Monthly Archives: April 2011

The ultimate body cleanser…

Since one of the articles listed in yesterday’s post mentioned the effect of curcumin on cholesterol, I thought this brand new study would be the perfect segue: http://goo.gl/bg3XE.

The full text is online, but here is the gist. A group of 16 healthy volunteers took a total of one gram of curcumin/day for 15 days. At the end of that period, tests revealed that their liver and kidney functions had improved, in some cases quite significantly, and the same was true of their cholesterol and blood glucose levels. When we consider that they were taking only ONE gram a day and that the trial lasted only for 15 days, these results are rather extraordinary…

I was at first puzzled by a statement that can be found on page 1 of the Introduction. According to the authors, it would be a problem to take eight grams of Curcuma longa every day particularly because of the taste. Ehhh? The taste of curcumin has never bothered me, not even when I was swallowing eight grams of C3 Complex curcumin powder mixed with a variety of substances, from heated coconut milk to 100% chocolate…not even when I tried a spoonful of curcumin powder straight from the bottle, just to see what it would taste like. And I think we all would all agree that curcumin doesn’t taste like anything when it is sealed inside a capsule that gets swallowed instantly…A baffling statement…that is, until I re-read it and realized that the authors were referring to a Swedish study (see: http://goo.gl/4wIru), which observes that one cannot possibly swallow six grams/day of TURMERIC (the spice, not the active ingredient) because of its taste. Ah, right…Curcuma longa, not curcumin! Duuuh, Margaret. Mystery solved… :)

As for its poor bioavailability, I would like to repeat (from memory) what Prof. Aggarwal said during an interview (which, btw, I link to from my blog; just scroll down my Pages on the right to find it), which makes total sense: curcumin is not a drug, so it is silly to think it will behave like a drug. Huge amounts of curcumin will never show up in the bloodstream, in other words. But, he adds, curcumin gets absorbed by some of our tissues within minutes after being ingested…And that is important.

And that is precisely why I found this study particularly intriguing. The amount of curcumin given to the healthy volunteers was, as we have seen, negligible compared to the amounts that most of us take…Yet even that itsy bit had a significant effect on many important markers…markers that are important for us myeloma folks, too—haemoglobin and creatinine, e.g. And in a very short period of time, too.

Yesterday I mentioned what curcumin has done to my own inherited/high cholesterol, so I don’t need to repeat all that again. However, I didn’t tell you that my Dad’s high cholesterol has also gone down quite a bit since he began taking curcumin (my parents, who are in their early 80s and healthy, take about 4 grams of curcumin/day, as does Stefano…for preventive purposes, of course).

Our (=my Dad’s and my own) experience is confirmed by the study results: 60% of the volunteers had a decrease in their total cholesterol levels. Also, The soluble curcumin also significantly lowered serum triglycerides and LDL cholesterol in 35% and 68% of subjects respectively, compared to the values recorded on first day. […] The reduction in LDL, = “bad” cholesterol, was of particular interest to me, since the same has happened to me, too. And the volunteers’ “good” cholesterol (HDL) was not affected, which also mirrors my own experience. If anything, the HDL went up…which is good, of course.

The volunteers’ liver markers also improved. Two thirds of them experienced a decrease in bilirubin, and most of them had a decrease in their urea and creatinine levels, too. Specifically, a whopping 87% saw their creatinine levels go down…wowsies! My creatinine levels have gone down, too. In my pre-curcumin period, they hovered around 0.9 mg/dL; on curcumin, they went down to 0.7. Not sure how “whopping” that is, but I am always glad to see my markers go in the right direction…

Interesting result: there was no change in the volunteers’ lymphocytes and neutrophils, which is good news, but there was a significant increase in the haemoglobin level of the healthy volunteers. Now, that particular sentence made me go check my haemoglobin levels…In the pre-curcumin period, my Hb was 13.20 g/dL. It is now 13.4. Not much of an increase, eh…But it is also true that I have changed labs, which could make a difference…

Discussion part. Let’s see…To recap, the ingestion of just a small amount of curcumin in a period of 15 days improved the blood chemistry, glucose and cholesterol levels of 16 healthy folks.

