Monthly Archives: September 2009

Viva la ciccia!

My parents are leaving for the U.S. later today. I won’t see them again for months, but I don’t want to think about that right now…I want instead to write about what we did yesterday.

Yesterday morning Stefano suggested that we drive down to Panzano, near Greve in Chianti…if that means nothing to you, well, it’s in the heart of Chianti wine territory, roughly halfway between Florence and Siena. Typical Tuscan scenery—olive groves, rolling hills, old farmhouses, ancient turrets, vineyards…lovely, still not too spoiled…

We had lunch at a restaurant managed by Dario Cecchini and his family. Cecchini is “perhaps the most famous butcher in the world,” according to Anthony Bourdain (see: http://tinyurl.com/dgldnv). Certainly the most famous in Italy. His restaurant is called “Solo Ciccia,” which means “Only Meat” in the Tuscan dialect.

It came as a surprise to us that everyone sits together at the same table, just like an extended family. Our “family” consisted of a U.S. couple from Chicago and three Tuscan nuclei—an elderly couple, a young couple, and three women (mother, daughter, aunt). By the time the first platters of food arrived, we were all chatting, in English and Italian. Lovely.

I forgot to take photos of the different types of food we ate, mostly meat-based of course…more than ten platters of mouth-watering food…batter-fried meat and veggies, braised and roasted meat etc., accompanied by a truly outstanding Chianti red wine…oh, and, while we were having olive oil & pine nut cake with grappa and other liqueurs at the end of the meal, the butcher-poet himself made a quick appearance to say hi and make sure that we had eaten enough and were having a good time…a man of huge charisma, that Dario Cecchini!

We spent a total of two hours at the table…the restaurant has a fixed price, and you cannot choose single items from a menu. You have to eat whatever is brought to the table, but I assure you that we ate and ate and ate until we could eat no more. And the woman who served us this incredible amount of food kept accusing us of not being hungry and pushing us to eat more, just like a stereotypical Italian mamma

IMG_3020If you are travelling to Tuscany…well, this is an experience that I would highly recommend…unless you are a vegetarian, of course!

P.S. My photo depicts two marble signs posted outside Cecchini’s butcher shop. The one on top commemorates the “demise” of the famous Florentine T-bone steak, the thick and delicious “bistecca alla fiorentina,” which occurred in 2001, when certain cuts of meat were banned as a result of the mad cow scare that swept Europe in the late 1990s. I remember news reports showing hundreds of steak lovers attending Panzano’s mock funeral procession for the bistecca. The ban was lifted five years later, a fact that is gleefully celebrated in the second marble plaque (brightened by a real red rose).

(Plaque 1: “ridotta invalida, preferì la morte.” In memoria della bistecca alla fiorentina, scomparsa prematuramente il 31 marzo 2001. Plaque 2: Le mie preghiere alfin furon accolte. Torna la fiorentina e ben ci azzecca. Invalida morì, visse due volte. E infatti il nome suo com’è: bistecca!)

Laughter and allergies

“Lucy…I’m hooome!” Yes, my computer is fixed…it works perfectly…in fact, even better than before! Yaaay! Oh, okay, actually, to be honest, my genius of a husband fixed it a couple of days ago, but I took some time off and had some fun with the family over the weekend. More on that tomorrow…(grin)…

Anyway, I just finished reading a fascinating article concerning the effect of laughter on various ailments, mainly allergies, written by Jacob Schor, a naturopathic doctor with a practice in Denver (I subscribe to his excellent newsletter). Click on this link to read it: http://tinyurl.com/yeawx43

I would like to add that, as we know, 1. myeloma cells proliferate like mad in the presence of stress hormones, (see my “myeloma and stress” page: http://tinyurl.com/ydxrc83), and 2. laughter is a well-known stress-reliever…it doesn’t take much to put…one and two together. I am so convinced of the healthful benefits of laughter that I have devoted an entire section of my blog to funny videos and jokes and other silly whatnots (just scroll down my Page list on the right until you reach the heading “Laughter and MM”). 

I laugh a lot…but after reading this bit of news, I want to laugh even more! (…remember Norman Cousins and the Marx Brothers?)

Atchoo!

