Monthly Archives: December 2008

New Year resolutions…

The first time I heard of these things was when I moved back to the U.S. in the early 1980s. I grew up in Italy, you see, and my Italian friends never made resolutions. What we did on New Year’s Eve was get together for a never-ending feast with all sorts of wonderful homemade food and play traditional and very noisy New Year’s games. At midnight, we kissed, toasted to the new year and had a bite of all the traditional foodstuffs that are thought to bring good luck and wealth. Then, more games, more fun and laughter, more toasting to the new year. But I remember no talk of resolutions.

 

At any rate, for my first few years in the U.S., I thought that New Year’s resolutions were simply brilliant, so every year I did my best to make a list filled with good intentions. I soon realized that it was pointless. I would simply never do this and would certainly never ever do that. In the end, I didn’t see the point of promising to do something that I knew I wouldn’t get around to doing, so I gave up. It would have been terribly two-faced of me…hmmm, and as it turns out, two-faced is exactly right…

 

Yesterday I became slightly curious about the origin of New Year resolutions, so I looked it up. It would seem that this tradition dates back to 153 B.C., when the Roman god Janus, the guardian of doors and gates, of beginnings and endings, was placed at the head of the calendar.

 

The peculiarity about Janus was that he had two faces (aha!), one facing forward, one backwards, so that when he walked into a room, I read on one website, he could say both “hello” and “goodbye.” Hehe, fancy that… At any rate, because of his ability to see into the past with one face and into the future with the other, Janus became the symbol of New Year’s resolutions. So the idea that we all get a fresh start at the beginning of the new year is nothing new, since this is also the time when ancient Romans would ask for forgiveness from their enemies and vow to live in peace…

 

There are a number of good luck rituals in the Italian New Year festivities. As I mentioned last year, you have to wear something red (red underwear sales soar in this period). You also have to eat lentils during dinner on December 31st (we eat lentils on January 1st, too, to cover all bases). And don’t forget, quello che si fa il primo dell’anno si fa tutto l’anno, that is, what you do on the first day of the year you will do for the rest of the year…so plan only FUN stuff for tomorrow and under no circumstances bring out the vacuum cleaner!

 

Well, whether we make lists of resolutions/follow any superstitious rituals or not, may Janus beam down on all of us with both faces during 2009…and shower us with good health and happiness. Felice Anno Nuovo!!!

Genistein and myeloma

A blog reader/myeloma list friend (thank you!) sent me the link to a newly published study on genistein and multiple myeloma: http://tinyurl.com/a3qezp

 

Sherlock is abroad for the holidays, so I can’t get my hands on the full study until she returns, but the abstract gives us enough information for a preliminary report: genistein down-regulates NF-kappaB and related gene products…bcl-2 and bcl-x (well, well…well!) and others. But the main point is that genistein kills human myeloma cells, thus providing the molecular basis for the treatment of myeloma patients with this pharmacologically safe agent.

 

I had paid no serious attention to genistein because of the well-known problem of genetically modified soy…oh, right, because genistein derives mainly from soybeans, though small quantities can be found in other legumes, such as chickpeas. But from now on I will be keeping closer tabs on it. And perhaps eating more chickpeas…

 

This morning I bumped into another reason to keep an eye on genistein. A 2002 abstract (see: http://tinyurl.com/86ednx) discussed lab tests showing that genistein stimulates osteoblasts and inhibits osteoclasts; that is, it stimulates bone formation and prevents bone destruction. But these results had not been verified on human subjects…until 2002, that is.

 

That is when Italian researchers performed a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study to evaluate and compare with hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) the effect of the phytoestrogen genistein on bone metabolism and bone mineral density (BMD) in postmenopausal women.

You can read many more details in the abstract, but the point is that This study confirms the genistein-positive effects on bone loss already observed in the experimental models of osteoporosis and indicates that the phytoestrogen [genistein, that is] reduces bone resorption and increases bone formation in postmenopausal women.

