Stem Cell Therapy and the Full-Body Stem Cell Makeover
Harry Adelson, N.D.
Over the last decade or so a massive paradigm shift has been unfolding around the world in the field of medicine. Medicine in the 20th century was primarily focused on using drugs and surgical interventions to resolve acute traumas and control the symptoms of chronic diseases. While these methods were fantastic for addressing the acute issues, they do not address the cause of the chronic disease. In fact, in many cases these diseases are significantly worsened or even caused by the toxic nature of some of these pharmaceutical drugs. It’s even estimated that over 100,000 people in the U.S. alone die each year from the expected side effects of “properly” prescribed drugs.
Millions around the world today are turning more to Naturopathic and Functional Medicine physicians who’s approaches involve addressing the root cause of Illness at the cellular level, which is where all health or disease emanates from. Many of the most influential people in the field of natural medicine have a central message that revolves entirely around the concept of cellular healing. That concept embraces the fact that cells are really the physical foundation of what we are as human beings. A single human body really isn’t a single entity at all. It’s actually a multitude of trillions of individual units of life that we call cells. Think of the body as a large community of cells living and working together symbiotically to achieve a common goal, which is to keep the body alive. The different systems of the body (nervous, circulatory, digestive etc.) are like sub communities, all containing different types of cells that perform different functions that each contribute to the overall state of the whole body. When the cells are free of interference (stress of any kind) they can adequately function, communicate and will naturally sync with the rest of the cell community and create the highest possible level of overall balance between all systems. This synergistic balance is what creates health.
The ability of the body to naturally orchestrate this all on its own is both one of the great miracles and mysteries of life. Modern science can’t explain where this healing intention of the body comes from or exactly how it works past the physical level. Still, even though it can’t be fully quantified, we do know it exists as an intelligence that constantly governs and drives self-renewal. This self-renewal has been commonly referred to as the body’s innate intelligence. This intelligence is always directing the body towards a state of balance that has generally been referred to as homeostasis. Day in and day out the level of homeostasis is what invariably dictates your state of health. So good or bad, the overall state of your health is a direct reflection of cellular function.
All chronic disease is really resultant from cellular dysfunction. One of the greatest criticisms of most current allopathic and even “standard” alternative medical approaches is that they are both almost always working “downstream” from the source of the issue and doing nothing to address cell function. Their approaches, most of the time, involve using the classic drugs or supplements as crutches to temporarily prop up compromised parts of the system by quickly shifting the body’s chemistry. By doing this, physicians are merely treating the symptom because all chemicals and hormones in the body are generated by functions of the cell. If there’s a chemical issue, it stems from a cellular issue and if it is not somehow addressed at the cellular level, it will never be permanently resolved.
The core philosophy in naturopathic medicine has always been to remove the interference and then support the body’s healing through the synergy of a multi therapeutic approach. Interference often comes in the form of any physical, chemical or emotional stressor that disrupts cell function. To clear the interference the first step is always identifying and removing as many of the stressors as possible that are causing the illness in a patient’s life. The next step is to implement various lifestyle strategies, treatments, and therapies to activate the “innate intelligence” in order to accelerate healing. From a scientific perspective on the physical level, the innate healing intelligence would be seen here as the sum of all the living constituents that make up the body’s regenerative system. This system is a combination of many factors that together stimulate the body to repair itself. Many cell types including signaling molecules, hormones and growth factors are involved in this process, however the main catalysts for cellular healing in the body are most definitely stem cells.
What are stem cells?
There are many different types of stem cells, but the ones we use in regenerative medicine are called mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). MSCs exist in almost every tissue in the body, and their job is to maintain the health of their microenvironment. Whatever tissue they’re found in, the role of MSCs is to identify when they are in the presence of damaged tissue, then to repair and regenerate that tissue by killing invading microbes, controlling inflammation, and encouraging the growth of new cells. When naturopathic doctors talk about the body’s power to heal itself, it’s not just a philosophy or a metaphor—your body is constantly renewing itself, and whenever you have healing after injury, it is an event mediated by MSCs.
