The gut factor

Before I give you the link to a very interesting article I read in “The Scientist” this morning on the connection between gut bacteria and cancer, I should really tell you why I haven’t been posting lately. I got back from my emergency trip to the U.S. almost a month ago, but since then I’ve been terribly busy…lots going on…and I’ve also been terribly worried about my mother, who is still in the rehab clinic and not doing as well as she should be at this stage. Luckily, my sister is there, taking care of everything, but the daily updates she gives me by phone and email are hard to take, at times. Well, fingers crossed…

So, yes, in short, I just haven’t felt like posting…

But from now on I will make an effort to post more frequently, especially if I read something that tickles my brain cells, which happened with the above-mentioned article. Here is the link: http://goo.gl/O1BDZ5 I warn you, it’s long!

The article doesn’t mention myeloma or any other type of blood cancer, but in the second paragraph it does bring up the possibility that gut bacteria could “contribute to cancer cell death, even in tumors far from the gastrointestinal tract. The most logical link between the microbiome and cancer is the immune system. Resident microbes can either dial up inflammation or tamp it down, and can modulate immune cells’ vigilance for invaders. Not only does the immune system appear to be at the root of how the microbiome interacts with cancer therapies, it also appears to mediate how our bacteria, fungi, and viruses influence cancer development in the first place.”

Myeloma…immune system…microbes…

???

So if you have some free time in the next couple of days, put your feet up and take a look at this article. And, by the way, any thoughts would be most appreciated. Leave me a comment or two! :-) Thank you!

P.S. A blog reader sent me a link (https://goo.gl/LdXif3) to a recent “Guardian” article discussing how our gut microbes may even affect our behavior, thoughts, and moods…as well as the structure and function of our brains. This might turn out to be good news for folks who have multiple sclerosis, for example. So, another very interesting read. Very!

Emergency trip to the U.S.A.

We’ve had a family emergency: my Mom fell down in the living room and fractured her hip a few days ago. She’s in the hospital now and has already had an operation to put three screws into her hip. So far so good. When I spoke with her yesterday, she was already out of bed, sitting in a chair, having lunch. But my parents are going to need some help in the next few weeks. So I’m leaving for the States tomorrow…

I find myself apologizing (again!) to those of you who have written to me and have not yet received a reply. I really need an assistant! 😉 A helpful hint: whenever you have a question, please use the blog’s “Search” box (in the upper right-hand corner) first, before dropping me a note, I mean. That Search box is such a handy tool: I use it myself from time to time, in fact. I mention this because often I see that many of your queries have already been answered on the blog…

That said, I’ll try to answer every single message when I get back to Italy in early March. That’s the best I can do. This has been a horrendously busy period for me, and the next few weeks are going to be hectic, too…Still, sorry about the wait!!! Really really sorry…

Okay, I’ve been up since 4:30 AM, and I have about a million errands to do today, so off I go. Take care, everyone!!! :-)

The cause of many myeloma cases has been discovered.

After I was first diagnosed, I was a bit obsessed with what had caused my (smoldering) myeloma. Nobody in my family had had anything remotely similar—no blood cancers, that is. I hadn’t, as far as I knew (and know), been exposed to any of the toxic crap that has been associated with the development of myeloma. And so on. In sum, no idea how I got this thing…

In time, since even the virus connection seemed a bit weak (although it’s still on my “radar”), I determined I’d never figure it out, and that there was no point of digging and obsessing and getting all worked up about it. Relax, Margaret. And so I did. I let it go.

But now and again, stuff pops up in the news that gets me going on this topic…again. Today is one of those days…

A group of Yale researchers just published their findings about the cause of SOME myeloma cases in the New England Journal of Medicine: http://goo.gl/TlKzJh  By the way, many thanks to TAB and other devoted blog readers for sending me the links to this new bit of…news. I would have seen it eventually, but right now I’m really bogged down with work (which is why I haven’t written anything recently for the blog, not even an itsy bitsy post about our recent business-and-also-pleasure trip to Amsterdam!).

Here is one of the important excerpts from the above-mentioned press release: “…chronic stimulation of the immune system by lipids made in the context of inflammation underlies the origins of at least a third of all myeloma cases.” Key words: “chronic,” that is, long-term; “inflammation”;  and “at least a third of all myeloma cases.” Intriguing.

