These 6 Body Parts You Can Repair Yourself

If humans were like salamanders, that careless carpenter down the street would have a full set of fingers. But soon after our primordial ancestors slithered out of the muck, limb regenesis was chucked out of our genetic portfolio like John Bobbitt’s . . . well, you get the picture. The good news: Our bodies still retain some important repair mechanisms.

“Regeneration is actually a default state when we’re embryos,” says David L. Stocum, Ph.D., a regenesis researcher and dean of the school of science at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis. “We gradually lose that ability as we develop—except in certain kinds of tissues.”

The holdouts? Your arteries, skin, liver, lungs, and digestive tract, and certain parts of your brain. They’re all continually refreshed—if you’re healthy. “It’s called maintenance regeneration. It’s kind of like working on your car,” says Stocum. “You’ve got something going on—you’re low on oil, you buy a quart. A taillight goes out, you replace it. The clutch is acting up, you fix it. It’s the same thing with your body.”

(A few parts—including the liver and severed bits of fingertips—can even grow back. Studies suggest that adult stem cells in those areas play a role.)

Make sure your body has all the tools and parts it needs for a tune-up. Sometimes it’s as simple as revving your engine. Here’s how to mend broken bones, bypass clogged arteries, sprout new brain cells, and more—by optimizing your body’s regenerative powers. exercise, weight loss, diet, alternative medicine, weird, amazing, list worthy

Your Arteries
The damage: Narrowing blood vessels.

The natural defense: When your pipes start to clog like I-405 at rush hour, a healthy body can handle the traffic by enlarging existing arteries and even growing new ones. It’s a natural process called angiogenesis, and here’s how it works. exercise, weight loss, diet, alternative medicine, weird, amazing, list worthy

Links between blood vessels, called arterial anastomoses, normally supply local tissues with blood, like exit ramps shunting traffic away from expressways. These exit ramps can be pressed into service as full-fledged arteries. “The cells in the vessel are able to detect when stress is increased, and that prompts signals that enlarge the anastomoses,” explains Ronald L. Terjung, Ph.D., associate chairman of the University of Missouri’s department of biomedical sciences. “Blood can cross over (to an unclogged vessel) and keep going.” exercise, weight loss, diet, alternative medicine, weird, amazing, list worthy

What you can do: First, clean your pipes. Cholesterol can hinder the repair process. Researchers at Harvard medical school compared tissues from two groups of open-heart patients—one group with clogged vessels and the other with clear ones—and found that the clogged blood vessels weren’t able to respond to growth signals. “Angiogenesis can’t occur if the cells in the blood vessel are damaged or blocked by cholesterol,” says author Roger J. Laham, M.D., director of the Angiogenesis Research Center at Harvard medical school. So keep your cholesterol low. exercise, weight loss, diet, alternative medicine, weird, amazing, list worthy

Make your own detours by running, swimming, shooting hoops—whatever it takes to get your blood pumping. A 2004 study published in the journal BMC Physiology found that endostatin, a factor involved in arterial growth, shot up by an average of 73 percent in healthy volunteers after about 10 minutes on a treadmill at an average of 5 mph. Even better: The effects lingered for up to 2 hours, and the harder the subjects worked, the more endostatin was released. exercise, weight loss, diet, alternative medicine, weird, amazing, list worthy

An injection may one day help. Scientists at the University of Cincinnati injected three heart patients with something called “growth factor FGF1,” the “on” switch for arterial growth. After 3 months, all three were growing new arteries and had increased bloodflow. “They’re very, very small branches of arteries that are growing into an area just like a bush. They’re almost microscopic,” says Lynne Wagoner, M.D., the lead study author. “Some patients are able to do this naturally on their own, but in the patients we’re studying, we’re basically doing that for them.” The treatment is slated for approval in 2006. exercise, weight loss, diet, alternative medicine, weird, amazing, list worthy

Your Bones
The damage: A broken bone.

The natural defense: “The healing response is generated by the living parts of the bone, the cells that live within the matrix,” says Sherwin S.W. Ho, M.D., an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Chicago. No, Keanu, healing faster isn’t a matter of choosing the red or blue pill. The matrix Dr. Ho is talking about is the lightweight but durable calcium carbonate structure that makes up most of your bone. Inside little pockets in the matrix are living cells, including bone-building osteocytes. “When you break a bone, they’re released from the pockets,” explains Dr. Ho. exercise, weight loss, diet, alternative medicine, weird, amazing, list worthy

What you can do: Eat your greens. They’ll give you loads of vitamin K, a compound that helps lock bone cells into place as they lay down new scaffolding. One serving of spinach or broccoli provides more than the recommended intake. And break out the guacamole—avocados and tomatoes are good sources of vitamin K, too. Never heard of vitamin K? No surprise: Less than 50 percent of all men ages 18 to 44 get enough of it, researchers at Tufts University found. exercise, weight loss, diet, alternative medicine, weird, amazing, list worthy

Don’t take it lying down. A busted bone isn’t a 6-month excuse to sit on your butt. “At some point, you have to introduce a modicum of stress on the bone to stimulate those osteocytes to lay down more bone,” says Dr. Ho. Most breaks are ready for light stress at 6 weeks. Initially, Dr. Ho gives his patients squeeze balls and a regimen of light curls for arm breaks, and crutches for leg breaks. “Once you’re ready for heavier exercise, you should do a couple of sets of 15 to 20 repetitions per day at the highest resistance you can complete without pain,” says Dr. Ho. exercise, weight loss, diet, alternative medicine, weird, amazing, list worthy

Go ultra. If you’re a competitive ice-skater, power forward, or stripper and need to get back on the floor immediately, consider an ultrasound bone-healing system like the Exogen, which has been shown to help bones heal as much as 38 percent faster. Some insurance plans will cover sessions. exercise, weight loss, diet, alternative medicine, weird, amazing, list worthy

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