No one is able to avoid all of the physical signs of aging. First, fine lines form, then laugh lines, and crow’s feet. Eventually, deeper wrinkles appear on our faces, foreheads, and even our arms and legs. Skin loses its elasticity, age spots develop, and our bodies begin to sag.
The fight against visible signs of aging goes back millennia – likely to the first time someone realized that if they smeared a bit of wood ash over their face, the wrinkles were less noticeable. The ancient Egyptians developed the precursors of many cosmetics that we still use today, including eye paints (eye shadow). The Egyptians even pioneered what would eventually become the field of cosmetic surgery, with the first recorded surgical procedure for reconstructing a broken nose being performed around 3,000 BC.
Today, we still pursue ways to erase the passage of time from our bodies – it is simply the products and treatment methods we use that have changed. As our technology and medical understanding has grown, so too have the number of ways we can erase the signs of aging. Today, more well-known methods and products are vying with newer solutions, such as stem cell treatment for aging. What should you know about both options?
Conventional Anti-Aging Treatments
We’ll begin our discussion with conventional treatment methods. These should be largely recognizable to most people – cosmetic products, treatment options like Botox, and then cosmetic surgery.
Cosmetic Products: You’ll find a bewildering host of cosmetic products on the market that promise to help erase the signs of time’s passage. Depending on the product, some are mere cover-ups. Others plump up the skin and diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, but only for a limited period of time. Cosmetic products are by far the most affordable, but also the least effective options. They also contaminate environment. Recent study in Los Angeles discovered, surprisingly, that the main pollutants there were coming not from cars and factories but from cosmetic products.
Botox: Botox is an injectable form of the bacterial toxin botulin. It is injected throughout the face to achieve a number of desired results. It works by paralyzing the muscles in the area where it is injected, which prevents them from contracting (the actual underlying cause of most facial wrinkles). While the muscles are paralyzed, the skin resumes its youthful appearance. A single Botox treatment will last up to three to six months, but will need to be repeated. There are also numerous side effects associated with this seemingly benign treatment, including muscle weakness, headache, dizziness, and pain. With repeated treatments efficacy diminishes and muscles stop working properly, causing typical unattractive appearance.
Surgery: A host of different cosmetic surgical procedures has been pioneered, from rhinoplasty (nose jobs) to blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery), and everything in between. Surgery is a semi-permanent solution that definitely delivers longer lasting results than cosmetic surgery, or even injectables like Botox. However, these procedures come with a significant amount of healing time, the potential for scarring, and even the possibility that they will need to be repeated. A risk of infections also should not be overlooked.
Now that we’ve considered some of the more conventional methods used to fight aging, we will turn our attention to stem cell therapy.
Using Stem Cells to Treat the Signs of Aging
Stem cells are the building blocks of the entire body. They form the foundation of our body’s repair and regeneration system, and actually predate every other type of cell during birth. Before brain cells, heart cells, or lung tissue cells develop, stem cells are present.
Stem cells are incredibly versatile, capable of changing themselves into almost any other type of cell in the body to help repair and regenerate damaged areas. They can rebuild bone, tendon tissue, muscle tissue, lung and organ tissue, and more.
These cells have also been linked to the aging process. That is, as our bodies age, the number of stem cells within them decreases. While stem cells can renew themselves, they do eventually die. Our stem cells also accumulate damage and mutations, meaning that over time, they no longer function as well as they once did. With fewer stem cells to repair damage, our skin begins to show signs of what we call aging.
The most conventional way to use stem cells to treat the signs of aging is through a simple (although repeatable) intravenous infusion. An IV drip containing stem cells is inserted into your body, and the cells enter your blood. They usually rush first to the lungs, where they multiply, before traveling throughout the body and beginning the process of whole-body healing, including healing the skin.
Unlike cosmetic treatments, stem cells are not a temporary solution. Unlike injectables, stem cells do not rely on using a potential toxin to alleviate the signs of aging. Unlike cosmetic surgery, there is no recovery time with stem cell treatments.
An injection of stem cells in and around wrinkles is also practiced, but stem cells cannot squeeze through a small needle without being mainly destroyed and the larger needles cause damage on their own. Even when stem cells are destroyed, their extracellular (outside of cells) secretion is helpful, just not as effectively as live stem cells due to shorter duration of action.
Stem Cell Types and What You Should Know
There are two types of stem cells used for combating the signs of aging – autologous stem cells and allogeneic stem cells. Autologous stem cells are the better known, but least effective. These are your own body’s stem cells harvested from fat tissue, usually. They are less effective because, well, they’re as old as your body. They’re not particularly energetic. They have accumulated a lot of damage and many mutations, as well.
Allogeneic stem cells, on the other hand, are something different altogether. These stem cells are harvested from umbilical cord blood and/or tissue after it has been banked by consenting parents. They are very young cells, meaning they are highly energetic. They also have no accumulated damage to prevent them from functioning within your body.
However, there is more to this than just the right type of stem cells. It is also crucial to work with a medical professional well-versed in allogeneic stem cell treatments.
Ultimately, the fight against visible signs of aging continues. The use of allogeneic stem cells is a promising development, though, which may have a significant positive impact over time. With the use of youthful, high-energy allogenic stem cells, it may be possible to slow and even temporarily halt the aging process, although greater research is needed in this area. With that being said, no stem cell treatments are currently approved by the FDA, and any treatment provided is strictly experimental.