Monthly Archives: March 2007

Photo of the Ponte Vecchio

This morning we went for a walk downtown, and I took my camera with me. I felt a bit ashamed after writing my Living in Florence post and realizing that I didn’t have any digital photos of the city, whereas I have about 100 photos of a beaver we saw swimming in a pond last summer in the National Park of Acadia, Vermont. I took many photos this morning, and they are all quite nice. This is one of my favorite shots of the Ponte Vecchio. This is for you, Don and Sweetie!

Healthful Internet

I just read an article titled Internet Changes the Way People Manage Health Care, posted by the Medical Editor of Healthblogs, which inspired me to write this post. If you want to read the study, click on: http://tinyurl.com/2vbkhj The study states that nearly one in four of Americans have reported being healthier today because of the Internet. I couldn’t agree more. When I was first diagnosed with MM (December 2005), I spent a lot of time on the Internet doing research on both conventional and alternative treatments. In fact, after reading the test result MM diagnosis and getting over the shockwave that had hit me for a few minutes, I got right on my computer. Some of my husband’s family members told me to stay away from Internet, that I was only going to scare myself and get depressed. I didn’t heed those warnings, and am glad to report that their predictions never came to pass. Yes, it’s true, perhaps you can find TOO much information on Internet. I read all the dire statistics on MM, I read all about the side effects of chemotherapy, and I also read about fishy alternative remedies. Some of what I read, in both fields, was discouraging, to say the least. But I persevered. I think Internet can be a scary place. As I said, you can obtain much more information than you need on any subject. It is important to ignore websites advertising a cure for your cancer. Sad to say, there are a lot of snake oil merchants out there. Also, if a website asks for any personal information before you are able to access their data, move on. Don’t leave your name anywhere. Just my advice!However, Internet can also be a fantastic tool. My online research drastically changed the direction of my treatment. I found the curcumin clinical trial/studies and began taking curcumin. I will keep doing my research, and will never look back.

Scratching

I just got back from the supermarket where I bought a miraculous product. A carpet cat scratcher, designed to save all carpets, couches and similar surfaces from your cat’s claws. Well, I thought, great, this should work. I brought it home and unwrapped it first thing. I put it down carefully on a Sardinian bridal rug, a rather unique piece that I have had for many years and that is being scratched to bits, I am afraid. Two of my three cats, the main scratchers, gathered around it, sniffing it suspiciously. My male cat paused a couple of times to look up at me in bewilderment. What IS this thing?!, he seemed to be asking. Well, of course, since he is Italian, he really would have asked: “Ma che caspita è ‘sto aggeggio?” My youngest cat, Priscilla, who has torn up at least half of our possessions, started rubbing her chin all over it. Good sign, Margaret thought. Two minutes later, they both began batting the carpet-saver around the room, playing a cat game of soccer. Then Priscilla started gnawing on it. This phenomenal invention lasted about two minutes. It now lies half-destroyed on my rug, ignored by all. And did they sharpen their claws on it? Not once.

I love my cats! :-) My three kitties

Living in Florence, Italy

Many MM friends have written to me about living in Florence. Oh, you are so lucky! You live in such a beautiful city! Ah, to be surrounded by so much art! All very true. What my friends don’t know is that I grew up here. My family moved here when I was a child. I think that anybody who lives in a beautiful city takes its beauty for granted. It becomes part of everyday life. And if truth be told, I rarely go into the city anymore (I live on the outskirts). I’m too busy. Especially now that I have a blog. 😉 Even when I am in town on an errand, I don’t bother looking up to admire the Church of Santa Croce or Palazzo Vecchio. I can barely recall the last time I went to a museum in Florence. Don’t get me wrong. I love my city. I grew up here, it’s home. And when friends visit me, I try to see the city and its art through their eyes, learning to appreciate it anew.

