ITALY – Do vegetable stem cells aid in hair growth? IAP investigates into misleading advertisement.

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Ora et Labo
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Younger and more hair with vegetable stem cells” is the pitch which increasingly being read in the advertisements in the major Italian newspapers. But is it true? Are we faced with a new frontier for medicine, capable of obtaining benefits for humans from vegetable stem cells similar to embryonic and adult stem cells? Among experts in the sector, including pharmacologists, cosmologists, and dermatologists, skepticism is common: “It’s a slogan,” said Silvio Garattini, the director of the Mario Negri Institute of Pharmacological Research, “which is not based on any scientific evidence.” “I am not aware of studies published in specialized journals. It is difficult to imagine that vegetable stem cells can have an influence on human stem cells,” he specified. The advertisement has also drawn the attention of the Advertising Self-Regulatory Institute (IAP), which regulates the honesty of information of a commercial nature in the media.

Adnkronos Salute press agency reports that the IAP Surveillance Committee has begun an investigation into the Labo advertisement, to establish whether or not it is an honest and truthful advertisement. Despite repeated requests, they have not been able to speak directly with the head of Labo in Italy for comments and further information. The advertisement seems to leave no doubts: “Labo vegetable stem cells for wrinkles and dehydrated hair”.

A result obtained by mixing a vegetable stem cell-based solution with a special cosmetic product manufactured by Labo. A dream for the almost 10 million Italians who are balding or who want to have a younger complexion, without wrinkles.

Increasingly often, stem cells are being spoken about as the future of medicine because they are able to transform themselves and replace dead or damaged cells in various organs and tissues. But further clarification is needed. “It is necessary to be clear about animal and vegetal stem cells,” explained Garattini. “Animal stem cells, depending on their type, can become, for example, muscle cells, cardiac cells, liver cells, and can replace dead cells. Vegetable stem cells can do the same thing, but only in vegetable tissues.” Vegetable stem cells are responsible for reproduction, and therefore repair and growth in terms of length and height in plants. “There is no scientific evidence,” underlined Garattini, “ that demonstrates their efficiency in human beings”.

Establishing that the use of these vegetable stem cells can have an effect on wrinkles and the scalp for Garattini is “at the very least misleading”. The expert has called for the intervention of the regulatory body, which analyses advertisements in order to protect consumers. “Also because,” explained Garattini, “in cases like these the pharmaceutical regulatory body cannot intervene, since these are products that, although they are sold in pharmacies, are not medicinal products.” Sergio Chimenti, a professor of Dermatology and Venereology at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, said that he was “extremely skeptical” about the possibility of vegetable stem cell treatments being able to stop or slow hair-loss. “From a scientific standpoint,” he said, “we know very little about the effects of vegetable stem cells on humans. There are very few scientific experiments in this field.” This is why Chimenti is perplexed with statements like “more, younger hair thanks to vegetable stem cells” appearing in newspaper ads lately. “Presenting miraculous solutions with no evidence seems little more than a fantasy. There are about 5-10 million Italians with hair-loss problems with varying degrees of seriousness. Often, these people would try anything to solve their problem. Currently, the only serious solution is medicinal.”

Carla Scesa, a teacher of cosmetics at the University of Siena and the chemistry of cosmetic products at Cattolica University in Rome was more open to the possibilities offered by vegetable stem cells. “Speaking about miracles or proven efficiency is quite a jump. Some elements of efficiency for apple stem cells have been suggested,” explained Scesa, “by the company that has the patents for them. These are in vitro studies conducted on hair follicles that demonstrate an effect of postponing the death of the follicle.” The same company that patented the stem cells specified that the active mechanism is unknown, while in vivo studies on a small number of individuals have reportedly shown beneficial effects on the skin,” she said. In Scesa’s view, this is an interesting path for cosmetics, but in vivo tests conducted by dermatological centers are needed to demonstrate their efficiency and to understand the active mechanism of vegetable stem cells. “Surely,” she concluded, “ we are at the beginning, this is an interesting field, but this will not be a miracle against hair-loss and signs of aging.”

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