By Caroline Meyers
Researchers have concluded that protecting those essential stem cells could play an important role in slowing and partially reversing aging.
Three studies published last year demonstrate that several nutraceutical compounds are capable of boosting stem cell function.
These studies revealed that extracts from berries and green tea, the dipeptide carnosine, and vitamin D—have the ability to favorably alter gene expression, and are capable of exerting powerful regulatory effects on stem cells and their environment.
These findings should help to crystalize the importance of utilizing natural molecules as a means of slowing aging.
Nutraceuticals Rescue Aging Stem Cells
Aging is associated with the loss of adult stem cell function. This has prompted interest in ways of improving stem cell functionality in maturing individuals.6-8
It has been shown that connecting the circulation of an older animal with that of a younger one reduces the function of the younger animal’s muscle and brain stem cells and appears to accelerate aging.4,7 Components in the blood of the older animal interact with stem cells in the younger one, impairing their function.
Scientists at the James A. Haly Veterans Affair Hospital in Tampa tried to reverse that effect by treating older rats with a specific nutrient formulation, then observing the effects of the rats’ nutrient-rich blood on stem cells from other animals, both young and old.7
They fed young and aged rats either a standard diet or a nutrient-rich diet composed of a mixture of blueberry, green tea, vitamin D, and carnosine—all nutrients with known cell-protective effects—for 28 days. At the end of that period, the researchers collected blood serum from the older, supplemented rats and applied it to cultures of adult rat stem cells. One group of stem cells came from the memory-intensive brain area called the hippocampus, and the other from bone marrow, where blood cells and platelets are formed.
Serum from aged rats that were on the control diet had the expected effect on the cultured stem cells: their division rates slowed dramatically, producing fewer new stem cells. But serum from the supplemented aged rats did not cause those changes, and in fact produced results not different from those of serum obtained from young rats. This study demonstrated that targeted nutrient supplementation alone could rescue aging stem cells involved in both brain and blood system functions.
STEM CELLS AND AGING
Early embryonic stem cells can differentiate into virtually any kind of cell, in any kind of tissue. Adults retain stem cells in all of their organs and tissues. Adult stem cells can still regenerate and differentiate, but usually only into mature cells in their particular tissue type.4,5
When tissue is damaged, tissue-specific stem cells leap into action, quickly forming into functional replacements for the damaged cells.4,5 In short, adult stem cells account for the healthy adult body’s ability to self-heal, and to retain its youthful vigor.
Recent studies now show that stem cell function declines with advancing age—falling victim to such threats as oxidative stress, inflammation, and DNA damage—and results in impaired ability of tissues and organs to repair themselves.1 In this way, aging itself is closely related to the accumulation of dysfunctional stem cells.1-5
Fortunately, one of the very causes of stem cell dysfunction can now be leveraged to prevent or reverse such dysfunction. Regulation through favorable alterations in gene expression is considered a major means of establishing and maintaining normal stem cell activities.2,4 We can now provide to living stem cells substances that exert favorable changes.
A growing number of studies demonstrate that application of a number of molecules that support metabolic function, protect against oxidative stress, prevent inflammation, and protect DNA repair can enhance the numbers – and function – of aging stem cells.9,11,12
The studies discussed in this article demonstrate that many commonly-used nutraceuticals may in fact produce their age-decelerating, organ-protecting, and life-extending effects at least in part by protecting adult stem cells.
Hope for Multiple Sclerosis
The second important study recently published demonstrated the impact of vitamin D on brain stem cells in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is an autoimmune disease that damages nerve cells by impairing their ability to conduct signals. While treatments can slow the disease, it is considered incurable.8
Researchers used a mouse model of MS to determine whether vitamin D treatment could improve nerve function by protecting neuronal stem cells and by promoting their functions. Amazingly, they found that vitamin D supplementation reversed the nerve cell damage created by MS.8 Furthermore, they found that the supplement promoted the proliferation of neuronal stem cells, which contributed directly to improved brain function, and to their apparent recovery from MS. This study offered additional insights into how vitamin D could directly contribute to alleviating a condition in which adult stem cell function is compromised.
Beneficial Epigenetic Changes
The third important study also focused on stem cells in the brain and the impact of specific nutrients on brain function. Here, the researchers based their work on the observation that the decline in aging brain stem cells appears to be closely associated with increased levels of inflammatory signaling molecules, or cytokines.6
They supplemented rats with carnosine, blueberry, green tea, and vitamin D, the same group of nutrients previously proven to rescue aging stem cells. They found that supplemented animals had a large number of changes in the expression of genes concerned with a range of cellular functions.6 More specifically, they helped reduce proinflammatory cytokines, while increasing anti-inflammatory cytokines. The reduction in inflammation would explain the beneficial effects of the nutrients on stem cell function demonstrated in previous experiments.9
But the researchers dug deeper and made a remarkable discovery—the nutrient combination increased the production of genes that prompt progenitor cells (stem-like cells living in brain tissue) into becoming functioning adult neurons. In other words, it helped create healthy new brain cells.
This study powerfully demonstrates how targeted nutrients can favorably alter the environment faced by tissue stem cells in the brain, reducing the risk that they will develop into impaired, aged stem cells, and promoting their development instead into functioning adult brain cells. This is especially important for those at risk for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. These diseases are known to be associated with declining rates of brain cell renewal, which we now recognize requires healthy stem cells.6,10
Together, these three recent studies strongly indicate that specific nutrients can produce tremendous effects on adult tissue stem cells, helping protect them against the destructive impact of environmental factors, and preserving their ability to naturally heal tissues and restore their youthful function.