Excellent news for us myeloma folks…but before getting too excited about genistein and testing it on ourselves, my advice is to do more research into any possible risks and side effects (allergic reactions to soy and so on). I am definitely not in the genistein camp yet…but I am still reading, even though my task is rendered more difficult by the obnoxious presence of blatantly biased (one way or the other) websites. We need to find objective, more reliable sources…

Recent regimens

Hallie asked me a question that I thought I would answer in a post for reasons of length, mainly. Her question: I was wondering if you could refresh our memories as to what exactly has been your curcumin regimen for the past 6 months. How much curcumin daily, dissolved in what oil?

 

I have been taking 8 grams of curcumin, the C3 Complex kind that is used in the MD Anderson clinical trial, with bioperine (mostly Doctor’s Best but also the NSI brand by Vitacost, the 500 mg capsules in both cases…no financial interest in either company, btw!).

 

I haven’t experimented with C3 Complex curcumin powder in a long time, but I do plan to return to the kitchen early next year. So the answer to your question is no, at present I don’t dissolve my curcumin in oil or fat of any kind. I just swallow more than 20 capsules on an empty stomach at the end of the day.

 

Let’s see. Between July and November 2008, I took quercetin, curcumin and fish oil, all in capsule format.

 

Fish oil dosage: in early June 2008 I started on 1 gram of fish oil per day (a gel capsule; the oil is purified from heavy metal contaminants, which is extremely important). Since my November tests, I have increased my daily intake to 2 grams.

 

Quercetin dose: since the end of July, more or less 15 minutes before swallowing my capsules of curcumin and fish oil, I have been taking 1 gram of quercetin with bromelain.

 

My feverfew experiment began in November 2008, the day after I had my blood tests. Based on what I have been reading, I believe that I am taking too small a dose to make much difference, but for now I have decided to follow the instructions on the bottle and take only one pill a day. Based on my motto, primum non nocere, I want to see what happens, if anything. After all, the dose can always be increased. The percentage of parthenolide in each tiny pill is 3 %, the highest I could find on the market (but if anyone finds a reliable source providing a higher percentage per pill, please let me know).

 

Older regimens. As you can read on my “Some 2008 results” Page, between February-April 2008, after the Biocurcumax or BCM-95 catastrophe, Sherlock and I tested EGCG (green tea extract), in addition to our standard 8 grams of curcumin with bioperine. I also took flaxseed oil capsules (until June, when I changed to fish oil capsules, see above).

 

In April 2008 we stopped taking EGCG and began testing resveratrol (extracted mainly from the skin of red grapes).

 

I hope this answers your question! 😉

Personal stuff. We had a low-key but very relaxing and pleasant Xmas, playing cards, watching dvds etc. I still have a bit of a cough, and Stefano is also a bit under the weather, so we have postponed our plans to visit parts of Tuscany that we haven’t see yet. Perhaps next week…yes…in the meantime, though, it’s really nice to be at home with our kitties.

Tanti auguri di buone feste!

Well, I was forced to give up on my plan to decorate our tall (fake) Xmas tree this year…mainly because of our mischievous little Peekaboo. She is definitely a jumper whose favourite pastime (well, one of them) is to climb all the way up Stefano’s bookshelf and gently tap away at any objects up there…until they crash onto the floor. The more noise she can make, the better. These bang crash boom noises used to startle me so much that I would dart upstairs to make sure that all the cats were alive.

 

And every time, the little rascal, who by then had jumped down off the bookshelf, would approach me with an innocent I-didn’t-do-it! grin and a friendly meow, her tail straight up in the air. Needless to say, crashing sounds from Stefano’s study don’t alarm me anymore. At any rate, this is why I knew that a tall Xmas tree in our living room would probably not be a good idea. But we had to have a tree!

 

So I set up a small (fake) Xmas tree. This ended up being a time-consuming project…since both Peekaboo and Priscilla had made up their stubborn little minds to help me at all costs (so adorable, though…).

 

I stuck the tree on top of a small cabinet in a corner of our dining room, up against a wall on one side and barricaded with packages and Italian panettone and pandoro on the other, trying to make the area as cat-proof as possible. So far, my obstacle course has worked. So far…

 

Well, tomorrow is Xmas, so I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Merry Xmas and Buon Natale! Auguri!

