Stem cell therapy is used for a broad range of applications, including the treatment of injuries and chronic conditions. Before undergoing this form of therapy, many patients are naturally inclined to explore any possibilities which could enhance the effectiveness of treatment. One option which is sometimes posed to patients is voluntary fasting – but is there really any benefit to fasting prior to stem cell treatment?
What the Research Says
In May of 2018, MIT biologists announced that they’d made a groundbreaking discovery: according to their research, it appeared that fasting could boost stem cells’ regenerative capacity. In an animal study, fasting spurred cells to break down fatty acids instead of glucose, which stimulates stem cells to become more regenerative.
Yet, the evidence only showed the metabolic switch taking place in the intestinal stem cells. After mice fasted for 24 hours, the researchers removed intestinal stem cells and grew them, finding that the fasting doubled the cells’ regenerative capacity.
Unfortunately, while this finding could hold value for patients recovering from gastrointestinal infections or other conditions affecting the intestine, as of yet, there is no concrete evidence which suggests it could benefit patients receiving stem cell therapy for other conditions. For instance, someone who is undergoing stem cell therapy to treat a musculoskeletal injury may likely yield no benefit from fasting, as the enhanced regenerative effects have only been observed in intestinal cells.
Further Studies Are Needed
Aside from the study’s limited scope, the research leader himself also indicated that the findings are still too narrow for drawing concrete conclusions. When interviewed for a publication in Medium, senior author of the study and assistant professor of biology, Omer Yilmaz, said that while stem cells do indeed use fat for energy to improve function, “the next step is to work to understand why that is.” He also added that “with these types of interventions, there’s never one simple answer.”
For now, there appears to be too much uncertainty to recommend fasting prior to stem cell therapy. Because these findings have not been observed in any humans, and those that have been observed were concentrated to intestinal cells, anyone who is receiving stem cell therapy can consider that eating beforehand is possibly unlikely to play any role in altering the results of their treatment.