Monthly Archives: October 2008

EGCG and folate deficiency

One of my July blood tests, the folate, or folic acid, test (I will use the two terms interchangeably), turned out to be quite low. When my family doctor saw that result, he told me that I should probably take a folic acid supplement. I followed his advice for a while. But recently I read some studies that made me stop taking it, while I do more research and ponder the matter.

 

First things first. Folic acid is a type of the water-soluble B-9 vitamin found the fruit and vegetables we eat–dark green and leafy veggies, nuts and seeds, lightly-cooked beans (folic acid is very susceptible to heat), oranges and grapefruit, etc.

 

Healthy cells need folates, which are essential for cell division…but, and here we get to the crux of the matter, cancer cells do, too. As we know, cancer cells divide and grow very rapidly. For this “divide and prosper quickly” process, they need folates. They gobble ’em up.

 

Now we will get into some technical stuff. DHFR (=dihydrofolate reductase) is an enzyme that is essential for cancer growth. Some chemotherapy drugs, such as methotrexate, target DHFR. When DHFR is inhibited, you see, cancer cells are not able to use folic acid to keep dividing, which means that tumour growth is slowed down (did I just hear a “wow!”? That was my reaction, too).

 

In sum, as I understand it, no DHFR=no folic acid=slowed tumour growth.

 

There is an obvious consequence, though: DHFR inhibitors can cause folate deficiency. And folate deficiency hinders not only cell division (and DNA synthesis, incidentally), but also the production of red blood cells, which means that folate-deficient folks could develop a sort of anemia called “megaloblastic anemia” (for a lot of info on this particular topic, see: http://www.emedicine.com/med/TOPIC1420.HTM) 

 

So let me get this straight. If I don’t take a folic acid supplement, I risk developing megalobummer anemia. Not good. But if I do take a folic acid supplement, I will be feeding my myeloma cells. Hey, that’s a no-win situation.

 

And now we get to the second part of this post. What does folate deficiency have to do with EGCG?

 

Last week, I happened to come across a 2005 Spanish study (abstract: http://tinyurl.com/5g4o48; full study: http://tinyurl.com/a8crc) showing that people with a folate deficiency should probably not drink a lot of green tea or take too much EGCG in its supplement form. Furthermore, the study linked high levels of green tea consumption to birth defects caused by folic acid deficiency: specifically, spina bifida and anencephaly. Therefore, pregnant women and women even remotely thinking about conceiving should not drink green tea.

 

It seems, in fact, that EGCG behaves like the above-mentioned DHFR inhibitors (except that the green tea extract doesn’t attack healthy cells, only cancerous ones). Yes, it blocks folic acid. And it is precisely its folate-inhibiting activity that makes EGCG so successful in the fight against cancer cell growth. Makes sense, given what we know. But let’s not forget that healthy cells need folates, too. So green tea is good for you only in certain situations, not in others. Caution is the name of the game, as usual.

 

The EGCG-folate issue reminds me of the curcumin-iron “catch-22” situation. Curcumin is an iron chelator (in fact, I am about to read a recent “Blood” study on this very topic, so stay tuned), meaning that it “sucks” iron out of our blood. This is brilliant if you have high serum iron and are at risk of developing cancer. But let’s not forget that the “A” in the myeloma CRAB acronym stands for Anemia. 

 

And here’s the “catch”: anemic curcumin-taking cancer folks who take an iron supplement risk inhibiting the anti-cancer activities of curcumin. So even though my serum iron is low, I have not added an iron supplement to my daily intake. I don’t want to swallow anything that might prevent curcumin from doing its job. For now, I am just trying to obtain a bit of iron from my diet (=red meat once a week, sigh, together with a salad with lots of lemon juice, since vitamin C helps us absorb iron from our food…). I will probably do the same for folic acid. That is, get it from my diet. Period.

 

Anyway, this folate dilemma presents me and perhaps others in my situation (=low folic acid folks) with a tough choice. To take or not to take a folic acid supplement? And how about drinking green tea or taking EGCG capsules?

 

It doesn’t help matters to know that low folic acid intake has been associated with high homocysteine levels, which increase the risk of heart disease and other undesirable conditions.

 

No easy solution, here.

What I want…

I want to read scientific studies. I want to write about my research and amusing daily happenings. I want to keep myself stable until a cure is found for myeloma. I want to spend time with my family and friends. I want to be a good English teacher. I want to laugh and enjoy life. I want more time. I want lots of things.