Connections…

Today I found a good reason to keep eating one of my favourite types of food: paaaaaasta! A December 15th Science Daily article (http://tinyurl.com/8s45zy) reports on a recent Tufts University study showing that when dieters eliminate carbohydrates from their meals, they performed more poorly on memory-based tasks than when they reduce calories, but maintain carbohydrates. When carbohydrates were reintroduced, cognition skills returned to normal.

 

Pasta has taken more than a few knocks in recent years: it’s fattening, it’s bad for you blablabla…instead of pasta, we are told to eat low carb foods and more protein blablabla. Okay, I confess that I went so far as to buy Dr. Atkins’ book a few years ago…but went…no farther. I simply cannot give up pasta. I don’t eat it as often as I used to, but it is definitely my favourite dish on the planet. You know the question: “if you were shipwrecked on a desert island and could have only one kind of food for the rest of your life, what would it be?” Oh well, I would not hesitate to answer: pasta pasta pasta!

 

Besides, I don’t think it’s good to exclude entire categories of food from our diet…unless those categories happen to be soft drinks, sugar-ridden candy or other things that are reaaaaaally bad for us, especially for us cancer folks.

 

Let’s get back to the article, though. And I quote: The popular low-carb, no-carb diets have the strongest potential for negative impact on thinking and cognition. Now, I don’t know about you, but I like to remember stuff. And I also like to think. I don’t want to do anything to impair these two wonderful brain functions…

 

Let’s read on: While the brain uses glucose as its primary fuel, it has no way of storing it. Rather, the body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which is carried to the brain through the blood stream and used immediately by nerve cells for energy. (More details can be found in the article.)

 

Study results: Low-carb dieters showed a gradual decrease on the memory-related tasks compared with the low-calorie dieters. Reaction time for those on the low-carb diet was slower and their visuospatial memory was not as good as those on the low-calorie diet. The only positive outcome for the low-carb folks was their capacity for enhanced attention in the short-term.

 

So hey, go ahead and have a bowl of pasta. Broccoli and garlic pasta is one of my favourites… I favour simple sauces, preferably vegetable-based, over cream-based and overly rich sauces…

 

Not all the news is good, though, especially for those of us who, sigh, enjoy different forms of glucose, whether it be pasta or sweets (luckily, most of my Xmas cookies get put inside holiday bags, tied with pretty ribbons and given to friends and colleagues as presents, so temptation is removed…except for the occasional broken or imperfect cookie, which never goes to waste…).

 

Yesterday, and here, without further ado, we get to the bad news, I read a December 20th Science Daily article (http://tinyurl.com/9lsqln) on a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine study discussing neurons (=nerve cells) and cancer cells. Even though these are two completely different types of cells, they share the same goal, which is to avoid apoptosis (=death). How do they manage to do that?

 

Answer: by gobbling up sugar. We have looked at the cancer-sugar link in previous posts (I have a Page on it)…this report simply gives us more scientific proof that there is a definite connection. I quote, Both neurons and cancer cells do have something in common: relying extensively on the metabolism of glucose, a simple sugar. They achieve this via a series of chemical reactions, a process that is beyond my point here (but you can read about it in the article).

 

So sugar-guzzling is one of the survival mechanisms of neurons and cancer cells. If we eliminate glucose entirely, the study implies, we end up harming not only our cancer cells (good) but also our neurons (bad). And vice versa, of course. Damned if you do…etc.

 

But hey, there is a pale silver lining in this particular cloud. I came across another recently-published scientific study demonstrating that during the Xmas festivities this process is temporarily suspended. Indeed, apparently and incredibly, the complete opposite occurs: cancer cells that get even a tiny whiff of glucose deriving from Xmas cookies or Italian panettone/pandoro spontaneously explode. But this peculiar phenomenon takes place only during the Xmas holidays, so we must hurry to take advantage of it…

Very sad news…

Yesterday a dear blog friend informed me that his beloved wife of 59 years passed away last week after developing a nasty lung infection. Oh, I am very very sorry…and since I cannot give you a real-life hug, I am sending you the biggest blog hug that I can fabricate.

