More gray matter in the frontal cortex…

Thanks to my blog reader and Facebook friend Cathy for the link to an intriguing Washington Post interview with a Harvard Medical School neuroscientist on the benefits of mindfulness meditation. Now, we all know that meditation reduces stress and anxiety, but that isn’t all it does…Check out this link: http://goo.gl/KQCt3r

Now, if you’ve never meditated before and don’t know where to begin, you can go to this UCLA website and follow their FREE guided meditation sessions: http://goo.gl/nSJgwK Just close your eyes and listen, it’s as simple as that. The sessions won’t take up much of your time…one of them is just three minutes long, for example. I’ve found them very helpful…for starters, anyway.

Okay, off I go. I want to add some gray matter to my frontal cortex… 😉

“The many benefits of turmeric”…

The title of today’s post is part of the title of a Huffington Post article published four days ago, an article discussing the many disease-fighting benefits of turmeric and of its extract, curcumin, which many of us know so well! The article doesn’t provide ALL the benefits of curcumin/turmeric (that would be near to impossible!), but it mentions quite a few.

Here’s the link: http://goo.gl/kEvVC8

Enjoy! :-)

No lesions!!!

_1020387I had an MRI of my entire spinal column done earlier this week, and the results are in. Now, the doctor will have to confirm this next month, BUT I am almost 100% sure that I don’t have any bone lesions or anything else that has to do with myeloma.

I wrote “almost 100% sure” just in case I’m wrong, since these lab results are written in what I’m sure is an alien language…But I’ve looked up all the terms I didn’t know, and it all translates to a few small hernias (which haven’t bothered me thus far) and mostly insignificant stuff.

By the way, I had this MRI mainly because I hadn’t had one since 2009, not because of any back pain or whatnot…Just a checkup, that is…

True, my posture isn’t that great, and the MRI confirms that. I spend a lot of time in front of the computer doing research, etc., so I really must do something about that. I’ve already downloaded some easy-to-do postural exercises…

But today I’m celebrating. Because the main thing is…………………………………..

NO LESIONS!

P.S. I took this photo in April 2015, just outside of the town of San Quirico d’Orcia, in southern Tuscany. Such a gorgeous region…

The impact of an iron fish on anemia

Many thanks to a longtime blog reader who posted this link on Facebook yesterday: http://goo.gl/87YqMr

The link will take you to a BBC News story about how a a graduate from the University of Guelph, Canada, forever changed the lives of rural village dwellers in Cambodia, plagued by anemia.

In the spring of 2008, Christopher Charles moved to rural Cambodia to work on a three month project dealing with anemia, a “huge public health problem” in those rural areas. He ended up staying for 5 years. And, after many failures, he came up with the brilliant “iron fish” idea described in the article.

It worked. After 12 months, almost half the villagers in Dr. Charles’ trial were no longer suffering from anemia.

Such a simple but brilliant solution…

Dr. Charles held this TED talk in 2014: https://goo.gl/uOSuyr Here he tells the full story. Mesmerizing, absolutely mesmerizing.

In short, I very highly recommend both the BBC article and the TED talk, especially for anyone dealing with, or attempting to prevent, anemia.

One of my neighbors is a blacksmith. I’m going to ask him to make an iron fish for me. Why not? Can’t hurt…

“Perfect nails, poisoned workers”

This is the title of a recently published New York Times article (thanks, Ginnie!) discussing the link between the chemicals used in nail and beauty products and serious health problems. One of the “problems” mentioned is multiple myeloma, even though “firm conclusions are elusive” because there aren’t enough studies out there: http://goo.gl/hpOQP8 I should note that the article refers to cosmetologists, not to the people who wear nail polish, etc.

But even if there turn out not to be any links to myeloma and/or the other horrible things mentioned in this article (although I find that extremely doubtful), why would ANYONE want to have hazardous chemicals painted onto their nails? It beats me…but then, I’ve never been interested in stuff like that. Just the smell of nail polish has always made me run in the opposite direction…

Anyway, this is a very interesting read…highly recommended!

Anniversary

It’s not a myeloma anniversary, although I have now fully entered my 10th year of living with smoldering myeloma. No, today’s a HAPPY day. It’s our 16th wedding anniversary.05.10.25-Favorite-0003

It’s hard to put feelings into words. I’m not a poet, just someone who deeply loves her life partner and best friend. And I don’t want to get all mushy, either.