 

I don’t want to write about politics. With yesterday’s post, I was actually trying to move away from politics. But recent comments “force” me to post again on this topic. And I am not going to promise not to write about it again…only to break my promise. I am sure Keith or Rachel will inspire at least one more political post at some point this week. 😉

 

Hmmm, besides, it is MY blog, right? 😉

 

And what is a blog but an electronic diary? That’s how I use it. I never plan my posts. If I read something that inspires or enrages me or makes me happy, then that is what I post about. And it just so happens that right now I am thinking, reading, hearing and seeing A LOT about the upcoming U.S. presidential election. That won’t change until after the election. Then life will presumably return to normal. Presumably.

 

Okay, let’s get into some political stuff. Let’s say that the Democrats had a candidate similar to McCain, and the Republicans someone like Obama. Well, guess what? I would have voted Republican. Surprised? Well, when I was a U.S. resident, I voted occasionally for decent Republican candidates in local elections. I have always voted for the better person.

 

Oh, and I don’t just watch Jon Stewart, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. I also watch Fox News, which I can get here in Italy, too.

 

So you see, I am not a mindless follower of the party line. I listen to both sides of an argument and make up my own mind. Always have, always will.

 

Nobody can tell me what to do, except for my cats. :-)

 

A final consideration. If Sen. McCain is elected, I would never be able to move back to my own country. Not that I plan to, but I wouldn’t mind having the option…you never know. But under a McCain administration, I would never get health coverage due to my pre-existing condition. Under Sen. Obama’s plan I would instead not be denied coverage for having myeloma. Another point in the latter’s favour.

 

U.S. cancer patients need to think long and hard before casting their vote next week. Consider the folks who will be diagnosed with cancer before or without having good insurance coverage. What will happen to them? What will happen to you?

Not-so-mindless entertainment…

This weekend Stefano and I watched three movies. Erm, uhm , I am a bit embarrassed to admit that we watched the new “Hulk” movie and “Iron Man.” What can I say? Mindless entertainment! 😀

 

But we also watched “I Am Legend” (2007). That wasn’t completely mindless. The plot, in a few words…

 

At the beginning of the movie, during a T.V. interview, a scientist (played by Emma Thompson) talks about her cancer treatment, a genetically modified measles virus. With a smile on her face, she admits that “yes, we have cured cancer” (or words to that effect). That got my attention, as you can imagine.

 

But something soon goes wrong. The modified virus mutates into a deadly airborne strain that ends up killing 90% of the world population. Of the remaining 10%, 9% are turned into light-phobic zombies and only 1% remain healthy, thanks to their natural immunity to the virus. But life is not a bowl of peaches and cream for the healthy survivors, who are hunted down by the hungry, screeching, enraged zombies at nightfall. Lovely, huh?

 

At any rate, by the year 2012, a U.S. Army virologist (superbly played by Will Smith) is the last human being left in New York City. The movie revolves around him, his dog, his daily experiments to find a cure for the virus, and his trips through a scary devastated Manhattan on a quest for food and supplies.

 

But that’s enough. I won’t spoil the movie or the end for you. Now that I think about it, I almost didn’t make it to the end. Be warned: those zombies are freaky scary. And I not easily freaked out: I have watched plenty of horrifying horror flicks in my lifetime. So why did I find this one particularly disturbing?

 

Well, because it made me think about the manipulation of viruses. This stuff is going on right now in laboratories around the world. I myself have written at least one post on adenovirus delivery systems (October 14, 2007). This movie brought up a lot of questions for me: are we going too far in our quest for a cure for cancer and other diseases? Are new, worse?, monsters being created in order to defeat old monsters?

 

Would you rather have cancer or be an angry hungry zombie? Hmmm…

 

Coincidentally, I came across a Science Daily article reporting on a real-life scientist, the virologist and cancer biologist Dr. Patrick Lee, who discovered that “I Am Legend” is based on his own research and development of a reovirus, a virus used to target cancer cells: http://tinyurl.com/59wx5l (interesting article, please have a look when you have a snippet of time).

 

Okay, sure, “I Am Legend” is science fiction, but does it really present us with an unlikely scenario, or an “impossible” scenario, as Dr. Lee declares? I wonder…

Mindless ignorance

Ten days left until the U.S. presidential election. And, almost every day, I have a reason to get all bent out of shape by the news reports. Today my outrage is directed at something that Gov. Palin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, said yesterday during a speech about special education. Simply put, she mocked fruit fly research. Did that turn my toenails purple? You betcha!

