Stemming the tide of stem-cell treatment scams – About Your Online Magazine


Q: I’m considering having my own stem cells injected into me to improve physical and mental problems that I am having post-COVID-19 infection. What do you think?

James D., Huntington, N.Y.

A: There’s been a lot of talk about using what are called autologous stem cells (your own) to fight off COVID-19 long-haul symptoms, as well as to “treat” everything from torn ligaments to Alzheimer’s disease. None is approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The only stem-cell-based products that are FDA-approved come from blood-forming stem cells (hematopoietic progenitor cells) derived from cord blood — and they’re for treating disorders involving production of blood (the “hematopoietic” system). A list is at fda.gov; search for “Approved Cellular and Gene Therapy Products.”

In fact, stem cell/regenerative medicine treatment scams are so prevalent that this spring the FDA finally told manufacturers and marketers that they had to comply with regulations on human cell and tissue products. Unfortunately, a June report from Pew Trust found compliance by the companies and enforcement from the FDA to be anemic.

What the report did find was that more than 700 clinics in the U.S. offer unapproved stem-cell and regenerative medicine interventions for conditions such as Alzheimer’s, muscular dystrophy, autism, spinal cord injuries and, most recently, COVID-19. They also found post-injection infection happens frequently and is likely because of sloppily manufactured products and failure to properly screen for diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B and C.

If you’re considering stem-cell treatment, the FDA urges you to ask the clinic for the following info before getting it — even if the stem cells are your own:

 Proof the FDA has reviewed and approved the treatment. Have your primary care doc confirm the information.

 If the clinic is claiming it has an FDA-issued Investigational New Drug application number, ask for it and ask to review the FDA communication acknowledging the IND.

Stem-cell treatment has great potential, but when used for unapproved therapies outside a clinical trial, it’s risky (and expensive). To search for a trial, go to clinicaltrials.gov.

Q: My doctor says my high blood pressure puts me at increased risk for dementia. I think he’s just trying to get me on one more med. Is there really a connection?

Lacie R., Sacramento, Calif.

A: Dementia means that you have cognition problems that cause trouble with memory, thought and everyday tasks. That could result from mini- or regular strokes, and we know that high blood pressure increases your stroke risk. In fact, one Harvard study found that high blood pressure increases a man’s risk of stroke by 220 percent; another found that each 10 mmHg rise in systolic pressure (the top number) boosts your risk of ischemic stroke by 28 percent and of hemorrhagic stroke by 38 percent.

Even if your high blood pressure doesn’t trigger a stroke, it can lead to impaired cognition and dementia. The 2018 SPRINT-MIND trial found that intensive control of high blood pressure (getting the top number below 120) lowered the risk of mild cognitive impairment by 19 percent compared with standard blood pressure control. Now, a new study in the journal Hypertension indicates that certain antihypertensive medications — ACE inhibitors and ARBs (and angiotensin II receptor blockers) — can cross the blood-brain barrier and lower dementia risk. Tracking almost 13,000 people for three years, the researchers found that folks taking those meds showed less memory loss than folks taking other sorts of antihypertensive medications.

You don’t indicate how high your blood pressure is, but if it is only slightly elevated you may be able to bring it down through changing your diet, losing weight if you need to and exercising for 30 to 60 minutes five days a week. If it is above 125 (top number) or above 85 (bottom number), a combo of those self-care techniques and medication may be the safest choice. But either way, bringing your blood pressure to around 115/75 will protect your brain, as well as your heart, kidneys and eyes.

Contact Drs. Oz and Roizen at sharecare.com.

Paula Fonseca