Today’s post is based on a long, fascinating message he wrote to me in April 2007 (less than a month after I embarked upon my blogging journey) and an e-mail he wrote to me yesterday. He is my first blog friend, my first blog mentor…as well as one of my most faithful readers. He has both encouraged and challenged me in many ways.

And I hope you will continue to do so, my dear dear friend.

My friend’s wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) in 1993. By 1998 her neurologist declared that there was nothing left to be done, and my friend should prepare for the inevitable: death. This, he writes, was his wake-up call. Until then, he had been the “typical citizen, relying on our physicians to take care of our health problems, but upon hearing there was nothing they could do for [name omitted], I decided if anyone was going to help her it had to be me. But what to do and how to do it?” He set a goal for himself, which was to search the world for known, safe alternative substances that might offer the possibility of slowing down or arresting her decline, maybe buying her some time so that the ongoing extensive medical research might produce in that time more effective drugs than were then available.

My friend spent the following six months online. He learned the medical jargon and read everything he could about AD. He found out on his own what was going on in research labs all over the world. He reached out to everyone he knew for tips. And slowly but surely he compiled a list of mainly alternative treatments, checking each item carefully with his wife’s new, more open-minded neurologist.

He tested promising plant extracts on himself before administering them to his wife. Even so, though, he proceeded with extreme caution, giving her doses of each alternative in small, gradual increments, while closely monitoring her with appropriate blood tests. He also took notes of any improvements and recorded her responses to ensure that no adverse side effects occurred.

A very important note: he believes, and so do I!, that people with AD (or myeloma or any other type of “disease,” for that matter) should not attempt to do what he did unless they have the full support and backup of their attending physician.

After he began administering curcumin and fish oil to his wife, her decline stopped. She even showed a few signs of cognitive improvement, which, he writes, is real progress in a disease where there is almost never progress.

His message ends with some excellent advice:

1)  Never give up hope.

2)  Seek and you shall find.

3)  Today everyone has in the Internet an empowerment tool that can change their life and health, if they will only learn how to effectively use that tool. Knowledge brings power.

4)  Each of us should take charge of our health, even as we expect our doctors to take charge of our illness. But doctors don’t get paid for keeping us well, so we must do the job.

5)  Yet in our illnesses we can help the doctor help us the most when we learn as much as we can absorb about the illness and the treatment.

6)  Sharing with others what we have learned about dealing with an illness or even just how to stay healthy can produce benefits to the giver as well as the receiver.

A good reason not to diet

I am woefully behind in my research and Science Daily readings, but, in my defence, my mad Xmas cookie baking period has begun. This weekend I have baked several different types of brownies and cookies (my main thanks go to Martha Stewart and Marcel Desaulniers; Desaulniers’ book, “Death by chocolate cookies,” is my cookie…bible).

 

Chocolate chip cookies, raspberry coconut bars, cream cheese brownies, nut brownies, blondies, chocolate sandwich cookies (=baci di dama, in Italian, meaning “ladies’ kisses”), apple oatmeal spice cookies, thumbprint cookies…you name it, I have baked it (this photo gives a sample of the cookies I am taking to my card-playing pals this evening). My back is killing me this evening…but homemade cookies make the best presents…

 

Anyway, this brings me to a Science Daily November 25 article (http://tinyurl.com/5k9qbk), which gives us a good excuse to chomp on cookies and brownies during this period. That is, if we need an excuse: Dieters or those who consume fewer calories during flu season could have a harder time fighting off the flu virus, according to research by Michigan State University nutritional immunology professor Elizabeth Gardner

Even with an adequate vitamin intake, mice on restricted calorie diets had a harder time fighting the flu virus and a longer time recovering than mice who were on normal diets. Proof that vitamins cannot make up for a poor diet, I guess.

So don’t go on a diet during flu season. Eat normally and go ahead and have another cookie…(possibly with less sugar…don’t forget that cancer loves sugar!)

Vitamin K and myeloma

Premise: my interest in most vitamins, except for vitamin D and (occasionally) a few others, has always been marginal. I also do not take a multivitamin or any individual vitamins.

 

Recently, though, I happened upon a Japanese study on vitamin K and myeloma: http://tinyurl.com/4tg824. I had already read about vitamin K on Don’s “Myeloma Hope” blog. But what this particular study revealed was news to me. As follows:

 

Vitamin K inhibits the growth of myeloma cells.