 

Here is a summary of that…something. She declared that the money that should be funding IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and special needs programs instead goes to, and I quote, projects having little or nothing to do with the public good — things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not! (You can watch the video on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCXqKEs68Xk*)

 

Okay, let’s set aside the minor (!) detail that Sen. McCain has voted against fully funding IDEA, or any other special education program, for that matter. And we can also close our eyes to the fact that Gov. Palin herself has hardly been a champion for special needs kids and their families (See: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/07/us/politics/07needs.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=us).  

 

But claiming that fruit fly research has little or nothing to do with the public good? Fruit fly research is no joke, Gov. Palin. Let’s take a look at it.

 

Fruit flies are fruitfully used in cancer, cancer prevention and Alzheimer’s research, as well as in countless other fields (nerve injury research, stem cell research…almost-everything research). Just go to “Science Daily” and do a quick search for “fruit flies.” You will be amazed at how useful these tiny bothersome critters are. To science. Serious science.

 

Okay, but let’s keep our focus on special needs children, since that was the point, I s’pose, of Gov. Palin’s speech.

 

Fact 1: fruit fly research carried out in 2007 at the University of North Carolina may lead to advances in understanding autism spectrum disorders, as recently, human neurexins have been identified as a genetic risk factor for autism. See: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070905123832.htm

 

Fact 2: Dartmouth researchers have determined that the fruit fly Drosophila can be used for further study about why more mistakes occur during cell division as eggs become older. In humans, such errors can give rise to Down syndrome, a genetic disorder where people have one extra chromosome. See: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/05/030505084219.htm  

 

Now, Gov. Palin’s stunningly thoughtless remarks probably referred to a $ 742,764 earmark obtained by California Rep. Mike Thompson for olive fruit fly research. Part of that grant, $ 211,509, is going to be spent in Paris, France. This realization does not appease me, for the following reasons.

 

Fact 3: a. the olive fruit fly has become a huge threat to California’s multi-million dollar olive crop; b. countries like France have been studying and developing ways of using parasites instead of toxic chemicals to control this devastating phenomenon, and c. hence, doesn’t it make sense that the research be carried out at a USDA (=U.S. Department of Agriculture) research facility that just happens to be located in France? Eh.

 

Fact 4: the “French” fruit fly grant money almost adds up to the sum that the Republican National Convention has recently spent on clothes and makeup for Gov. Palin and her family. Nope, I kid you not. 

 

*P.S. Tinyurls aren’t working today. I apologize for these endless links. I will change them to shorter ones asap.

I love Keith!

Keith…who?

 

Keith Olbermann. His excellent news commentary program titled Countdown can be seen on MSNBC, weeknights, 8-9 p.m. Eastern time. It’s smart, witty and downright funny. I watched the program every single night during my recent visit to the States. I was instantly hooked. Still am, for that matter.

 

What I really like is that Keith does his research. He backs up his commentaries with video clips, etc. If you would like to have a look at some of the Countdown videos, click on:

 

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3036677/#27329785

 

I just watched this one, which inspired me to write this post: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3036677/#27313459

 

And yes, in case you were wondering, I did cast my vote before leaving the U.S. It fell into the “in-person absentee voting” category. But I can assure you, I was not “absent” at all. Nope, I was in-person present. One hundred percent.

Kitties on our bed

Today I was hit hard by jet lag. Not on Monday, not yesterday. Today. Go figure.

 

At any rate, in between snoozes, mental wanderings and loads of laundry, I have been working on a couple of different posts. In addition to all the studies I still have to read (!), a couple of blog readers have sent me some excellent ideas and connections. So lots of work lies ahead…but, for the time being, I have been concentrating mainly on examining the inside of my eyelids…

 

This (above) is the scene that I came upon earlier this afternoon in our bedroom. Starting in the background, clockwise from the left: Priscilla, Piccolo, Peekaboo and Puzzola. It’s such a rare happening, i.e., to get all four of them in the same photo, that I just had to post it.

Cape Cod beach

On Saturday, the day before I returned to Italy, my sister and I went off on a long drive—to the herring run in Harwich and to Chatham, with its picturesque old houses.