Well, my computer’s slight sniffle (=what seemed to be a small, easily fixable problem) has turned into a rather violent sneeze fest. The new hard disk turned out to be incompatible with the floppypoppy, which then screwed up the schloopyloopy, and then the snappynappy didn’t work anymore. As you can see, I have no clue as to what happened. All I know is that for the past couple of evenings, after work, my poor Stefano has been taking my computer apart and putting it back together under Peekaboo’s careful supervision (awww, sooo cute!). Last night, my hero finally solved the snafu, whatever it was!, but he didn’t have time to re-install all my data. He will do so tonight…that is, if there are no more atchoos!

He told me to use his mega-super-technologically-advanced computer today…but, without my files, e-mail, etc., there is really no point. So I will focus on other things, which is not a bad idea sometimes…

I hope to be back “in business”…tomorrow! Ciao!

I’m an ailurophile…

Day before yesterday a blog reader sent me the full study on curcumin and myeloma cells’ multidrug resistance…yaaay! Then this morning another blog reader did the same, joking that it had actually not yet been translated but was still in the original Chinese (haha…well, yes, I admit, it is not at all an easy text to read…), but I haven’t had the time yet to transla…er, I mean, read it through carefully enough to write a draft. Perhaps tomorrow…

Today I have time only for a quick post before Stefano takes my computer apart (these things always makes me jittery, even though he is a computer genius and always creates backups of backups…of backups). There is something wrong with one of my hard disk drives…no biggie, he can fix it easily. It will just take all afternoon.

So I thought this would be a good day to tell you that I just found out I’m an “ailurophile.” How about that? Hmmm, might you be an ailurophile, too?

Yesterday I saw that Richard Lederer, of “Anguished English” fame, has written two new books, one for dog lovers, one for cat lovers. It is here http://www.verbivore.com/adven.htm that I first clapped my eyes on the word “ailurophile,” IMG_2950which, I now know, means “cat lover” (in ancient Greek, ailouros = “cat”). Hey, try saying “ailurophile” ten times fast! Tee-hee.

The above link has some interesting statistics on cats and dogs in the United States…how many people have dogs and cats, e.g., how much they spend on pet food and so on. I am not that surprised…

Like the two ailurophiles in Richard Lederer’s Introduction, I buy only the best food for my cats. But I don’t buy cat food in a regular supermarket. Nope. I go to a specialty pet store…where by now I am friends with the two ailurophile/cynophile owners.

And yes, I still occasionally waste money on cat toys, even though I am well aware that my kitties are probably going to show complete indifference…and I will be the one chasing after the new toy. When we are away, I coo to my magical, mystical cats over the phone sometimes. And I take more photos of them than of anybody/thing else. The list goes on.

As I have written before, cats also have a positive effect on our health and longevity: Studies show that owning a cat alleviates loneliness, anxiety, and depression; reduces stress, high blood pressure, and heart disease; and adds six months to the average person’s life. Well, even though I have cats for reasons other than my health, it is lovely to know that they are adding months to my life…! Now, if only they could cure cancer…

Busy with work but still trying to keep updated…

I have been very busy with a translation that was due today, pant pant, so I have had to ignore all the stuff that has been piling up on my desktop in the past few days…studies screaming to be read, blog drafts clamoring to be finished…you get the picture. I have to ignore their pitiful little cries…but I could not ignore this juicy morsel: http://tinyurl.com/ngvc3q

A bell went off in my head…but, since I cannot remember the content of all of my posts (hundreds, by now!), I had to do a quick search of my blog to make sure that I hadn’t already posted about this study, a study on the synergy of curcumin and melphalan and on the ability of curcumin to overcome multidrug resistance. Well, I had. The original study was published in January 2009 in Chinese…in a Chinese journal. I posted about the English-translated abstract on July 2nd, 2009. If you would like to see what I wrote back then (not much, actually), click on http://tinyurl.com/l5j5ch

But this time there is a difference. It would appear, in fact, that the study has been translated into English…yaaay! Therefore, if I am able to get my hands on it AND if it has indeed been translated into a language that I am familiar with, I will write a report about it…sooooon, I hope!