 

Before taking a look at the study, though, what is vitamin K, and can we obtain it from our diet? It’s a fat-soluble vitamin known as the “clotting” vitamin (the “K” in fact derives from the German word Koagulation), because our blood would not clot without it. (Note: warfarin, or Coumadin, is a vitamin-K antagonist because it inhibits coagulation.)

 

There is a lot of helpful but very technical information on the Linus Pauling Institute website: http://tinyurl.com/33dlfy

 

A few observations. Vitamin K is essential for the health of our bones. One of the consequences of vitamin K deficiency is, in fact, a reduction in osteoblast, i.e. bone-building, activity (see the LP Institute’s “Disease Prevention” section). And, surprise surprise!, I read that vitamin K deficiencies frequently occur in multiple myeloma patients. Hah.

 

Our bodies are unable to store vitamin K for long periods of time or in large amounts, which is why it is crucial to eat foods that contain it (unless you are taking warfarin). Vitamin K is present in cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach and leafy vegetables in general. A partial vitamin K food list can be found on the LP Institute website (scroll down to “Sources”).

 

Interesting excerpt: To consume the amount of vitamin K associated with a decreased risk of hip fracture in the Framingham Heart Study (about 250 mcg/day), an individual would need to eat a little more than 1/2 cup of chopped broccoli or a large salad of mixed greens every day. Well, that’s not too difficult!

 

An excellent source of information on vitamin K is the World’s Healthiest Foods: http://tinyurl.com/ewrbe It tells us how vitamin K works and clearly explains the difference between the three different forms of vitamin K: Vitamin K1, phylloquinone, is the plant form of this nutrient. Vitamin K2, menaquinone, is produced from K1 by the bacteria in animal and human intestines. Vitamin K3, menadione, is a synthetic version. The one that is of interest to us myeloma folks, as we will see in a second, is vitamin K2, found mainly in eggs, liver (bleah!), some cheeses and fermented foods. This page also provides a long list of foods high in vitamin K. Very, very useful!

 

Okay, let’s go back now to the Japanese study that I mentioned at the beginning of the post. It examines the effect of vitamin K2 (aha!) specifically on myeloma cells. Previous studies showed that vitamin K2 can kill cell lines derived from patients with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and acute leukemia, as well as freshly isolated leukemic cells.

 

An excerpt from the study’s Discussion: VK2 may be a good candidate therapeutic agent for myeloma patients since it caused growth inhibition, induced apoptosis via the mitochondrial pathway, activated apoptosis-inducing p38 MAPK,37-39 and generated reactive oxygen species.

 

Another important result was that vitamin K2 and dexamethasone were found to work synergistically against myeloma cells. And, by the way, the study mentions our old enemy, Bcl-x. When exposed to vitamin K2, Bcl-x was reduced. Hah!

 

Before filling up on vitamin K2, though, we should know that high doses could cause adverse effects such as thromboembolic events. This is of particular clinical relevance, because it is now recognized that thalidomide leads to increased rates of thromboembolic events in MM patients, especially when used in combination with other anti-myeloma agents (e.g., dexamethasone or alkylators). Therefore, if VK2 were to be used clinically as one of the therapeutic agents, it would have to be started at a low dose and with meticulous care to avoid thrombotic events.

 

Final considerations. The researchers point out that these were in vitro experiments done at high-dose concentrations for short periods. The long-term effects of vitamin K2 are not known. However, they add, supplementation with vitamin K2 might be useful in the treatment of elderly patients or patients who are unable to undergo harsh conventional treatments.

 

I will not take a vitamin K supplement, but I will print the WHF chart of vitamin K food sources and hang it up in my kitchen…just to make sure now and again that my vitamin K intake is adequate. I am so glad I did this bit of research today!

Dolphin rings

A blog reader/friend (thanks!) sent me a video of, and I quote, dolphins playing with silver-coloured rings, which they have the ability to make underwater. It isn’t known how they learn this, or if it’s an inbred ability.