The very definition of a stem cell is that, when a stem cell divides, it is able to self-replicate (turn into a new version of itself), or differentiate (turn into a target tissue cell). But it isn’t just the stem cell’s ability to differentiate into other cells that makes it such a superhero of the healing process as it was previously thought. Its other superhuman power is something called the “paracrine effect,” also called “paracrine signaling.” This is a far more complex concept than differentiation. This is the process by which your cells “listen” to and “talk” to each other. Cells absolutely can take in information from their surroundings, analyze that information, and then act on it. They can also, via the paracrine effect, tell other cells when and how to act on that information. All of this information is conveyed via signaling chemicals found within vesicles called “exosomes,” and only cells that have the correct receptors (part of the physical structure of the cell) can receive those signals.
Let’s imagine, for example, that an MSC is floating around in your bone marrow, waiting to do something useful, when suddenly you slip on some icy pavement and break your leg. The instant that happens, the chemical microenvironment inside your broken bone changes completely. The stem cell observes these changes and then, much like a police dispatcher, sends out signals of its own to all available cells in the area: here’s the problem and here’s how you fix it. The other cells obey, proliferating and becoming whatever is necessary to address the trauma. That’s how our body jump-starts things like knitting bone back together or generating new tissue in a wound.
The problem, of course, is that the body doesn’t always do this perfectly—especially when you aren’t talking about a sudden and dramatic trauma like a broken leg. The older we get, the more often our cells have to do this, and the less healthy we are, the less effective this healing cascade becomes. That’s when we experience what’s called “suboptimal healing.” As powerful and important as a stem cell’s ability to become another type of cell and replace a damaged or absent one is, being able to reignite the paracrine effect is even more important in the context of stem cell therapy.
Many of the conditions are essentially a result of the body failing to execute this healing process correctly. What are typically called “degenerative” conditions are perfect examples of this problem. People who have degenerative joint or spinal diseases don’t really have a disease of the spine so much as they have a disease of the healing and regeneration processes in the cells that make up their spine. When the cartilage or fluid in our joints and discs isn’t being replenished, it can easily be worn down during basic daily activities. Once that happens, the bone gets involved, and things typically spiral downward from there, with less and less functionality and more and more pain. Traditional medicine treats these kinds of problems as foregone conclusions—a slow slide toward surgical replacement of body parts, eased along the way by heavy painkillers. Not only is this a dispiriting future for a patient to contemplate, it only really addresses the symptoms—typically the pain and reduced mobility—leaving the true underlying dysfunction unaddressed. Keep in mind, one of the six guiding principles of naturopathic medicine is “tolle causam,” which is Latin for “treat the cause.”
What is Stem Cell Therapy?
To a certain degree, many types of degenerative diseases are considered to be a part of the ordinary aging process. There’s not necessarily a lot of urgency to develop new techniques or examine the problem more holistically, because these issues are seen as part of the inevitable breakdown of the human body. But possibly one of the most interesting things about stem cells is the way in which they’re encouraging us to rethink so many of our assumptions about aging and inevitability. Dave Asprey is considered the “Father of Biohacking.” He believed he could apply the concept of upgrading computer software to optimizing the function of the human body and mind. This is where biohacking and naturopathic medicine demonstrate the adage “everything old is new again.”
In 2018, researchers published a landmark study on the use of MSCs to treat frailty associated with aging1" "Frailty associated with aging” sounds like one of those vague terms, like “dying of old age.” But it has a specific medical definition, referring to the declines in strength, endurance, lean muscle mass, and overall weight that people experience as they age. This type of frailty is linked inextricably with both disease and death: the frailer some- one is, the more likely he or she is to have or develop diseases, and the greater the risk of death. At the same time, chronic and acute illnesses can certainly induce frailty in previously “robust” people.
This is all just a medicalized way to describe “getting old.” The 2018 experiment studied whether stem cells could reduce the symptoms or even slow the underlying mechanisms of aging. Like many other degenerative diseases, there isn’t a single proven medical treatment that addresses the cause of frailty. This is probably due in part to the generalized, nonspecific nature of the causes and symptoms of these problems. But it’s probably also due to the fact that, as a society, we tend to regard this as part of the natural end of life. The biohacking movement challenges this belief.