These new findings are based on previous ones showing that patients with Gaucher disease are more at risk of developing multiple myeloma. This was the first time I’d ever heard about Gaucher disease, so this morning I set about looking it up: basically, it’s a rare genetic (inherited) disease having to do with lipid storage. In simpler language (I hope!), an enzyme called glycolipid glucocerebroside, which is normally supposed to break down the fat in the body, undergoes a mutation that stops it from working normally. This means that the body can’t get rid of a type of fat called glucocerebroside, in fact, which begins to build up in some organs, especially in the spleen, liver, and, tada!, bone marrow. The fatty crap builds up in the bloodstream, too…and can reach toxic levels. And, tada again!, it also begins to accumulate in our macrophages = a type of white blood cell. And, quelle-coincidence-perhaps-not!, macrophages are involved in the protection and survival of myeloma cells, see for example this 2009 “Blood” study: http://goo.gl/WZGLxt Hmmm. A lot of food for thought, today! :-)

Now, back to Gaucher disease: it can cause a lot of health problems, including bruising, fatigue, joint pain, even bone pain, low red blood cell count, and low blood platelets, among other things. It is also characterized by an enlarged liver and/or spleen (I’ve seen images online of grossly distended abdomens…).

You can find out if you have Gaucher disease by having a simple blood test done, a test that measures your glucocerebrosidase enzyme activity. If you don’t have Gaucher disease, those levels will be normal. If, however, the glucowhatever activity is less than normal, you may have to undergo further testing. I read that there is also a skin test…Anyway, if you suspect you might have Gaucher disease, or if you want to rule it out, ask your doctor. Again, keep in mind that it’s a rare disease…I personally don’t think it’s a cause of mine, but I do intend to talk things over with my doctor, since you never know…

Another interesting excerpt from the press release: “the researchers also discovered a subset of lipid-reactive immune cells, called type II NKT-TFH, that promote the development of plasma cells.” Hmmm. What does this mean? Not clear. Okay, I’ll need to read the full study at some point…Of course, it’s not available for free online, so I don’t have it at my fingertips…yet. But the press release has left me with more questions than answers at this point.

Even with having read the full shebang, though, what it seems we’re dealing with here is some sort of long-term immune activation caused by this malfunctioning enzyme, which eventually leads to the accumulation of toxic fatty material in some vital cells and organs. So it seems to me that we have here a direct link between systemic, chronic inflammation and myeloma. By the way, please correct me if I’m wrong…As you know, I’m not a scientist (my Ph.D. is in linguistics, historical linguistics, at that!)

Now, since we’re talking about the accumulation of FATTY material, does this mean that you’re more likely to get myeloma if you’re fat? After doing a bit of research, I believe the answer is a resounding “NO.” True, we frequently associate the word “lipid” with “fat,” but fats are actually a subgroup of lipids. So obesity, in my lay opinion, is not a factor in this particular scenario (again, please do correct me if I’m wrong!).

That said, I should note that some studies have indeed pointed to a link between obesity and the increased risk of developing myeloma. See this 2007 Harvard Med School study, for example: http://goo.gl/sVSDJ8

But, I repeat, in this particular case, things are quite different. This is an enzyme that we all have, no matter our body size…

I’d like to end my post with this excerpt from the Yale press release: “Understanding the origin of any cancer has several implications for how to best prevent it,” Dhodapkar said. “These studies set the stage for newer approaches to lower the levels of these lipids in patients with Gaucher disease and others with precursors for myeloma. Potentially, this could be achieved with drugs or lifestyle changes to reduce the levels of lipids to lower the risk of cancer.” I read about enzyme replacement therapy…But I need to have a closer look at that…

Still, wouldn’t that be absolutely amazing? I mean, not that having Gaucher’s disease is a picnic, mind you, but…well…Okay, I’d better stop here for today.

Anyway, today I’ve learned a few new things, which is always good. Now I’ve got to get back to my translations, or else I’ll be really really really sorry!!!!!! In fact, I already am…I mean, how did it get to be so bloody late?????? Yikessssss! 😉

The new Museo dell’Opera del Duomo and the Baptistery

On Saturday morning Stefano and I joined a group of about twenty friends on a guided tour of the museum of the Opera del Duomo. The Opera del Duomo, roughly translated as Cathedral Workshop, was founded in the 13th century with the aim of supervising the building and maintenance of Florence’s magnificent cathedral, the Duomo.

After undergoing a period (three years, I think) of top to bottom renovations and a much-needed expansion, the museum reopened in October 2015 (and in fact one of my closest friends worked very hard on this enormous project…I’m so proud!!!), thanks to the purchase and renovation of adjoining buildings, including a former parking garage and a theater. So in October, for the first time ever, the Opera del Duomo’s rich collection of medieval and Renaissance sculptures, consisting of 750 statues and reliefs, finally had enough room to be put on display. And I must say that it is FABBBBBULOUS. Stunning, simply stunning.

