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What Are Stem Cells?

Stem cells are fascinating cells in our body. They have an amazing potential to renew themselves and become almost any type of cell forming our liver, heart, blood vessels, even our skin (1, 2). Because they are a “blank slate,” stem cells are expert internal injury healers, replacing damaged material with a new one. Because they can become so many types of cells, they are also invaluable for research and medical applications. In this article, we will present the foods that increase stem cells.

Some Current Uses of Stem Cells

Cell therapy

Babies have the highest number of stem cells, and adults have very few. This is because the cells mature and become their final product, with less need to be diverse as we age and develop our complete form. Stem cells are a potential solution for grafts, transplants, and other surgical procedures that result in rejection or require these cells’ unlimited potential. They’ve been experimentally used for organ repair and immune treatments as well, but these are still under investigation (3).

Drug and disease testing

When discovering new antivirals and diseases, stem cells are used to develop “organoids,” which are mini-models of organs that can be used to study disease without the need for animal or human subjects. They are also used to develop new drugs by monitoring their response in a non-living model, an essential preliminary step to drug development (3).

An experimental treatment on the horizon: Multiple sclerosis treatment

The diversity of stem cells make them a promising tool for treating multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys the fatty substance that coats the nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord (4). By injecting stem cells, the hope is to repair the damage done by the immune system attacks or replace the defective immune cells (targeting the host instead of the foreign attackers it’s supposed to) with stem cells that develop into a mature immune system that functions normally (5).

Foods That Increase Stem Cell Production

Out stem cells have high reparative abilities and can help us recover from adverse health conditions and diseases. They are essential for our health, healing, and proper body function. It’s important to eat foods that can boost our stem cell production and maintenance.

Sulforaphane-containing vegetables

Vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, kale, cabbage, bok choy, and Brussels sprouts are all high in a sulforaphane compound, which is a sulfur-rich compound. It has a number of health benefits, and it seems to be beneficial for stem cells. Targeting a specific pathway in stem cells in clinical trials, sulforaphane seems beneficial for the self-renewal of stem cells (6, 7). In lab studies, sulforaphane in low concentrations stimulated stem cell proliferation and increased neuronal stem cell health (8).

Fruits high in superoxide dismutase

Fruits including blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are high in an antioxidant called superoxide dismutase. This antioxidant helps to break down harmful radical oxygen species that can cause disease into harmless by-products. Superoxide dismutase has shown protective effects for stem cells in lab studies, enhancing regulation and destruction of unhealthy stem cells and ensuring a healthy population (8). This antioxidant also protected neuron survival in the brain in cell culture studies (9).

Polyphenol-containing mushrooms

Edible mushrooms are high in polyphenols, a subset of antioxidants that protect us from free oxygen radicals and liver damage. They also play a role in inflammation control. In a human clinical trial, those who ate mushrooms had more mobilization of stem cells, which means they’re able to regenerate and repair themselves faster and more efficiently (10). In human stem cell models, polyphenols have high-potential interventions against stem cell damage, promoting renewal and differentiation, but work is ongoing in this area (11).

α-linolenic acid in nuts and seeds increases stem cells

It’s no secret that nuts and seeds are healthy, and if you want to know more, check out “The World’s Healthiest Nuts” and the “Health Benefits of Baru Nuts.” One reason why they’re particularly good for you is their content of α-linolenic acid, which is a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid that we have to obtain through our diet (we can’t make it ourselves) (12). This fatty acid can protect our neurons from damage and increase our stem cell counts (12, 13). It might also prevent or improve cardiovascular disease, obesity-related problems, cancer, and many other diseases in animal and cell culture studies (14).

Aromatic-turmerone (found in turmeric)

From tea to infused-snacks, turmeric has taken the nutrition world by storm, and it also plays a role in stem cell health. Aromatic-turmerone has shown some potential for neurodegeneration protection (protecting our neurons from damage). Researchers believe this is because the stem cells are being activated to repair the damage more efficiently (15). Animal and cell culture studies have supported the fact that aromatic-turmerone induces neural stem cell count increases and overall health (16, 17).

Various (many undiscovered) compounds in herbs

Traditional Chinese herbal medicine is a long-standing profession that has always been interested in stem cell health as a key to a long healthy life. Herbs, including Foeniculum vulgare, Rehmannia glutinosa, and many others, have active ingredients that have been extensively studied for their ability to promote differentiation and health of stem cells (as well as increasing their counts) (18). While this field continues to gain popularity and interest, results continue to support the idea that active ingredients in various herbs can have a great effect on stem cell health, but more research is needed.

Omega-3 fatty acids in fish increases stem cells

Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel could boost your stem cell health by ensuring damaged cells are repaired or destroyed more efficiently (19). Using mouse stem cells, researchers found that omega-3 fatty acids stimulated the stem cells to become vascular cells (making up our blood vessel system), improving cardiovascular health (20). In another study performed in rats, omega-3’s improved the rate of stem cell differentiation into neuronal cells, improving overall neuron health (21). This fatty acid has an important role to play in overall stem cell health.

Active ingredients found in ginger

Ginger root has been used as a cure for an upset stomach and nausea, but it may also have many effects on how our stem cells function and regenerate. Studies in cells showed that ginger reduced oxygen species stress and damage to stem cells, lending a protective effect (22). A study performed in mice showed that ginger promoted neurogenesis (formation of new neurons in the brain), performed by stem cells (23). Also, pickled ginger is great for your health, have a look at “Is Pickled Ginger Good For You?”

We can now see that many foods can naturally boost our stem cell health, leading to better overall health. Stem cells are heralded by many researchers as doctors as being “the ultimate key to health” because their ability to repair the damage is extensive, far beyond anything that synthetic research has been able to accomplish. Also, stem cells’ reparative abilities go beyond maintenance health and may prove to be the golden ticket to treatments for complex diseases like multiple sclerosis. So make sure you get an extra helping of these eight stem-cell-boosting foods; your body will thank you.

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