Smiling…

Many thanks to a blog reader for sending me the link to a video about the adorable kitty traveling with a young French couple from the U.S. to the southern tip of Argentina (see my September 12th post): http://tinyurl.com/poso46 I also watched a longer documentary in French about this unusual journey, with more cute footage of the super duper kitty: http://tinyurl.com/qs9go8 These videos put a huge smile on my face after I got home from work today…I hope you enjoy them as much as I did! :-)

Australian curcumin-MGUS clinical trial results: full study

Just minutes after I had asked her, Sherlock sent me the full study…a blog reader did the same just a few hours later…then another blogging friend…so now I have three copies of the same study…fabulous! Thank you all!

Let’s dive right into the report, which is only six pages long but is packed with interesting information. There is so much good stuff, in fact, that it was difficult not to go ahead and print the whole thing! (I cannot do that, of course, for obvious reasons…)

It begins with a description of MGUS and how it differs from multiple myeloma, including this item of interest, which explains why the bone turnover marker is so important, even in MGUS: Although MGUS is largely considered a benign condition, a number of studies show that patients with MGUS are at increased risk of developing fractures even before progression to myeloma. Elevated bone turnover is an independent predictor of fracture risk, and a number of studies have shown elevated bone resorption and/or reduced bone formation among patients with MGUS and myeloma. Incidentally, in case you have MGUS and were a bit taken aback by the words “even before progression to myeloma,” don’t forget that the overall risk of progression MGUS-MM is a mere 1% per year.

Now read this: It is currently not possible to predict the course in any individual patient, and clinically symptomatic myeloma may not evolve for as long as 20 years. Whoa. I don’t think I have seen a sentence like that in any other study–clinically SYMPTOMATIC myeloma may NOT EVOLVE for…TWENTY years??? I had no idea…

The researchers note that matters are different for those who are in a high-risk group—e.g., with high levels of M-protein or heaps of evil cells in the bone marrow or an abnormal free light chain ratio or IgA and IgM instead of IgG.

Well, let’s get to the part about curcumin. First comes the description of the Curcuma longa plant and the various properties of its active ingredient, curcumin. We know most of this stuff, including the fact that Curcumin has also been shown to inhibit osteoclastogenesis and thus reduce bone turnover. And then we get to one of the reasons underlying this clinical study: Based on the antimyeloma cell activity and inhibition of osteoclastogenesis exhibited by this polyphenol, we postulated that curcumin will inhibit the action of abnormal plasma cells and affect the activity of osteoclast cells in patients with MGUS. This study offered the opportunity to test a possible preventative strategy with little risk.

Study participants: 26 MGUS patients, 16 men and 10 women over the age of 45, with less than 36 g/L serum M-protein (median: 20 g/L), less than 10% neoplastic cells in the bone marrow and no CRAB symptoms or evidence of metabolic bone disorder. They were separated into two groups in this single-blind cross-over pilot study, which means that group A patients were given curcumin at the start of the study and were then crossed over to placebo at the end of 3 mo. Group B patients were given placebo initially and then crossed over to curcumin.

Aha, here is a useful titbit: Patients consumed two tablets twice daily, i.e., 4 grams/d (this dose has been defined as the dose at which plasma levels of curcumin can be measured and pharmacodynamic effects showed in vivo) half an hour before food or 1/2 h after food and were crossed over at 3 mo after initiating therapy. Treatment continued for 6 mo. This leaves me with a question…were there any differences between the half-hour-before-meals group and the half-hour-after-meals group? I found no answer to that in the study.

Let’s keep going. During the study, two patients developed diarrhea and abdominal cramping and withdrew. Ah, but read this: nine out of twenty-six MGUS folks had a VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY. I highlight that little fact, since I have come to believe strongly in the importance of maintaining NORMAL vit D levels. The researchers make no comment about this possibly significant (or not) finding…so my next project is to have a look at the Tables to see what happens to the low-vitamin-D patients when they start taking curcumin…

In the results part of the study, we can read that half of the MGUS folks whose serum M-protein was more than, or equal to, 20 g/L, experienced a 12-30% decrease in their M-protein levels. And when they were switched over to the placebo group, two of them showed a rebound in their serum paraprotein levels. The less than 20 g/L folks instead did not show a response to curcumin, but their serum paraprotein levels remained stable throughout the study period (that might have happened anyway, of course…).

Now for the placebo group: In contrast to a decrease in serum paraprotein seen in patients initiating curcumin therapy, patients receiving placebo showed stable or an increase in their serum paraprotein levels. When they began receiving curcumin, though, two patients showed a decrease in their serum paraprotein (12.5% and 15%, respectively).