IMG_5773We saw one of the museum’s most famous sculptures: Michelangelo’s unfinished Pietà, which, the guide told us, he worked on by candlelight, after he got home at night, when he was 70 years old. Michelangelo evidently didn’t like the way the sculpture was turning out, though, because at one point, in a fit of rage, he hit it with a hammer, damaging it here and there (especially Christ’s arm, which has been reattached–the scar is clearly visible).

The guide told us that Nicodemus’ face (that’s the tall guy holding Christ in his arms) is considered to be Michelangelo’s self-portrait. That’s the wonderful thing about going around a museum with a guide, something that Stefano and I rarely do because we hate to be rushed from place to place, and we like our independence, but I have to admit that a guide CAN give you some interesting bits of information that you otherwise would not have.

For instance, she told us a cute little anecdote about the actual building of the cathedral’s dome. Incidentally, did you know that nobody has been able to build a replica of the dome? That’s right. It has never been done successfully. All the dome replicas have tumbled down. How did Brunelleschi do it? A mystery. An amazing feat of engineering…And we may never figure it out…

Oh, I almost forgot the anecdote, hehe…here it is: according to legend, Brunelleschi used breadcrumbs to show his assistants how to place such a heavy dome on top of Florence’s cathedral. Once they’d understood what they needed to do, he ate all the breadcrumbs, thus destroying all the evidence. He left no plans, no drawings, nothing specific, anyway. How about that, eh? I knew that nobody had been able to recreate this wonderful dome, which I believe is still the largest brick dome in the WORLD, but I hadn’t heard the breadcrumb story…And hey, who cares if it’s not true? It’s cute!!!

IMG_5756An entire wall of the museum’s largest hall, which can be viewed from the upstairs galleries, too (and it’s great to have a different perspective, statues at eye level, etc.), is covered by a spectacular full-scale model in resin of the original medieval façade of the cathedral, which was designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296. The original façade was never finished and ended up being destroyed in the 16th century (the Duomo’s current façade was built in the late 19th century).

IMG_5751Opposite the resin façade, you can have a close-up look at two of Florence’s Baptistery’s original doors, including Lorenzo Ghiberti’s exquisite, gilded bronze doors. These two doors were removed from the Baptistery and cleaned in the late 20th century, as I recall.

This means, of course, that the doors photographed by thousands of tourists outside, in piazza Duomo, are actually copies…beautiful copies, but copies nonetheless. The only original door out there right now is the North door, which however is supposed to be cleaned up and placed next to the other two inside the museum soon, so hurry up if you want to take a photo of it out in the open…By the way, these two doors are enclosed in glass, which makes it possible to see not just the external gilded sides but the internal wooden paneled sides, too. Very interesting…IMG_5780

Anyway, I don’t want to bore you with too many details (all the various galleries in the museum, Giotto’s Bell-tower gallery with its 16 life-size statues, the Choir galleries with the pulpits by Donatello and Luca della Robbia, etc. etc. etc.), but I hope you will enjoy the photos I took…yes, you can take photos inside the museum…no flash. The one on the left, by the way, is Donatello’s extraordinary “Penitent Magdalen,” a 15th century sculpture of polychrome wood (one of the few that survived the Renaissance, btw!) that really could have been made yesterday by a famous modern artist.

Okay, enough, before this gets too boring! 😉 I highly recommend that you make time for a visit to this museum on your next trip to Florence! Ah, and don’t forget to walk up (or take the elevator up) to the museum’s panoramic terrace, which offers a breathtaking view of Brunelleschi’s dome and the rooftops of my beautiful city. I took the photo on the right up there, in fact. Another recommendation: buy a cumulative ticket. Our ticket, which cost 12 euros, enabled us to visit the Baptistery as well as an art exhibition going on right now in Palazzo Strozzi. So check it out and see what’s being offered.IMG_5820

Next, as planned, we visited Florence’s Baptistery, with its newly cleaned facade. I hadn’t been inside the Baptistery since I was a kid, I think. Ah, it’s a real beauty. Definitely worth seeing. Plus, it will give you an advantage when Dan Brown’s “Inferno” comes out. 😉

After the Baptistery, our group split up, and Stefano and I headed off to have a romantic lunch in town. Alone. We went to a small restaurant where we’d had dinner years ago, while we were still in the dating phase.

We began chatting (my, er, “fault,” as usual! 😉 ) with an adorable young British couple having lunch next to us. They asked us if we had recommendations on places to have decent meals. I jotted down a few restaurant names for them, and we continued chatting. After lunch we went to the above-mentioned art exhibit, and then took the bus back home to our kitties.

