StemTech's Dubious Claims

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

StemTech HealthSciences of Klamath Falls, Oregon, would like you to believe that StemEnhance™ can help many health problems. The product's label describes it as an extract of Aphanizomenon flos aquae, a species of blue-green algae harvested from a lake in Klamath Lake in Oregon. The retail price for a bottle of 60 capsules is about $60. The recommended dosage is 2-4 capsules per day.

According to its promoters, StemEnhance stimulates the release of stem cells from bone marrow, and the cells then circulate where they are needed and somehow replace dysfunctional cells. Here's what they say:

StemEnhance is a breakthrough, natural botanical extract that supports wellness by helping your body maintain healthy stem cell physiology. It is the very first product on the market from the latest phytoceutical product category called “stem cell enhancers. . . .

Recent scientific developments have revealed that stem cells derived from the bone marrow, travel throughout the body, and act to support optimal organ and tissue function. Stem cell enhancers are products that support the natural role of adult stem cells. . . .

As you age, the number and quality of stem cells that circulate in your body gradually decrease, leaving your body more susceptible to injury and other age-related health challenges. . . .

Just as antioxidants are important to protect your cells from “free radical” damage, stem cell enhancers are equally important to support your stem cells in maintaining proper organ and tissue functioning in your body. . . .

When you take two capsules, the ingredients help to support the release of stem cells from the bone marrow into the bloodstream. Through a natural process, those stem cells then travel to areas of the body where they are most needed. . . .

Stem cells can be thought of as “master” cells. You’ve probably heard about the controversy of embryonic stem cells in the news. Stem cells are found in human embryos, but are also found in adult tissue.

Adult stem cells are most abundantly found in bone marrow. Stem cells circulate and function to replace dysfunctional cells, thus fulfilling the natural process of maintaining optimal health. StemEnhance supports the release of adult stem cells from bone marrow into circulation [1].

Background History

StemEnhance appears to be the brainchild of Christian Drapeau and Gitte S. Jensen, Ph.D. Drapeau is director of Research and Development for Desert Lake Technologies, of Klamath Falls, Oregon. Desert Lake's Web site says that before that, he spent five years as director for research and development for Cell Tech International, a multilevel company whose primary products are derived from blue-green algae [2]. The Web site also states that Drapeau holds a master of science degree in neurology and neurosurgery. Jensen is director of research for Holger NIS Inc., of Port Dover, Ontario, Canada. Holger's Web site states that her Ph.D. is in immunology and that she has done research projects on immunology, cancer biology and metastasis, and nutrition [3].

In February 2002, Medical Hypothesis published a report in which Jensen and Drapeau speculated that adult stem cells from bone marrow might be capable of migrating to various tissues where they could produce regeneration and repair. They also urged others to look for substances that could trigger such mobilization [4]. A few months later they applied for a patent in the United States for a method for "enhancing stem cell trafficking." The patent document states that they had administered blue-green algae preparations and detected increased circulating stem cell levels in humans and laboratory animals [5]. The patent was awarded in November 2004. Stem Tech HealthSciences, which is a multilevel marketing company, registered its domain in September 2005 and began soliciting distributors through the Internet soon afterward.

Desert Lake Technologies was incorporated in 1999. In addition to Drapeau, three of its executives worked for Cell Tech for several years. Robert Longo was Cell Tech's chief financial officer; Michael Jubie was its process engineer; and Peter York was its harvest engineer. In July 2000, Drapeau notified the FDA that Desert Lake intended to claim that its blue-green algae product Summa would be claimed to "help maintain a healthy cholesterol level." The FDA responded that that the claim would be illegal [6].

In 2001, a citizen's group filed a suit in California objecting to 30 claims Cell Tech had made in brochures or on its Web site. In February 2003, the judge ruled that all of the challenged statements were deceptive. He banned their further use in California and ordered Cell Tech to refund the full purchase price to California consumers who purchased its algae products between October 1997 and September 2002 [7].

Over the years, concerns have been raised that blue-green algae products might contain dangerous toxins [8-10].

Unanswered Questions

Before taking any product, it is advisable to know whether it has been proven safe and effective for its intended purpose(s). With respect to StemEnhance, the following questions would have to be answered:

Some studies have found that circulating stem cells from bone marrow can develop into a few other types of mature cells [11,12]. Most of these studies were done in animals and should not be interpreted as applicable to humans. Human studies have found that found that injecting stem cells into the coronary arteries might be beneficial and that the number of circulating stem cells may help determine the prognosis for cardiovascular disease [13]. As far as I know, however, no study has demonstrated that increasing the number of circulating cells—as StemEnhance is claimed to do—is safe to do over a long period of time, is effective against human disease, or makes people generally healthier.

References

  1. Welcome to the world of wellness and the magic of StemEnhance™ 'helping the body help itself." Tony Kent Web site, accessed Nov 17, 2005. The same or similar messages appear on many other distributor sites.
  2. Desert Lake Technologies’ corporate executive team. Desert Lake Technologies Web site, accessed Nov 18, 2005.
  3. Director of research. Holger N.I.S. Inc Web site, accessed Nov 17, 2005.
  4. Jensen GS, Drapeau C. Method for enhancing stem cell trafficking. Patent #6,814,961, filed May 13, 2002, awarded Nov 9, 2004.
  5. Jensen S, Drapeau C. The use of in situ bone marrow stem cells for the treatment of various degenerative diseases. Medical Hypotheses 59:422-428, 2002.
  6. Foret JB. Letter to Christian Drapeau, July 19, 2000.
  7. Barrett S. Cell Tech loses false advertising suit. MLM Watch, Aug 18, 2003.
  8. McPartland JM. Why blue-green algae makes me tired. Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, June 1997, pp 94-96.
  9. Gilroy GJ and others. Assessing potential health risks from microcystin toxins in blue-green algae dietary supplements. Environmental Health Perspectives 108:435-439, 2000.
  10. Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) and their toxins. Health Canada Online, June 2003.
  11. Körbling M and others. Hepatocytes and epithelial cells of donor origin in recipients of peripheral blood stem cells. New England Journal of Medicine 346:738-746, 2002.
  12. Can human hemopoetic stem cells become skin, gut, or liver cells? New England Journal of Medicine 346:770-772, 2002.
  13. Barbarina A and others. Circulating endothelial progenitor cells characterization, function and relationship with cardiovascular risk factors. Current Pharmaceutical Design 13:1699-713, 2007.

This article was revised on May 21, 2009.

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