As more and more clinics arise in the community touting the so-called “best” regenerative treatments, there is also going to be a flood of information, and misinformation, that accompanies this swell. One topic that patients will frequently bring up in consultation with me is the idea that our stem cells lose viability in terms of treatment as we age. A common sales pitch used by other clinics in many stem cell therapy seminars involves old age and stem cells. These clinics often claim that your stem cells are too old to use, and you need to use young stem cells from amniotic tissue or umbilical cords to have any substantial benefit. “Younger” stem cells may sound like a much better “fountain of youth” option, but the data behind the actual integrity/viability of these cells when it comes to treatment is fleeting.
Is it true that stem cells are not as effective or unusable after a certain age? First, it’s important to note that you have stem cells that live in your body at all times. Basically, if you’re still alive, they are working. They are the repairmen of many different types of tissue, and they are constantly renewing in the bone marrow once they are called out for action.
It’s been traditionally thought that stem cell number and viability declines with age. Just based on clinical experience alone, I would tend to say that stem cell counts are generally the same (if not higher) in our patients of more advanced ages. More objectively, the lab at Regenexx headquarters and others have looked at how the number of stem cells in the bone marrow changes with aging. Excluding really young people, in most adults there isn’t a big relationship between stem cell number and age.
Then does age effect how well patients respond to these procedures? I’ve treated folks from ages 16 all the way up to age 98, and older patients tend to have just as good of outcomes as younger adults. In fact, along with counting the total cells, we also measure the actual cell viability. Even in adults of advanced age, stem cell viability still remains in the realm of 90% or better. The key difference in the Regenexx procedures that helps with maintaining good outcomes, is that we use better extraction and processing techniques in order to obtain the most stem cells possible (usually 10 to 20 times more). This is vital to being able to administer the best possible treatment.
So, now you know that the myth about stem cells in your body being too old to use is false. As I mentioned before, a big sales pitch that you’ll hear in stem cell therapy seminars is that your cells are just too old and you need younger stem cells from amniotic fluid or umbilical cords to have a good outcome. Well, the second part of that pitch is also false. There have been multiple third-party studies performed by major universities, including Cornell and UC Irvine, that show the amniotic and umbilical cord stem cell products being used by these clinics do not have live and viable stem cells. I’ll say it again…it is proven that there are no live or viable stem cells in these treatment products. It doesn’t matter where the stem cells come from if the cells in the treatment are not live or viable.
A single picture can be used to show you why this is important. The image below is from a joint study with the Regenexx lab team and a university lab. When stem cells grow, they show up as purple dots (colonies). When there is nothing but white, there were no stem cells found. The plates on the left side are the growth results from five commonly used umbilical cord stem cell products. Those plates on the left are all white, meaning no cell presence…nothing…nada. The plates on the right with the purple dots representing real stem cell colonies from bone marrow samples of elderly patients ranging in age from 50’s to 70’s. There are plenty of stem cells in those tests, even in people that are said to be “too old” for stem cell treatment.
In summary, I’d like to put this myth to bed once and for all. Your stem cells are not too old to use, and your age does not have any direct effect on your response to treatment using your own bone marrow derived stem cells. The “young” stem cell sales pitch holds about as much credibility as there are stem cells in the mixture…none. Hence, if someone tries to sell you an amniotic or umbilical cord stem cell treatment because you’re too old, walk away. While aging does have some impact on stem cells, it doesn’t mean you don’t have many live and very viable stem cells that can used to help you heal.