A lovely day. Simply lovely. :-)

The holiday post I would have written…

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As I announced a few weeks ago, Stefano and I spent the holiday season visiting my parents on Cape Cod, U.S.A. We had a very nice, quiet visit…My parents are now in their upper 80s but still doing quite well, knock on wood! _1080860

The title of my post should continue “…had I been able to.” In the States, the only computer I had access to was my mother’s old Apple computer. And it was so maddeningly slow that I finally gave up on it. _1080884

So instead of writing a holiday post back in December, I’m going to write one now…now that I’m back in Florence (we landed in Florence yesterday afternoon) and able to access my fabulous, FAST desk computer. Let’s just pretend for a moment that it’s around December 25th. 😉

Let’s see. I wanted to tell the story of our flights to the U.S. and back to Italy.

First, our flight to the U.S.A. on December 23rd. _1080973While Stefano and I were waiting in Frankfurt Airport for our connecting flight to Boston, we heard our names being called. We went up to the gate agent who informed us that we had been upgraded to Business Class because the flight was overbooked and also because of Stefano’s frequent flyer status. Well, knock me over with a feather!

_1090086Flying in Business Class has been on my “bucket list” for a while now. But we haven’t been able to afford it, so I figured I’d never have the opportunity (no big deal, really…I mean, I have more important items on my list!). This upgrade was therefore a completely unexpected and fantastic early Xmas present for me. I got so excited, in fact, that I began doing a little happy dance, right in front of all the other passengers and gate agents. Such a happy moment. _1090072

And there’s more: our plane was one of those double-deckers. Yes, you guessed it: our seats were located upstairs, on the top floor! Another wee item crossed off that bucket thingy! 😉

I was so thrilled that I couldn’t sit still. I examined every item in the holiday goody bag; I checked the settings on the seat (you can lie FLAT if you want to…the seat basically turns into a rather narrow but comfortable bed); I watched three movies; I stretched out, and I drank a glass of champagne…total bliss. Needless to say, we had a wonderful flight–even the food was very good. I felt like a princess… _1090058

so much so that when we reached the check-in desk at Logan Airport in Boston day before yesterday, I asked the agent how much it would cost for us to be upgraded again to Business Class. I figured it would be too much, but it doesn’t cost anything to ask, right?

Her fingers went clickety-clack clackety-click on the computer, and after a few minutes she told us that our return flight was overbooked and we’d been upgraded to Business Class…AGAIN. Unbelievable. I felt like a little kid opening presents on Xmas morning…_1080946

However, I have to confess that I felt badly for the folks marching past us on the plane on their way to their seats in Economy (where I’ve always traveled, of course, and where I will travel again, no question about that!). I mean, I strongly believe that all seats should be comfortable on long flights, not just Business and First Class seats. All seats. _1080904
But…that’s the way things go. The more money you can spend, the more comfortable you will be. When I told my parents about feeling badly about traveling in Business, Dad remarked, “Oh well, then of course you must have gotten up and given your seat to someone else, right?”

(He’s such a clown…)_1080957

Um, no. I didn’t.  The thought didn’t even cross my mind, I admit.

But I did feel a bit guilty for traveling in such luxury…I felt it wasn’t fair…and it isn’t, really.

_1090018Anyway, here are a few of the photos I took while I was on Cape Cod.

Beaches…guests at my parents’ bird feeders…a seagull in the fog in Chatham (Massachusetts)…two very playful dogs running on the beach (they ran up to us and got us a bit wet and sandy…so cute!)…and so on. _1090081If you hover over the photos, you should be able to read my comments on most of them…

I guess that all that remains to be said is: Belated Happy New Year, everyone!!! 😀 I’m off to feed my hungry cats and have dinner now…Ciao!

Happy Holidays!

06.12.24-Christmas-0014Stefano and I are leaving for the United States tomorrow morning…very early…zzzzzz.

