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How Superhero Cells Can Save Your Memory

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There was a superhero cartoon in the 1980s called The Wonder Twins. It featured brother-and-sister twins named Zan and Jayna who could change shape by touching their fists together and saying, “Wonder twin powers, activate!”

While Zan and Jayna were make-believe, some cells inside your body with superhero shapeshifting abilities are very real. These cells, called stem cells, can help save your memory from age-related decline.

Think of stem cells as the all-stars of biology. These special cells have superpowers – and can become various types of cells throughout your body, from brain cells to bone marrow. They're a bit like blank slates, ready to jump into action and transform into whatever your body needs, whether repairing damaged tissues or creating new life.

They can even produce more stem cells, which gives them a special role on your body's fix-it crew. They grow and rejuvenate your body from the inside out when needed. Often hailed as "the body's repair kit," you can find these little lifesavers in plenty of spots around the body—from deep within your bone marrow to circulating in your blood and even tucked away in embryos.

A cool thing about stem cells? They have this neat trick where they can keep refreshing themselves. They can make copies of themselves indefinitely. One stem cell can generate two daughter stem cells or one differentiated cell type, expanding the stem cell pool. These unique features make stem cells vital during embryonic development and adulthood for tissue health, repair, and regeneration.

The delicate balance between stem cell loss and replacement is maintained brilliantly until your stem cells start dying off faster than they can be replaced. That’s what aging is all about, in a nutshell. And that’s why stem cells are the focus of so much anti-aging research.

The Future of Anti-Aging Medicine?

Stem cell therapy has been dubbed “the future of anti-aging medicine” because of its incredible potential to address so many health conditions. Stem cell therapy is one of the most innovative ways to repair or replace your body parts or tissues. Professionals say it’ll one day transform health care as we know it.

After all, stem cell therapy holds great promise to change how we treat a wide range of health issues. Imagine swapping out those tired, worn-out cells with fresh, energetic ones ready to stop illness in its tracks. It’s like a facelift for your cells that you can feel.

Stem cells also offer a personalized medical experience based on genetic makeup and medical history, which could optimize your health outcomes and reduce potential risks.

They are a “secret weapon” against the ticking clock of aging, promising to keep you healthier for longer. Stem cells can refresh and give your aging body parts new life, putting the brakes on aging. Stem cell therapy is changing how we approach healing disease in medicine, offering new and exciting ways to tackle some of the most devastating illnesses of our time, including memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Stem Cells and Brain Aging

As we age, the regenerative capacity of our stem cells decreases. Stem cells become less efficient at dividing and replacing damaged or dying cells. This is true of brain cells, too.

Aging damages neurogenesis, the generation of new neurons (nerve cells) from neural stem cells. Furthermore, stem cells live in special communities called stem cell niches. However, with aging, the brain’s stem cell niches change, leading to altered stem cell and brain behavior and function.

Types of Stem Cells

An overview of the types of stem cells and what they do:

  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells (HSCs): Located in bone marrow and blood, these stem cells generate all types of blood cells – red, white, and platelets. They’re also critical for your immune system.
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs): Found in bone marrow, adipose tissue, and the umbilical cord, these cells differentiate into multiple cell types and play a key role in your skeleton and connective tissues.
  • Skeletal Muscle Stem Cells (Satellite Cells): These are in skeletal muscle tissue, next to muscle fibers. They repair and/or regenerate damaged muscles (from injury or exercise) and differentiate into new muscle cells.
  • Endothelial Progenitor Cells (EPCs): These are circulating stem cells in blood and bone marrow that differentiate into endothelial cells lining the inner surface of blood vessels. They aid blood vessel formation and repair and maintain vascular health.
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs): These cells originate from adult cells, like skin or blood cells, through reprogramming. They are pluripotent, meaning they can differentiate into any cell type in the body, similar to embryonic stem cells. iPSCs are used for disease modeling and regenerative medicine research. They can also be used as patient-specific cell lines for studying diseases and potential therapies.

Four Ways to Increase Adult Stem Cells

Several factors affect the number and activity of adult repair stem cells in your body. The most important factor is choosing a healthy lifestyle:

  1. Exercise: Regular physical activity stimulates stem cell activation – especially for HSCs and MSCs. Exercise promotes good blood flow, tissue repair, and the release of growth factors – all of which enhance the function of adult repair stem cells.
  2. Nutrition: A balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and essential nutrients supports the health and function of repair stem cells (and all cells). Studies show that certain dietary compounds, such as omega-3 fatty acids, polyphenols, and flavonoids, as well as nutrients such as sea buckthorn berry, favor stem cell activity.
  3. Sleep: Adequate and deep sleep is critical for overall health and the optimal function of repair stem cells. During sleep, the body repairs and regenerates, and stem cells play a key role in those processes. Poor or insufficient sleep impairs the function of repair stem cells and hinders tissue repair.
  4. Regenerative strategies: Stem cells can be delivered by intravenous injection or infusion into the bloodstream. But lack of data, unpredictable results, and unanswered questions make this risky.

Watch Out for These Stem Cell Killers

Just as some choices can increase the number of stem cells in your body, other choices can suppress the activity of repair stem cells. For instance:

  • Stress: Chronic stress interferes with the repair and suppresses stem cell activity. Practice stress-reducing techniques like meditation, deep breathing, and mindfulness.
  • Toxins: Environmental toxins, pollutants, and various chemicals can harm stem cells and their repairs. To support your adult stem cells, minimize exposure to toxins and adopt a clean, toxin-free lifestyle (such as eating mostly organic foods, avoiding sugar, tobacco, and alcohol, and minimizing yard chemicals).
  • Sugar: Consuming excess sugar can lead to high blood sugar levels that make epigenetic changes to bone marrow stem cells, altering them into inflammatory immune cells, thus increasing the risk of heart disease and chronic inflammation. Research from Tulane University reveals that high blood sugar causes stem cells derived from fat cells to produce more fat cells instead of aiding in the regeneration of bone and cartilage, further highlighting sugar's detrimental impact on your waistline and your health.

Our Takeaway

While we wait for science to dig deeper into the mystery of stem cells and their impact on our health and the way we age, there’s one thing we can say for sure: A healthy lifestyle is the easiest way to improve the health of your stem cells. That’s right, you can support your stem cell health by eating right, exercising, taking the right supplements, getting enough sleep, and managing your stress levels. In other words, when you make healthy choices, your stem cells, like the rest of your body’s cells, will thank you.

  1. Artegiani B, Calegari F. Age-related cognitive decline: Can neural stem cells help us?. Aging (Albany NY). 2012 Mar 31;4:176-186.
  2. de Lucia, C., Murphy, T., Steves, C.J. et al. Lifestyle mediates the role of nutrient-sensing pathways in cognitive aging: cellular and epidemiological evidence. Commun Biol 3, 157 (2020).
  3. Nicaise AM, Willis CM, Crocker SJ, Pluchino S. Stem Cells of the Aging Brain. Front Aging Neurosci. 2020 Aug 6;12:247.
  4. Zhang X, Hou X, Te L, Zhongsheng Z, Jiang J, Wu X. Mesenchymal stem cells and exosomes improve cognitive function in the aging brain by promoting neurogenesis. Front Aging Neurosci. 2022 Oct 18;14:1010562.
  5. Cao, N., Liao, T., Liu, J. et al. Clinical-grade human umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cells reverse cognitive aging via improving synaptic plasticity and endogenous neurogenesis. Cell Death Dis 8, e2996 (2017).

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