It is quite a different matter when my husband and I go to visit another Italian city. Last year we went to Rome and Ferrara. Very different cities. Rome is huge, of course, compared to Florence and Ferrara where you can walk everywhere (almost). We managed to peek into St. Peter’s, but it was so crowded that we didn’t stay long. We didn’t make it to the Vatican Museums: the line was about 5 miles long, and we had not made reservations on Internet. We still had a lovely time. If you go to Rome, don’t miss strolling around Trastevere. That may well have been my favourite part of our visit. Also, from the Palatine Hill you can admire great views of the Roman Forum and the city. Walk to the other side of the hill, and you will see the archaeological remains of dwellings dating to the 10th century.

Chances are you won’t go to Ferrara, off the regular tourist route, but if you do, drop me a note. I have a few pointers. Ferrara is well worth the visit, it’s a little jewel. We walked everywhere. The best part for me was our visit to Casa Romei, a well-preserved Renaissance building with spectacular frescoes. We attended a Mozart concert there, beautiful music in a magnificent setting.

I have a million photos of Rome and Ferrara. Any recent ones of Florence? Not one.

Pizza = Health Food. What’s Next? Chocolate?

I frequently daydream that an authoritative study published in Blood will tell me that chocolate is good for me. Well, perhaps that day is just around the corner. Yesterday I read a Yahoo News article about pizza, which turns not to be as junky as we might think (you can read snippets of this article below, or read the entire article by clicking on this link: http://tinyurl.com/24vfa6). As a pizza-maker and -lover, I was absolutely thrilled! I usually let my dough rise for two hours or so. Researcher Jeffrey Moore states that it has to rise for 18 hours. 18 hours? I can just see Dough Rex taking over the kitchen and terrorizing my cats! Take note: we’ll have to move into a bigger house to make pizza. The one food item my hubby and I agree on is pizza. I married a carnivore who dislikes pasta (I know, an Italian who dislikes pasta, say no more), whereas I am more vegetable-inclined. So, even though I read somewhere that fresh yeast is not good for cancer patients, I still make pizza about once a week. I try to compensate by adding healthful things to it, like garlic, onions and so on. I even tried making turmeric pizza once. Ok, that tasted terrible, but looked lovely (nice and orange)! In sum, my hubby and I love pizza. But it’s still junk food. Or.is it? Read on…

Pizza as health food? Food chemists say yes.

It’s the junk food junkie’s wildest dream come true — pizza as health food. University of Maryland food chemists said on Monday they had found ways to enhance the antioxidant content of whole-grain wheat pizza dough by baking it longer at higher temperatures and giving the dough lots of time to rise. [ ] But Moore had a slice of advice for pizza aficionados who might want to cover their crust with mounds of fatty toppings like extra cheese, pepperoni, sausage and ground beef. “If you’re adding back all these other things that have potential negative health consequences, then you’re negating anything that you’re adding in terms of (health) value,” Moore said. [ ] The researchers experimented with baking temperatures, baking time and fermentation time — the time the pizza dough is given to rise. [ ] Antioxidant levels rose by up to 60 percent with longer baking times and up to 82 percent with higher baking temperatures [ ]. Baking time and temperature can be increased together without burning the pizza when done carefully, the researchers said. They used oven temperatures from 400 to 550 degrees Fahrenheit (204 to 287 degrees Celsius), and baking times from 7 to 14 minutes. They looked at fermentation times up to two full days, and found that longer periods in some cases doubled the dough’s antioxidant levels. This probably stemmed from chemical reactions caused by yeasts in the dough that had more time to release the antioxidant components, Moore said. A common fermentation time is about 18 hours, Moore said. [ ] (Yahoo News, Will Dunham, March 26, 2007)

Curcumin, a Panacea?

For more than a year, now, I have been reading about and doing research on this polyphenol (i.e., chemical substance found in plants), and this morning I did a search for curcumin in the news.” I found thousands of references. It’s mind-boggling! There is not much curcumin literature in Italian, unfortunately. However, I was still able to add a few links to my blogroll, both in English and Italian; please check them out.

