surgical procedure, concentrated down and re-injected into the tissues we hope to repair. Not only is this procedure costly and painful, but it often needs repeated treatments due to the fact our own stem cells, as adults, just aren’t as concentrated or have the capacity to grow as they did in our youth. Finally umbilical cord derived stem cells are stems cells harvested from an otherwise discarded umbilical cord from natural full term births with a healthy mom and healthy baby. The exciting thing with the umbilical cord derived stem cells is that they appear to have greater plasticity and concentration when compared to the other sources and thus greater restorative and regenerative potential as well.
If you are considering stem cell therapy to help restore or regenerate tissues and decrease pain and degeneration, the essential questions you must ask are: From what source are the cells derived? What’s the name and track record of the company supplying the stem cells? Are the stem cells injected using ultrasound guidance to ensure the cells are injected exactly where needed? Is there a specific pre and post care program as part of the therapy? Are x-rays used to visualize the joint before and 12 weeks after treatment? Will you be provided exercises, diet and ongoing support for at least 6 months after treatment to ensure the treatment has maximum benefit? There are crucial differences between how stem cell therapy is sold and administered and it’s critical for you to be fully informed so you can make the best decision for your health. Remember it’s your health and your life so choose wisely and choose to live it well!