But I can and will say that the years with Stefano have been the happiest of my life, in spite of my SMM diagnosis (I was diagnosed with MGUS the year we were married…1999). And I know it’s been the same for him. Together we’ve been on many adventures and have discovered a mutual love for photography and birdwatching, just to name a couple of things.

And to think that we might never have met, if I’d accepted a teaching job at a well known Canadian university (offered to me even before I had my Ph.D., imagine that?, a job that I turned down, imagine that, too!!!, for no good reason at the time…a gut feeling, perhaps? Who knows?)…

But meet we did…at a dinner organized for that very purpose (as we later discovered!) by a dear, mutual friend here in Florence. A very lucky evening for both of us…

Here’s to 16 more (and more and more!!!), Stefano! :-) Ti amo tantissimo, moro!

(Was that too mushy?)

Making connections: myeloma, telomeres and…

This is the title of a Scientific American article, titled “Changing our DNA through mind control?”, that I read months ago and put away for when I had a bit of time/desire to do some research. Here’s the link to the article: http://goo.gl/TAkzK6

The gist is that mindfulness meditation (about which I’ve written a few posts in the past) is, and I quote, “associated with preserved telomere length. Telomeres are stretches of DNA that cap our chromosomes and help prevent chromosomal deterioration — biology professors often liken them to the plastic tips on shoelaces. Shortened telomeres aren’t known to cause a specific disease per se, but they do whither with age and are shorter in people with cancer, diabetes, heart disease and high stress levels. We want our telomeres intact.” (P.S. “whither with age?” Harrumph…!!!) senesence

Well, in spite of its unfortunate typo, this SA article inspired me to put on my research cap, after I discovered that telomeres are strongly involved in myeloma progression–short telomeres, to be more specific. So let’s have a look at some of the studies I’ve read or glanced at in PubMed in the past few days and try to figure out what’s going on…

A 2012 Spanish study published in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine suggests that MM cells maintain short telomeres for proliferation purposes: http://goo.gl/yhpsaj.

Excerpt: maintaining short telomeres is “a mechanism contributing to MM tumour cells expansion in the bone marrow.” These crappy malignant cells of ours manage to keep their telomeres right above the critical level, that is, the level under which they would eventually have to die. In other words, MM cells use short telomeres to stay alive as long as possible, thus avoiding the normal process of apoptosis, or cell death. As we know by now (I’ve written a bunch of posts about apoptosis…use the handy “Search” box to find ’em), apoptosis occurs on a regular basis in normal cells–as I understand it, their telomeres start getting shorter and shorter, and eventually the cells stop reproducing and die off…But myeloma cells want to live forever, so they have “devised” a way of keeping their telomeres above the critical “too short” level…Quite an extraordinary accomplishment, actually, when you think about it…

And it is in this study, ladies and gentlemen!, where I first read that one of the differences between MGUS and MM is that telomeres are shorter in MM patients. 

There is more. And I quote, “in MM high telomerase activity and short telomere length defined a subgroup of patients with poor prognosis and shorter mean survival.”

A Translational Oncology study from 2013 depicts an even scarier scenario, depicting vile interactions between telomeres and myeloma cells: http://goo.gl/vGB2dD These researchers carried out a three-dimensional (3D) analysis of the telomeres obtained from blood and bone marrow samples of MGUS and MM patients, including relapsed MM patients…mostly in the IgG group. It’s an important study for us because it links shorter telomeres to progression from MGUS to MM.

Excerpt (my highlight): “This study showed changes in 3D nuclear architecture during disease progression from MGUS to MM, based on our findings of increased telomere attrition, resulting in shorter telomeres in MM, as well as in MMrel, compared to MGUS.” So this study reaches the same conclusion as the above-mentioned Spanish study.

Now, I don’t know if you are thinking of the same questions that popped into my mind as I was reading and trying to figure out all this stuff, but anyway, here’s one of ’em: wait a sec, if short telomeres are bad, would’t it be worse to have long ones, which theoretically have a longer life span?

I got my answer today (quelle coincidence!) in this Cancer Compass alert: http://goo.gl/VhljLV It’s easy to read, btw, so do have a look. Basically, it reports on a newly published study showing that “a pattern of change in DNA that may signal the development of cancer long before a standard diagnosis can be made.” And, drum roll, this pattern concerns our very own telomeres. Apparently, the “telomeres belonging to future cancer patients may shorten in length to such a degree that they resemble telomeres belonging to people 15 years older.” Bingo.

Connections. In order to stop progression, we need to have longer telomeres.