Now for some info concerning bone turnover: Although 73% of patients did not show a change in their uNTx levels while taking curcumin or placebo, 27% of patients showed a decrease in their uNTx levels while taking curcumin. uNTx is a bone turnover marker determined by a urinary test. Some patients, therefore, may show a decrease in bone resorption in response to curcumin. Some, not all…

Discussion: The present study shows that oral curcumin (a known inhibitor of tumorigenesis and osteoclastogenesis) is able to decrease paraprotein load and bone resorption in a select group of patients with MGUS. Fifty percent of patients with a paraprotein >20 g/L responded with a 12% to 30% decrease in their paraprotein levels while taking 4 grams/day curcumin orally. The placebo folks had no such decrease in their paraprotein levels.

And then: Similar reductions in paraprotein have been seen with conventional antimyeloma therapies such as melphalan and dexamethasone. This is the first study, however, assessing the potential therapeutic effect of curcumin in MGUS patients.

The finding that only patients with higher serum paraprotein levels responded to curcumin is fascinating to me. The researchers suggest that this group may have an abnormal plasma cell clone that responds differently to curcumin or its metabolites. In vitro studies may help to differentiate a subpopulation of plasma cells that are curcumin responsive.

And here is more snack food for thought: The partial response rate (i.e., 50-75% decrease in paraprotein concentration) was 0% in both arms. In MGUS patients, the chance of a partial response are low because cell division is very slow. Even in smoldering myeloma, responses take much longer with a drug such as thalidomide compared with relapsed myeloma where cells are dividing more quickly. Indeed. 

The researchers conclude by stating that this pilot study has prompted them to commence a double-blind, randomized, control trial using higher dosages of curcumin in a larger cohort of MGUS patients with significant paraproteinaemia. Excellent. I am already looking forward to reading the results of the larger study!

Walking with Kitty

My cousin, grazieee!, sent me the link to an Italian news article about a young French couple who began a three-year, 15,000-kilometre walk (!) from Miami, Florida, U.S.A. to Uschuaia, Argentina, last year…on a daily budget of just one euro (!).

Well, truth be told, I wouldn’t have paid much attention to this story if there had not been a cat involved. A a stray kitty, you see, joined the couple when they arrived in Louisiana and has been traveling with them ever since. Awww, she is the cutest thing ever…makes me wish that I could train one of my cats to ride on my shoulder…hah, fat chance!

At any rate, especially if you are a cat lover, you must check out the 21 walking-cat photos at the following link (keep clicking on the word “Successivo” above each photo): http://www.repubblica.it/2006/08/gallerie/gente/gatto-mondo/1.html Fantastico!!!

MGUS and curcumin: new results from the Australian clinical trial!

This afternoon I received a Google Alert about a new study on curcumin and myeloma. I got so excited that I could barely finish reading the abstract! (see: http://tinyurl.com/mc8vth)

I have already asked my dear Sherlock if she can get her hands on the full study. In the meantime, the abstract informs us that 26 MGUS patients were given a daily dose of four grams of curcumin. Hmmm, come to think of it, these must be more results from the Australian MGUS-curcumin trial that I posted about on March 13 2009. Yes, I am sure of it…same names, same hospital. Well, well.

Let’s go directly to the results, which show that oral curcumin is able to decrease paraprotein load in a select group (i.e., those having a paraprotein level of >20 g/L) of patients with MGUS. Fifty percent (5 of 10) of these patients had a 12% to 30% reduction in their paraprotein levels, while on curcumin therapy. In addition, 27% of patients on curcumin had a >25% decrease in urinary N-telopeptide of type I collagen.

I’d never heard of this urinary peppy thingy, so I had to look it up. I found a study that explains its significance for myeloma patients: http://tinyurl.com/lqls9e Basically, it is a sensitive and specific marker of bone resorption in multiple myeloma. High levels of urinary N-telopeptide of type I collagen, or NTx, are found at advanced stages of disease. Okay, so the lower, the better.

But hey!, have a look at the Conclusions: Due to the possible progression of MGUS to multiple myeloma, the potential role of curcumin as a therapeutic intervention for MGUS patients warrants further investigation. Well, I’ll be…! Just knock me down with a Tetris tile! Oh, I can’t wait to read the whole shebang…!!!