Another commonality between frailty and the types of musculoskeletal problems I treat is the role that inflammation plays in producing symptoms. Inflammation is a vital part of the body’s healing process, sort of a combination of a warning system and shock troops. Inflammation is the first line of defense when the body is at risk, whether from a wound, foreign body, or illness. Heat, swelling, a rush of white blood cells to the damaged location: inflammation works hard and fast to push back any invader. Once the disease has been vanquished or the wound closed, the inflammation ceases and the body resumes normal functioning. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
In practice, almost all of us have a level of chronic, low-level inflammation, and not just in one area of the body. Systemic inflammation is present even in people without explicit immune diseases, and we’re increasingly discovering that it’s hurting us in a number of ways. I wasn’t telling you the whole story when I mentioned earlier that symptoms of frailty and joint diseases have chronic inflammation in common—it turns out most diseases have chronic inflammation in common. Cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, autism: inflammation plays a role in all of them.
Unfortunately, there’s still a lot we don’t know about inflammation, including why it lingers, what causes it, and how to reduce it without damaging the overall immune response. But stem cell therapy does have interesting applications for treating inflammation. Because MSCs can influence an inflammatory response, they can use the paracrine effect to essentially “down-regulate” the ambient inflammation in an area. As it turns out, that’s exactly the effect the researchers observed: “In summary, intravenous allogeneic MSCs were found to be safe in individuals with aging frailty and produced significant benefits in measures of physical performance as well as inflammatory biomarkers, which are important therapeutic outcomes in the frailty syndrome.”
Not only did the researchers see an improvement in terms of the patients’ functionality, on a cellular level they saw positive changes in the microenvironment of the body. This doesn’t necessarily mean stem cells are a mythical fountain of youth, but it does suggest we have a lot more to discover about how our bodies actually break down with age. If we can understand that process more fully and learn how to “reset” it—the way stem cells help us reset other, more small-scale regenerative processes—we could discover not only a way to live longer, but a way to live better.
Full-Body Stem Cell Makeover
My practice has been entirely the treatment of musculoskeletal pain, though there’s a growing subset of prospective patients who are looking for something a bit different: my flagship procedure, the “Full Body Stem Cell Makeover ” (or FBSCMO). If that sounds a bit intense, that’s because it is! The FBSCMO treatment is best suited for people who aren’t looking to treat one specific issue but have more diffuse needs. Some of my FBSCMO patients come to me because they’ve got pain in many areas; none of those pains are debilitating, but taken all together, they make the patients feel their bodies aren’t performing at their best. Others are interested in the regenerative and anti-aging properties of stem cells and want to utilize them not just in one specific area, but throughout their entire body.
Basically, the Full Body Stem Cell Makeover is designed to be a one-stop shop where I perform all the injections, basically into every moving part in the human body in a single treatment. I literally go from head to toe, from the base of the skull to the tailbone, and inject within the spinal canal and into every vertebra on both sides. We then inject the front of the patient’s body, including shoulders, elbows, wrists, and thumbs, and then move on to their legs in the same fashion, injecting hips, knees, ankles, and big toes. Patients have the option for my colleague Amy B. Killen, MD, to do stem cell injections into the scalp to thicken hair follicles, the skin of the face and neck to improve elasticity and hydration, and the sexual organs to treat or prevent sexual dysfunction. We work in tandem to make the process as quick as possible, so the patient doesn’t have to spend a minute longer than necessary under IV sedation performed by either an anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist. We want to avoid any discomfort associated with the injection or bone marrow extraction.
This treatment is absolutely not the norm. I conceived it, invented it, and am the only one to do it. Its creation was the confluence of my experience with the rising popularity of biohacking, sought by proactive, motivated people looking to live a robust, long life.
The Full Body Stem Cell Makeover developed from years of treating what conventional medicine considers to be some of the most difficult patients. When I started my practice, I built a client base among people who did hard manual labor for a living: oil field workers, farmers, ranchers, career service members, rodeo athletes, and other people who came to me with degenerative arthritis throughout their entire bodies. I affectionately referred to these folks as people who’d “exceeded the terms of their warranty”—their bodies had seen a lot of punishment for a long time, and by the time they came to see me, those bodies had the healing mechanisms of much older, sicker people.