Okay, I think we’re done with telomeres for now. So let’s have a quick look at telomerase, which is also important in myeloma. In a nutshell, telomerase is an enzyme that helps prevent the shortening of telomeres, thus preventing a cell from aging. Easy peasy so far…

But what does this really mean for us? Well, the above-mentioned 2012 Spanish study (and there are others, not cited here), suggests that an increase in telomerase activity (or TA) helps MM cells survive. I had a look at a whole bunch of PubMed studies showing that MM cells have a hard time proliferating when telomerase activity is inhibited.

So, simply put: inhibition of TA is good.

In conclusion, we want longer telomeres and less TA activity in our MM cells.

And here’s the answer to another question that popped into my mind: yes, yes, yes, among the million other things it does, curcumin also inhibits telomerase activity. And it also apparently helps preserve telomere length (!), possibly even improve it. Wowsie.

According to this 2006 study, “curcumin inhibits telomerase activity in a dose and time-dependent manner“: http://goo.gl/Tcz5HJ. It inhibits TA, thus shortening telomeres, which means, as we have seen before, that the cancer cell stops reproducing itself and dies. I think it’s obvious, but I suppose I should point out that in this case it’s good for the telomeres to be shortened, because it means they are at death’s door. The study, carried out on a leukemia cell line, also points out that the existing synthetic telomerase inhibitors “are always highly toxic,” something that, as we well know, curcumin is not.

Another study, published in 2015, confirms that curcumin diminishes TA, leading to death of the cancer cell: http://goo.gl/eX5nHH In PuBMed there are currently 34 studies on the impact of curcumin on telomerase. Considering the fact that curcumin won’t make piles of money for anyone, that’s quite a good number, methinks.

As for other naturally-derived substances and their possible effect on telomere length and telomerase, well, I need more time to look into that…

A final note: I also read that stress is linked to shorter telomeres. And so is lifestyle. And those are my final serious thoughts for today! This afternoon I’m going off to play cards with my friends… :-)

Can we boost our hemoglobin levels?

My most recent blood test results showed a slight drop in my hemoglobin, hematocrit and red blood cell count. I’m not worried yet, since the IMF Patient’s handbook talks about <10 g/dL, and I’m nowhere near that. At any rate, in order to avoid a more worrisome drop (prevention prevention prevention!), I’ve been gathering information on how to give these three numbers a boost. And, since I’ve received a few queries on this topic, I thought I’d write a post about my findings thus far. IMG_3080

In addition to increasing our intake of iron-rich foods (red meat, beetroots, etc.), there are a few tips out there that I’d like to highlight. You can find them here, by the way (and on many other websites, too): http://goo.gl/NlW0ht

–Withania somnifera, also known as ashwagandha, has been used in Ayurvedic Medicine for ages and ages to treat anemia caused by iron deficiency. And ashwagandha just happens to be an anti-myeloma herb that I’ve tested a couple of times in the past with a certain success, though I hadn’t considered its effect on my HGB…And looking at my test results, which I did earlier today, didn’t help. I mean, back then my HGB was normal, and on ashwagandha it stayed within the normal range. At any rate, I’ve begun taking ashwagandha again…If it can push my HGB back into the normal range, I’ll be the happiest girl in town!!!

–Decrease our intake of gluten. I didn’t know this until today, but apparently gluten-rich foods can actually cause anemia. Reducing or eliminating gluten can therefore increase hemoglobin levels. The studies I’ve seen so far seem to support this…

–Blackstrap molasses. If only it tasted like melted chocolate…

–Increase our intake of vitamin B12 and folic acid. I had both tested, and the results are in the normal range, BUT on the low side, especially the former.

In sum, can we boost our hemoglobin levels? Hard to say, with myeloma. Mine is an attempt. But I’ve done it before, so I’m hopeful this time, too. As always, the eternal optimist! :-)

I’d like to end the post with this old Italian saying: “il vino fa buon sangue.” Roughly translated, it means “wine makes good blood.” Well, as far as hemoglobin goes, wine turns out to be on the “no no no!” list. Bummer. In the past few months, you see, I’ve been enjoying about a quarter of a glass of red wine with supper…I guess I’ll have to stop doing that now. :-( Oh well…

P.S. This is a recent photo of our youngest cat, Prezzemolo (which means “parsley” in Italian), whom we got a couple of years ago at a local cat shelter. Isn’t he handsome??? Awwww…my boy!