 

The dolphin does a quick flip of its head and a silver ring appears in front of its pointed beak. The ring is a solid, donut shaped bubble about two-ft across, yet it doesn’t rise to the surface of the water.

 

Please take a few seconds to have a look at this amazing clip: http://tinyurl.com/2jse4g

 

P.S. Many blog readers get in touch with me via my blog’s Contact form. Time permitting, I always try to answer any questions posed to me. But, for some unfathomable reason, the Mailer Daemon doesn’t always deliver my replies. This is the case, e.g., of the replies I sent to Frank H. and Scott (Two). It’s frustrating, but there is nothing I can do about it. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that it’s not always my fault if you don’t hear from me. Too bad, though!

 

P.P.S.S. For Alex: I began taking a feverfew supplement the day after my November blood tests.

Thunderstruck

This morning I went to see my family doctor. I had made this appointment last month merely to wish him and his family a happy holiday and give him a few gifts, mainly a big batch of my “famous” Xmas cookies and a few bottles of curcumin. But since I still have a bit of a cough, he listened to my lungs. All clear. No signs of pneumonia. So I will continue to take the antibiotic for a few more days, a total of 10 days, and that should be it.

 

I then showed him my recent bone density tests (see my “Bones of steel” post). I wish I had brought my camera with me. The look on his face was priceless. He was absolutely thunderstruck. A translation of what he said runs more or less as follows: I can’t believe this. I have never seen results like these.

 

When I asked him to elaborate, he told me that we begin losing bone mass after age 20…after that age, the best that one can hope for is for a T-score of ZERO, which would mean that one’s bones are as strong as they were at age 20 (if I recall correctly). But my score, for both my femur and neck, is not a mere zero. It is a positive number, a very positive number. Bones of steel…indeed.

 

But there is more good news. When I returned home, I found my November blood test results in my mailbox. A few results, such as the usual graph, are missing, so I must call the lab tomorrow morning to see what happened and have them send me another copy. But I have most of my results. And I was stunned. Simply stunned. Still am…

 

I will compare the November results to my July ones. I will concentrate on the more interesting results. From now on, J = July; N = November.

 

1.     White cell count. J = 3.88; N = 5.05. (NR: 4-10) Back in the NR.

2.     Red cell count. J = 4.12; N = 4.41. (NR: 4.20-5.40) Ditto.

3.     Hemoglobin. J= 12-2; N =13.2. (normal range: 12-16 g/dL) Even more within the NR.

4.     Hematocrit. J = 35.8; N = 38.3 (NR: 36-46). Back inside the NR!

5.     Iron. J = 57; N = 100. (NR: 60-140 mcg/dL) Finally, finally!!!

6.     LDH. J = 163; N = 151. Still within the NR, but an even better result.

7.     Total protein. J = 8.9; N = 8.6. (NR: 6-8.6 g/dL) Back to the NR!!!

 

But the best is yet to come. My IgA and IgM have finally reversed their negative downward trend. At least for these tests. My IgA has gone up a fraction of a fraction, from 0.0667 to 0.07, but my IgM has gone from 0.08 to a whopping 0.12!!! Okay, so these are teeny tiny percentages, but every little bit counts (tutto fa brodo, as we say in Italian). And hey, my IgM has made quite a comeback–more than 30%! I think my haematologist will be pleased.

 

Let’s see, what else? My total IgG has gone from 33.20 down to 32.80 (luckily, it’s been on a steady downward trend ever since my high result of 35.3 in February 2008, after the failed Biocurcumax/BCM-95 experiment), and my M-spike has also gone down a bit: from 2.46 (July) to 2.33 (November).   

 

More good news: my parathyroid hormone level has also gone down quite a bit. Indeed, it’s almost normal, now. This is amazing. I wonder what the endocrinologist will think of that!

 

I suppose I should mention again what supplements I took between the end of July and November. Not much, actually: my usual 8 grams of curcumin with bioperine, 1 gram of quercetin/bromelain and 1 gram of fish oil. All in capsule form.

 

Stefano and I are going to celebrate my results this evening. When I called him at work earlier, he told me to put a bottle of spumante (Ferrari Brut, our favourite!) in the fridge. I will go do that now…