What is curcumin? It’s the main biologically active curcuminoid of Curcuma longa, which is part of the ginger family of herbs, native to southern and south-eastern Asia. This plant’s root and rhizome are crushed and powdered into the spice commonly known as turmeric, which contains about 5 to 8 % curcumin. The use of turmeric as a medicine and condiment is recorded as far back as 600 BC. In the 13th century, Marco Polo wrote a description of turmeric, which he saw and tasted while travelling in China. As I read in one of Prof. Aggarwal’s presentations, traditional Indian medicine uses turmeric for biliary disorders, anorexia, coughs, diabetic wounds, hepatic disorders, rheumatism, and sinusitis. Turmeric powder mixed with slaked lime is a folk remedy for sprains and swelling. In the U.S., curcumin (labelled as E100) is used to colour cheeses, spices, mustard, cereals, pickles, ice-cream and other foods.

There seems to be no end to the powers of curcumin. It has antitumour, antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-amyloid and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as beneficial effects on arthritis, allergy, asthma, atherosclerosis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and cancer. Curcumin is effective against a variety of cancers, so, if you have cancer, check to see if there are any studies on this polyphenol and your particular type of cancer. A few months ago, someone wrote me an e-mail, asking if curcumin had any effect on head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. To my surprise, I found a 2005 study on HNSCC growth in Clinical Cancer Research. The beauty of curcumin is that it attacks only malignant cells, leaving healthy ones alone; it also has no toxic side effects. Note of caution: always consult your oncologist before trying anything.

If you cut yourself, dab some curcumin on the wound, and it will heal faster (you might turn a bit orange–I have experienced that in person!–so be careful not to dab it on your face; don’t forget that turmeric is used as a commercial dye in Indian textile industries!). Got a sore throat? Drink some turmeric tea. High cholesterol, memory loss, blood-clotting problems, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, constipation, high blood pressure, etc. etc. etc.?

The remedy is simple: curcumin.

Ode to Broccoli

This morning, by chance, I came across a mention of broccoli and discovered something I didn’t previously know about this member of the cruciferous (cabbage) family. I began to read more and more about it, and decided to celebrate broccoli in a post, and not just for its well-known anti-cancer properties. What I didn’t know: the cultivation of broccoli originated in Italy. The word is a the plural diminutive of brocco, a term that is no longer used in Italian that means sprout. Broccoli was known for its medicinal properties as far back as ancient Rome. Romans used broccoli leaves to treat wounds and ulcerations, and they ate raw broccoli before banquets to help their bodies absorb wine better. Broccoli was used as a laxative in the 16th century in Italy, and its juice, mixed with honey, was used to treat coughs. In the 17th century, broccoli soup was a remedy for all respiratory ailments, and 19th century Italian medical texts recommended that broccoli be used to treat colds, pleurisy and rheumatism. It was only in the early 20th century that broccoli became well-known in the U.S., thanks to Italian immigrants. However, the average U.S. consumption of broccoli is just a few pounds a year! A modern Italian folk medicine treatment for asthma and bronchitis is to drink a cup of juice from cooked and filtered broccoli leaves, sweetened with honey, twice a day. Broccoli is rich in sodium, potassium, magnesium, vitamins A, B1, B2, C, and stimulates the production of haemoglobin. In Italy, cooked broccoli is frequently eaten with the addition of lemon and extra virgin olive oil. That’s how I frequently make it. I add sliced raw garlic, too.

Broccoli and cancer. Okay, it’s not a new discovery, but it’s good to reiterate that, like other cruciferous vegetables, broccoli contains a wide spectrum of phytonutrients, such as sulforaphane, which have significant anti-cancer effects. I read that sulforaphane makes cells expel cancer-making toxins and blocks the formation of carcinogens. It has been found to induce apoptosis in leukaemia and melanoma cells. For (a lot) more information, please consult the World’s Healthiest Foods website. This website provides tips on how to store and cook veggies in season, etc. Every week, I receive the WHF newsletter. In fact, I recommend this free newsletter to everyone. Click on www.whfoods.org and sign up! There is a helpful section on how to prepare and cook broccoli. Remember not to overcook it (5 minutes at the most).

So, pass the broccoli, please!

It’s a Sunny Morning in Florence, Italy!

First of all, I have received many messages from old and new MM friends, and would like to thank everyone for the positive feedback on my blog. Grazie a tutti!