“Circadian responses to chemo”

This morning I came across an intriguing article published recently in “The Scientist”: http://goo.gl/Hl4sCa

I’ve written a couple of posts about circadian rhythms before (for a reminder, see http://margaret.healthblogs.org/antioxidants-and-chemotherapy/biological-clock-and-bioavailabilty/) but haven’t thought about them in a while, I must confess. Well, I’m thinking about them today, that’s for sure. I mean, cancer cells appear to be more susceptible to chemotherapy when administered at certain times of day…And this new study tells us that the same occurs when cancer cells* are exposed to curcumin. How cool is that?

IMG_4661

Excerpt: “…curcumin can activate a gene important to regulating the circadian clock…” Did you know that? I don’t think I did…Food for thought!

Here’s the link to the abstract on which the article is based. Incidentally, it was presented a couple of weeks ago at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, so it’s hot off the press: http://goo.gl/gTB6t8 Warning: it’s quite technical!!!

Excerpt: “These results indicate, for the first time, that efficacy of curcumin is under circadian control and that the rhythm is lost at higher curcumin concentrations.” Now, if I have interpreted this sentence correctly, it means that we might be able to take less curcumin if we can figure out our circadian rhythm. Wouldn’t that be absolutely fantastique? :-)

The main reason I take my curcumin in the evening, before supper, is because of all the water I have to drink in order to swallow all the capsules, which means that if I’m going out and about during the day, I might be spending a lot of my time looking for a bathroom…But if I know I’m going to be at home, I do try to split my dose (lunch and supper).

IMG_4774But what if my best curcumin-taking time of day were in the morning, not the afternoon or evening?

I’m seriously thinking about changing to the morning now…just to see what happens…

(* The tests in this new study were carried out on rat glioma cells–the C6 glioma cells mentioned in the abstract–not human cancer cells…So we need to look at the circadian rhythm of human cancer cells treated with curcumin…though I’d bet almost anything that we’d have similar results…)

April 2015 test results

I got my test results yesterday, several days earlier than expected. I’m impressed. That was FAST! It took only five days…

Let’s see. The thing that concerns me the most is that my hemoglobin, hematocrit, and red blood cell count are still slightly below the normal range. Just slightly, so no huge worries. But I can’t just sit back and ignore it. After all, anemia is the “A” in CRAB, so bringing those numbers UP will be my main concern in the next few months, years, decades, centuries…

My white blood cells have also slipped under the normal range, again just slightly (my result is 4.38 instead of the 4.4 it should be). But they’ve been lower in the past, so again, no worries.

Okay, now for the rest. First, the bad stuff:

  • ESR has gone up a bit since my November 2014 tests: it’s 59 mm, was 46. Normal range is 2-25 mm. BUT: it’s been in the 90s in the past, so no big deal.
  • Calcium has gone up slightly, from 8.9 to 9.1. It’s been as high as 9.4, though, and in any case it’s within the normal range.
  • Uric acid: this has gone slightly over the normal range, so it must be monitored.
  • I have “insufficient” levels of vitamin D! Ouch. Well, I stopped taking it about a week before my tests, so what this result tells me is that I need to be taking it ALWAYS. I started again this morning.
  • Free light chains (serum): They are up again. The seesaw effect. But not to a worrisome level. They’ve been MUCH higher in the past but since 2013 seemed to have settled down, except for a bit of seesawing. So, again, no worries.

IMG_4539Good stuff:

  • Creatinine: stable as a rock, slightly lower than it was in November; way within the normal range.
  • Creatinine clearance: better than last tests: 103 instead of 145 (the high end of the range is 151 mm/min). Excellent.
  • 24-hour creatinine is also better than it was in November.
  • LDH has gone from 210 to 175, which is lovely. Normal range: <280.
  • Total protein: stable.
  • B2M, down a notch compared to my November tests, therefore stable.
  • CRP: same as it was in November. Perfect.
  • No Bence Jones protein, as always.
  • Total IgG: it’s still high, but luckily the trend is a downward one. It has been creeping slowly back down with every test…
  • My other Igs are stable, even though practically nonexistent. I’m used to that.
  • M-spike has also gone down quite a bit, as has the monoclonal component. Very good.
  • Parathyroid: lower than previous tests, so that’s good. Anyway, it’s way within the normal range, where it has been since 2013, in fact.
  • Liver function (ALT, AST, GGT) is perfect, as always.
  • Ferritin and iron levels are in the normal range. In fact, my ferritin is up a bit compared to November.

I’m seeing my doctor next week, so if I have anything to add to what I’ve written here, I will do so.

Well, it could have been worse, and it could have been better. But, as the lab doctor wrote on my test results, there are NO significant variations compared to previous tests. And that is always good at this stage…!!! :-)