 

On our way home, we stopped at Cold Storage Beach (see photo) in East Dennis where we were treated to an extraordinary sight, that of a seemingly endless stream of migrating birds flying over the water way off in the distance. They looked like snow geese with black-tipped wings.

 

Ah, if only I had had a professional camera with a powerful lens…so that I could have taken some better photos. Too bad. But it was a sight that I shall never forget…in my mind, at least!

 

The wind on the beach was freezing, so my sister soon retreated to the warmth of the car, but I remained on the beach for quite some time, ignoring the chill and taking photos of the geese flying south…and of the adorable little sandpipers (?) that were running like mad all over the beach.

 

Gorgeous day. And it was great to be out with my sister.

Travel stories

I returned to Florence yesterday afternoon and am still a bit jet-lagged. Zzzzz! Easy flight, though. Thanks to strong tail winds, the flight (Boston-Zurich) was over before I had time to finish watching a second movie. Drat, I hate to miss movie endings… Plus, the first movie I watched, as you will soon read, was a huge disappointment. 

 

But first, have you ever had the experience of having perfect strangers come up to you and recounting their life stories? That happens to me all the time, I have no idea why. Yesterday was no exception. While waiting to board my flight in Boston, I sat down to read Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, vegetable, miracle.” An elderly Greek man chomping loudly on some cheese chips sat down next to me. He began chatting to me (i.e., not to the other person on his right). I had to put down my book. During our wait, I learned intimate details about his wife and her recent thyroid operation, the expensive birthstone necklace he bought for her birthday, the cousin who was going to meet him in Athens and accompany him to the island where he was born, and his family and life in general. He seemed to have popped right out of one of my favourite movies in the universe, “My big fat Greek wedding.” I was most amused. A lovely encounter.

 

During the flight to Zurich, I watched the “Sex and the City” movie. I almost turned it off several times, bored to death and extremely annoyed at all the waste and silliness and unconvincing relationships, wondering how I ever managed to watch the entire first season of this series, and bits and pieces of subsequent seasons. Yep, I used to enjoy watching “Sex and the City,” and I was looking forward to seeing the movie. Well, perhaps it was just that yesterday I was in no mood to watch something so dim-witted. I mean, would you build an entire enormous walk-in closet just for your expensive designer stiletto heel shoes? Perhaps I don’t “get it” because I am a flat-heel, comfy shoe type of gal. And I definitely do not follow the newest fashion trend. Well, whatever the reason!, I thought the movie portrayed enormously wasteful and superficial lifestyles—all the fashion shopping, extravagant dinners, fancy drinks et similia made my stomach turn. But, come to think of it, there was another thing that made my stomach turn…

 

The young woman sitting next to me on the Boston-Zurich flight had some sort of terrible intestinal ailment, poor thing. Early in the flight I got a whiff of an appalling smell. More than a whiff, actually. At first I thought it was drifting down from the toilets but soon realized that this dreadful stench was in fact originating from my quiet flight companion. At one point, through my earphones, I even heard her happily tooting away. She made no attempt to get up and search for a more secluded place…nope, Fart Vader sat right next to me the entire flight, blasting away and clogging up my breathing space. The only thing that kept me sane was the happy thought that no germs could possibly survive in that fetor. We were surrounded by people coughing and sneezing, you see. At any rate, I tell ya, I was mighty happy to get off that flight! 

 

Back in Florence. For different reasons, Stefano and the cats were sooooo happy to see me. Piccolo hasn’t let me wander out of his sight in the past 12 hours. If I move, he moves. Right now he is pretending to be asleep on my scanner, but I can tell that he is keeping an eye on me, making sure I won’t escape again. As soon as I walked in the door yesterday afternoon, he rushed up to me, rubbing and banging his head against my legs and telling me about all he has had to put up with during my absence. Seriously, he sounded just like a whiny little kid. Meow meoooow brrrrr rauhhhh whirrrr, he complained. Too cute.

 

When I turned on my computer this morning, I found close to 700 new e-mails. Aaargh! A bunch of folks have written to me through my blog Contact form, which is great, don’t get me wrong, but please give me a few days to sort through this huge pile of messages. I will answer, or try to answer, everyone’s queries at some point. But if you don’t hear from me in the next day or so, and you have an urgent question, please contact me again. Okay, I’d better get to work. I also have to prepare my English classes for tomorrow. Ciao!