Reduce calories to improve stem cells? A study published this week may help provide an answer. Americans continue to gain weight at an alarming rate. This week an IOM report showed that a huge percentage of us will be obese in the next 10-20 years. You might remember a previous blog where I talked about how calorie restricted primates looked much better after 20 years than those monkeys overfed like the average American. You also might remember that I was concerned about looking more like the overfed monkey on the right (grandpa) than the calorie restricted monkey on the left. Can the same type of calorie restriction help your stem cells? Would you have to do this for a life time for it to help? First, we know that insulin resistance can hurt adult stem cell function. This over response of insulin to starchy or sugary foods happens in overweight people. Can going the other way really help? A research publication this week showed that when you calorie restrict mice, their muscle stem cells have improved function. This extends all the way down to the cellular level, as mitochondria (the little “power plants” of the cell) are also more plentiful in these mice. Also, this effect worked well in both young and old mice. Finally, you don’t have to do this for a long time, even short-term reduction in calories will still create the effect. This isn’t the only paper to show this phenomenon, as it’s also been seen in mesenchymal stem cells. Now, both of these studies were in mice, so this effect may or may not extend to humans. However, at least one human study has shown that loosing weight and taking hCG helped increase the number of circulating stem cells in the blood. Another study demonstrated that reducing glucose in cell culture helped adult stem cells live longer. The upshot? Since we get asked by patients all the time if there is a way they can improve stem cells before we harvest them, to reduce calories to improve stem cells is worth a shot! I would recommend reducing the total portion size by about 20% for two weeks and eating a low glycemic diet before your stem cell procedure. It may help your stem cells in addition to your waist line!