Let Spices be Thy Medicine. Is there a spice that is NOT good for us? I just re-read Prof. Aggarwal’s presentation of potential NF-kappaB inhibitors (titled: Targeting Transcription Factors for Prevention and Therapy of Cancer by Phytochemicals http://tinyurl.com/32obmz), and was astounded (again) at the long list of spices and foods we can use to block this transcription factor. Prof. Aggarwal’s list of spices is long. Just to mention some: turmeric, nutmeg, cumin, coriander, oregano, cinnamon, basil, dill, parsley, ginger, fennel, cloves, cardamom, rosemary, mustard, liquorice, saffron, fenugreek seeds, sesame seeds, lemongrass, mace, caraway, tamarind, Nigella Sativa, curry leaves, red pepper, red chilli, poppy seeds, mint, and anise.

What is NF-kappaB? It’s a protein complex that becomes activated in response to inflammatory stimuli, and has been linked to cancer. It interferes with apoptosis (programmed cell death) and chemotherapy, among other things. Therefore, the inhibition of NF-kappaB is the target of many cancer studies. Curcumin is one such inhibitor. The following, for the more scientifically-minded, is a link to a detailed study on NF-kappaB, titled NF-kappaB in Cancer: from Innocent Bystander to Major Culprit published in 2002: http://tinyurl.com/yo3zvn .

Life with Myeloma

I am a U.S. citizen, 45 years old, married to an Italian, and I live in Florence, Italy. In 1999, I was diagnosed with Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance or MGUS, for short, of the IgG k type. At that time, I did not understand what MGUS entailed, exactly, and that it was important for me to have blood tests done every 6 months. Back then, I had two teaching jobs and no time to do any research about MGUS. I promptly forgot all about it.
Until about four years later.
In 2003, another routine (so I thought) blood test showed that the amount of this abnormal protein in my blood had increased. My GP made the implications of MGUS clear to me, and sent me to a haematologist at Florence’s main hospital, Careggi, which has a well-known Haematology Center.
I started looking up MGUS on the Internet. I soon had a clear picture of what might lie ahead unless the amount of paraprotein in my blood remained stable. But it didn’t. It kept increasing. Slowly but steadily.
My MGUS finally progressed to MM, or multiple myeloma, in late 2005. I received the MM diagnosis on December 30, based on a BMB (bone marrow biopsy) taken in November. At that time, 50 % of my bone marrow was compromised. Even though I had been expecting this progression, I admit that I was shocked to see the words multiple myeloma printed out on the test result. Not one of my happiest moments.

Discovery of Curcumin

I soon got on my computer and began researching my options. I looked at conventional and alternative treatments. One day, while scrolling down the list of clinical trials on the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation website, I noticed that there was a curcumin clinical trial taking place at the MD Anderson Cancer Research Center of the University of Texas. Curcumin? A joke, surely.
I searched the words curcumin and myeloma on Google, and came upon the studies published in Blood (February 2003 and April 2004). I read all I could about curcumin. In the end, I was convinced. I had to try it.
Clearly, because I live in Italy, participating in the curcumin myeloma clinical trial in Texas was not an option. However, my main problem was that I had no idea how much curcumin I should be taking. In the beginning, I also mistook turmeric (the spice) for curcumin (turmeric’s active ingredient). In Italian, these are very similar words, hence the confusion. Indeed, I bought a huge supply of turmeric, which, more than a year later, I am still using in my cooking!
I wrote an e-mail to the head of the MD Anderson curcumin research team, Prof. Bharat Aggarwal, attaching my test results. I didn’t really expect him to answer. But answer he did, with a very nice message, encouraging me to try curcumin, and explaining the difference between turmeric and curcumin. He included the initial eight-week curcumin protocol. I ordered curcumin, and started the protocol, after having blood tests done and consulting with my haematologist and family. After eight weeks, I redid my blood tests, and for the first time since 1999, my IgG count had gone down, from 34.5 grams per liter to 29.8 grams per liter. Success! Since then, my IgG count has gone a bit up, then a bit down, but my markers are generally stable. A recent BMB (January 2007) showed that the level of malignancy had decreased by 20 % , from 50 to 40 %. An excellent result. My haematologist told me recently that my MM is inactive: SM, or smoldering myeloma.

My story continues…

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