Because of the way the medical system has evolved in this country, doctors can focus on only one problem at a time. If someone has degenerative arthritis throughout their entire body, there’s no way a doctor can treat all of the painful areas and get paid for it. They either have to address them one at a time or else use a “trash can diagnosis” such as fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia, which is diffuse trigger-point pain combined with insomnia and depression, is a real thing, but my experience is that this is frequently given as a diagnosis when a doctor doesn’t have time to examine all of the painful areas.
But my being a naturopathic doctor, I’ve never functioned within the third-party-payer system of insurance. Therefore, I don’t need a bureaucrat’s permission before a patient and I agree on a treatment plan. The only person from whom I need permission is the patient. If a rancher has bashed his body around every day for 40 years, of course he’ll have arthritis in his entire spine and most of his joints. And if we want to treat all of the painful areas in a single sitting, there’s no “third party payer” to say no. When I tell one of these pragmatic patients who depend on their bodies for their jobs that I want to do a massive treatment of all of their affected areas, they generally respond with, “Get ’er done!”
Once I started doing these one-stop procedures, demand grew mainly by word of mouth. Patients who had several complaints or full-body pain all wanted to do the “big treatment” and get it over with.
Then something interesting started to happen: patients began to request this option for preventative care. It made sense, of course: if you’re a retired firefighter with two blown-out knees and one blown-out shoulder, you’re likely going to have problems in the other shoulder as you age, and in your back as well. From there it was a short leap to otherwise healthy people coming to me both for preventative care and for the extra “oomph” that stem cell treatment provides.
Most of my FBSCMO patients report feeling a kind of overall wellness: they have more fluidity and range of motion, see improvements in the appearance of their hair and skin, and experience better sleep. It’s a bit like the feeling you get after an intense deep-tissue massage, when you can just feel that something was worked out and your muscles are working together again; everything becomes fluid. But while the benefits of a massage might last a few days or weeks, the full-body makeover effect, according to my patients, appears to last for years.
But these patients aren’t just looking to feel good. Many of them are interested in maintaining and improving the condition of their bodies, and in fighting the more deleterious effects of the aging process. Dave Asprey, who I’ve already mentioned, is considered “the Father of Biohacking,” and was one of the first people to undergo my full-body makeover as part of his goal to extend his lifespan while remaining as healthy and vigorous as possible. In fact, I designed it largely with his goal to live to be 180 in mind. I’m happy to report that Dave regularly praises the benefit he received from his Full Body Stem Cell Makeover; in fact, he dedicated an entire chapter to it in his best-selling book Super Human.
Niche procedures like this are a bit more of an investment, and because I’m also looking to make my treatments more accessible, I want to balance the addition of an expensive procedure with some sort of opportunity for people with limited means. The extra income the full-body makeover generates has allowed me to create what I call my “tithing program”: one day per month, I offer free treatment for people living in pain who are in financial need. To be enrolled into the tithing program, patients must first demonstrate they’re living below poverty level. From there, there are two pathways to enrollment. Combat service veterans are treated with no additional requirements. For those who haven’t served our country in combat, we’ll perform a stem cell procedure in exchange for documentation of community service hours. Details of the program are available on my website: https://www.docereclinics.com/tithing-program/.
At the end of the day, my purpose in life is to help as many people as effectively as I can, at the deepest possible level. Patient selection is a huge part of that, whether it means determining the people I can’t help or creating something new for a developing need.
Bringing good care to a large audience means being able to both expand and contract in the right places at the right times— much as our lungs do. Listening to my patients and responding to their needs is the breath of life for my practice.
If you are interested to learn more, I invite you to watch my film at no charge http://bit.ly/RAADfest
1. H. Schulman, W. Balkan, and J. M. Hare, “Mesenchymal Stem Cell Therapy for Aging Frailty,” Frontiers in Nutrition (November 15, 2018), https://www. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6249304/.