What are Stem Cells?

For those that might not know what stem cells are, we’ll help you try to understand.

Stem cells are distinguished from other cell types by three important characteristics.

  1. Stem cells are capable of dividing for long periods of time
  2. Stem Cells are unspecialized
  3. Stem Cells can transform into specialized cells

In the human body, stem cells are found at sites where new tissue is required, such as muscle, nerve tissue, the gut or epidermal structures like skin or hair. These cells are able to divide freely—an action not seen in other cells—and can transform into specialized cells to become permanent additions to the human body. Basically, it’s a generic cell that can be assigned a job, and become a cell specific for that job.

In a laboratory setting, a starter culture of stem cells can be simulated to grow into a large quantity in a relatively short period of time.

There are two primary types of stem cells when referring to humans. Embryonic stem cells and non-embryonic “somatic” or “adult” stem cells.

Stem cells derived from embryonic cells have been regarded as being the most flexible in their ability to adapt. But, these are the most controversial type of stem cells, because they require the destruction of a human embryo and the harvesting of the tissues. This type raises significant ethical considerations.

All around the world, numerous clinics use patient-derived and cultured adult stem cells for a range of cosmetic therapies such as face lifts, skin-tightening, and hair follicle rejuvenation. These types of therapies imply that living stem cells can transform into new living tissues such as skin, hair, nerves, or even muscle tissue for a more youthful appearance.

Plant Stem cells

Plant stem cells, scientifically known as Meristematic cells, are the undifferentiated cells found in the meristems of vegetation. Like human stem cells, they have the ability to self-renew and replace specific plant cells in need of repair. Unlike many human stem cell products or therapies, plant based stem cell products and therapies are based upon non-living plant tissues and components. Plant stem cells should not be confused with living human stem cells.

 

Confused?

You may be confused because many over-zealous marketers of plant “stem cell” nutrition products or beauty products have misappropriated the term “stem cells” for the sake of selling unproven and unscientific products, resulting in great confusion in the minds of consumers. I first witnessed this years ago when a woman was offering to sell me her well known, nationwide soap business. The package for her new product had an apple on the front, and said that it was a stem cell therapeutic soap. I questioned further, and she let me know that each batch of soap that was mixed and made had a ground up apple stem in it as an ingredient. This is when it became clear to me as a Doctor, the hype around “stem cell” plant products.

Plant based “stem cells” have gained lots of attention because of their use in cosmetics, such as renewing skin creams. It’s very important to note however, that the plant-based “stem cells” found in these products are non-living cells that have been obliterated into a dried and powdered form. That means what’s being used are pulverizednatural proteins, sugars, and other non-living plant matter and fragments.Technically, the types of products using these compounds might be better described as plant based stem cell derivatives.

Is there a benefit? If someone could demonstrate non-industry or non-company sponsored studies showing significant benefit without a financial interest in these plant stem “stem cells”, I would love to read and study it. Being a scientist focused keenly on Natural Medicine, I’m very passionate about the science of it.

There are certainly micro and trace amounts of phyto-nutrient residues that will be found in the stems of grape stems and apple stems, but certainly and most assuredly, not in a concentration or quantity which would deliverany real benefits of note, or some of the amazing & magical cures being reported from “magic apples”.

When people hear the “pitch” about a “stem cell” product, their desire for hope is often overshadowed by a lack of science behind the claims, or about the financial rewards of selling a “cutting edge” or “revolutionary” product. We Filipinos are known for our widespread colonial mentality regarding such things. I’ve seen numerous sellers of these types of products claiming to cure diabetes, hypertension, cancers, stroke, paralysis and more. Realizing they aren’t equivalent to live human stem cell therapy can help avoid the temptation of buying into the hype. As a Phyto Scientist (Plant scientist), Medical Doctor, Clinician and Clinical Researcher, it saddens me to see people claiming phyto-science (Plant science) when it’s actually pseudo-science (junk science).

It’s like comparing apples and oranges.

Human stem cells are a very interesting area of science with numerous possible applications in healthcare. Their unique ability to transform into specialized cell tissue makes their possible significance nearly endless. Their use and regulation is a source of ongoing controversy, and is monitored by regulatory agencies the world over. On the other hand, plant based stem cell products can offer a range of natural compounds, but living stem cells aren’t among them. Understanding this can help illustrate that products often sold for thousands of pesos per gram—are often little more than advertising and marketing trickery, and shouldn’t be regarded as equivalent to live stem cell therapy in any way.

Natural Medicine, which I promote is absolutely scientific and repeatable. This is the reason I work directly with the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Healthcare (PITAHC), to ensure that we objectively and scientifically separate the wheat from the chaff, (sort the valuable from the worthless).