Let’s now turn to a brief review of the stem cell-protecting properties of some other familiar nutrients.
Nutrients Promote Stem Cell Vigor
One large group of researchers has published extensively on their studies with a nutrient combination containing polyphenols from blueberry and green tea, as well as carnosine and vitamin D. Their work has shown that these nutrients promote the proliferation of healthy human adult stem cells, protect those cells from the destructive effects of oxidative stress, and produce improved cognitive and memory function in animals as a result of enhanced brain stem cell proliferation.9,11,12
Numerous other studies show that other common, readily-available nutritional supplements can also boost stem cell function in a meaningful way, to further slow stem cell-related aging. Let’s take a look at the highlights:
- In one study, a supplement containing green tea, astragalus, goji berry extracts, ellagic acid, and vitamin D fermented with a probiotic Lactobacillus species, was given to human volunteers twice daily for 2 weeks. Within a day, and continuing for the rest of the study, researchers detected significant increases in circulating bone marrow stem cells. They believe this was caused by stimulation of the body’s natural repair mechanisms (stem cells) by the nutraceutical combination.13
- Blueberry extracts are rich in polyphenols, which are highly protective molecules associated with a host of health benefits. A study in rats showed that supplementing animals in early life with a blueberry-enriched diet prevented bone loss (osteoporosis) at menopause.14 Closer examination of the protective effect revealed that the blueberry supplement stimulated bone-forming stem cells to mature into active bone-mineralizing cells. This action reduced the high post-menopausal rate of bone turnover that, in humans, results in easy fractures.14,15
- Spirulina is a blue-green algae that is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. A recent study showed that spirulina could prevent inflammation-induced decreases in brain stem cell proliferation that accumulates with aging.16 This resulted in improved functioning of stem cell mitochondria, which improved energy utilization and reduced oxidative stress.
Recent research has revealed the crucial role of adult stem cells in promoting healing and regeneration following damage. Over time, their loss of function deprives our tissues of their youthful ability to recover from damage and regenerate themselves. This contributes to the loss of function that we see as aging.
The good news is that rejuvenating those adult stem cells can lead to a partial reversal of aging in our tissues. Even better, three landmark studies have shown us that rejuvenation of adult tissue stem cells is within our reach.
Supplementation with a variety of nutrients has been shown to restore the healing and regenerative capacities of aging adult stem cells, and results in the restoration of youthful function to the tissues where those stem cells reside.
The pace of scientific discovery in the nutrients realm continues to accelerate, opening the real possibility that many other nutraceuticals will be found to exert their health-promoting effects at least in part by stimulating stem cell recovery.
If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.
- Liang R, Ghaffari S. Stem cells, redox signaling, and stem cell aging. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2014;20(12):1902-16.
- Beerman I, Rossi DJ. Epigenetic Control of Stem Cell Potential during Homeostasis, Aging, and Disease. Cell Stem Cell. 2015;16(6):613-25.
- Blau HM, Cosgrove BD, Ho AT. The central role of muscle stem cells in regenerative failure with aging. Nat Med. 2015;21(8):854-62.
- Goodell MA, Rando TA. Stem cells and healthy aging. Science. 2015;350(6265):1199-204.
- Schultz MB, Sinclair DA. When stem cells grow old: phenotypes and mechanisms of stem cell aging. Development. 2016;143(1):3-14.
- Flowers A, Lee JY, Acosta S, et al. NT-020 treatment reduces inflammation and augments Nrf-2 and Wnt signaling in aged rats. J Neuroinflammation. 2015;12:174.
- Bickford PC, Kaneko Y, Grimmig B, et al. Nutraceutical intervention reverses the negative effects of blood from aged rats on stem cells. Age (Dordr). 2015;37(5):103.
- Gu SG, Wang CJ, Zhao G, et al. Role of vitamin D in regulating the neural stem cells of mouse model with multiple sclerosis. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2015;19(21):4004-11.
- Acosta S, Jernberg J, Sanberg CD, et al. NT-020, a natural therapeutic approach to optimize spatial memory performance and increase neural progenitor cell proliferation and decrease inflammation in the aged rat. Rejuvenation Res. 2010;13(5):581-8.
- Hoglinger GU, Rizk P, Muriel MP, et al. Dopamine depletion impairs precursor cell proliferation in Parkinson disease. Nat Neurosci. 2004;7(7):726-35.
- Bickford PC, Tan J, Shytle RD, et al. Nutraceuticals synergistically promote proliferation of human stem cells. Stem Cells Dev. 2006;15(1):118-23.
- Shytle RD, Ehrhart J, Tan J, et al. Oxidative stress of neural, hematopoietic, and stem cells: protection by natural compounds. Rejuvenation Res. 2007;10(2):173-8.
- Mikirova NA, Jackson JA, Hunninghake R, et al. Nutraceutical augmentation of circulating endothelial progenitor cells and hematopoietic stem cells in human subjects. J Transl Med. 2010;8:34.
- Zhang J, Lazarenko OP, Blackburn ML, et al. Feeding blueberry diets in early life prevent senescence of osteoblasts and bone loss in ovariectomized adult female rats. PLoS One. 2011;6(9):e24486.
- Chen JR, Lazarenko OP, Zhang J, et al. Diet-derived phenolic acids regulate osteoblast and adipocyte lineage commitment and differentiation in young mice. J Bone Miner Res. 2014;29(5):1043-53.
- Bachstetter AD, Jernberg J, Schlunk A, et al. Spirulina promotes stem cell genesis and protects against LPS induced declines in neural stem cell proliferation. PLoS One. 2010;5(5):e10496.