We’ll be back in Florence on January 6…so we’ll be spending exactly two weeks with my parents on Cape Cod. We are, as usual, leaving our cats in very good, capable hands, those of our fabulous house and cat sitter, also a good friend. 09.12.13-Christmas-0077

 

I didn’t want to post an anonymous Xmas greeting on the blog today, so I went through our old Xmas photos and, well, here are a few. Of course, the main theme is…cats, cats…and more cats!!! :-)

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If you hover over the photos, you’ll be able to see the date each photo was taken, etc. You can also click on at least some of the photos to make them bigger. I don’t know why the “make ’em bigger” option doesn’t work for ALL the photos…technological mysteries…

I’ll be back online day after tomorrow…Again, I apologize to those who sent me messages to which I haven’t replied yet. I’ll try to get to them in January. 09.12.25-Christmas-0294
If you would like an answer before then, please send me another message, since I won’t be able to access/read your “old” messages (which have been downloaded onto my main computer, this one, that is). 11.12.19-Christmas-0027

HAPPY AND HEALTHY HOLIDAYS TO EVERYONE!!! :-)

B-cell disorders and curcumin

A few days ago, a very kind and generous blog reader sent me the full study that I’d mentioned in my December 18 2015 post. Here are a few highlights…

First, I’d like to say that what I really like about these researchers, Golombick et al, is that they are looking for NONTOXIC ways to “develop early intervention strategies.” As you know, the conventional myeloma world is looking mostly at TOXIC early intervention strategies, which, as we know, can be very risky (just read my December 7 2014 post about the subpopulations of myeloma…).

Before I go on, this study is really a sort of “summary” that combines the data from previous studies carried out by these researchers on MGUS, SMM, and early-stage CLL patients. So we can actually access all the data on our own…

Since I’ve already posted about the MGUS and SMM patient studies (plus the one on a patient with laryngeal amyloidosis, which you can find by doing a search of my blog…), I wanted instead to focus a bit on a study carried out on early-stage CLL patients, a study published back in June but that I didn’t know about until this morning (it’s not myeloma-related, you see…). And the only reason I found out about it is because it’is discussed in our above-mentioned “summary” study. Here’s the link (to the CLL study): http://goo.gl/IPqo1n You can download and read the entire shebang for free…

Now for a bit of VERY interesting information: these CLL patients, 21 individuals with stage O/1 CLL (that is, early-stage chronic lymphocytic leukemia), took Meriva curcumin. Meriva, non C3 Complex curcumin…

Well, well. For the past three years or so, I’ve actually been curious to try Meriva, and back in 2012 I actually wrote a post about it. I should really test Meriva at some point…In fact, it makes sense to buy some while I’m in the U.S.A. for the holidays (we’re leaving day after tomorrow!). So now it’s on my list of things to buy…funny cat Xmas cartoon

You’re probably curious about dosage, since I was, too. You may find this incredible, but the dose administered to the CLL patients was just two grams a day. No kidding. Two grams…

And at that dose, a small percentage of these CLL patients had a more than 20% decrease in their absolute lymphocyte count, which is very good…this decrease occurred after just a few months in 4 patients out of 21. The rest of the patients didn’t respond to curcumin, apparently.

At least, they apparently had no response to this type of curcumin, and/or to this dosage (this last sentence is my own, by the way…just a thought I had while reading the study…). Hmmm, I wonder what would have happened if those CLL patients had taken a higher dose…just wondering…especially since I can’t even imagine going down to 2 grams a day…nope…no way!

Well, perhaps a dose increase might be an idea for a follow-up study…Anyway, this is an interesting study, and I know it’s not a myeloma-related one, but please go have a look, at least at the Results, Discussion, and Conclusion parts. There are a lot of details that I don’t have the time right now to post about…

Let’s get back to our MGUS, SMM, and CLL study now. It ends by suggesting that curcumin may be beneficial to some folks with MGUS, SMM, or early stage CLL, and that early intervention with curcumin “may lead to prolonged survival and delay in progressive disease in some of these patients.”

Plus, as we know, the obvious advantage of curcumin is that it is not toxic at all  (unless you have gall bladder issues, so please do be careful about that!!!).

I agree with the conclusion reached by these researchers: we need larger studies. The problem is where to find the funding for these larger studies…same old, same old…uff.

In the meantime, I would like to send a message to Dr. Golombick publicly: THANK YOU, THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU!, for your indefatigable work on behalf of blood cancer patients. :-)

P.S. I might have asked this in a previous post, but does anybody here take Meriva? If so, with what results? And what dosage? Thanks! :-)

New study: curcumin may lead to prolonged survival and delay in progressive disease of some MGUS, SMM, and CLL patients

Hot off the press: http://goo.gl/F0whJs Here’s what the abstract tells us:

“Clinical studies with patients with early hematological malignancies (ie, monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance, smoldering multiple myeloma, or stage 0/1 chronic lymphocytic leukemia) suggest that early intervention with curcumin, derived from the spice turmeric, may lead to prolonged survival and delay in progressive disease in some of these patients.” 

I’m curious to see the full study…But it hasn’t been published yet…Still, this is a rather nice Christmas present, don’t you think? :-)