Ah, here is a relevant titbit: the reduction in these volunteers’ blood glucose was staggering. 75% of them experienced a significant decrease. I checked my test results and, yes, my blood glucose levels have diminished somewhat, too. Unfortunately, my liver markers and bilirubin were not tested in the pre-curcumin period, so I have no idea if they have improved or not. I did have them tested in 2008, and they were all way within the normal range. That info is not useful in terms of this study, though…

One thing that might be useful to some of you, even though it has nothing whatsoever to do with this study!, is that fact that I have noticed a significant improvement in my memory. I have written about this in previous posts, too, but I would like to mention it again now. Basically, before taking curcumin, I used to forget stuff that I now remember with ease. Hmmm…I have tried to come up with a good anecdote, but my mind has given me only a rather silly one. Since, however, I am sure something similar has happened to all of us, here it is:

Let’s say you need to go upstairs to get something but by the time you get to the top of the stairs you have become distracted by other thoughts and have forgotten why you went upstairs in the first place. That used to happen to me quite a lot in the pre-curcumin period, but it is definitely a thing of the past. In other words, I always remember WHY I go upstairs. :) Hmmm, I am sure that if I put my mind to it I could come up with a better example, but today is a busy day (again), so I don’t have much time…

Oh…dear me, speaking of which…is that the time? I have to rush off now. Parting words: if you can’t or don’t want to read the whole study (it’s only a few pages long and not too complicated, though), do have a look at the concluding remarks. I loved this sentence in particular: No pathological, behavioral abnormalities or lethality was observed. LETHALITY???

Hehe, that gave me a good chuckle today… :)

News snippets…

I got home from work with a slightly bothersome headache yesterday, so I wasn’t able to put the finishing touches on part II of my April 21 post. And today has turned out to be a busy day…so again part II remains unfinished…

I did, however, come across a few items that I hope you will find as interesting as I did…So, quickly, here we go:

1. The first concerns a new curcumin trial involving advanced bowel cancer patients, which will be held at Leicester Royal Infirmary in the UK in the fall. : http://goo.gl/vinUk I must remember to monitor this trial…

2. The second is a newspaper article on curcumin: http://goo.gl/H0unE. I have a couple of comments to add (please have a look at the article first):

  • Curcumin has not had any blood-thinning effects on me, as far as I can tell. My platelets have remained about the same as they were in the pre-curcumin period…Except my most recent test results show quite an increase: they are now 371…(!).
  • I have not lost (or gained) any weight since January 2006, when I began taking curcumin. So much for that point!
  • I inherited high cholesterol from my Dad’s side of the family, unfortunately. However, since beginning curcumin, my very high total cholesterol levels (more than 300!) have gone down more than 60 mg, which is excellent. This decrease, incidentally, has not affected my “good” cholesterol levels, which fluctuate between 80 and 100 mg/dL. Another important point: curcumin has really slashed my triglycerides, from pre-curcumin levels that were 90-99 to current levels = 56-66 mg/dL. Fabulous! That, by the way, has reduced my “risk” factor A LOT… 
  • Infections. As I have written here before, I had painful yeast infections for about a year or so before I began taking curcumin…Those are now a thing of the past. Relief!

3. Last but definitely NOT least, thanks to a blog reader I read a fascinating article on Tai Chi: http://goo.gl/h9vwp Please take note of this sentence: Other studies found Tai Chi helps build bone density, lower blood pressure and even boost the immune system, physical benefits normally attributed exclusively to more vigorous workouts. Increases bone density and boosts the immune system??? I didn’t know or remember that. Hmmm, I am begining to see more and more qigong in my future…For more info on tai chi and qigong, see, e.g.: http://goo.gl/Q44Q7 Okay, must go now…CIAO! :)

P.S. I just read this Science Daily article about the healthful effects of walking in a park and living in a “green” neighborhood: http://goo.gl/u6TJC This sentence was particularly interesting: Greener environments enhance recovery from surgery, enable and support higher levels of physical activity, improve immune system functioning, help diabetics achieve healthier blood glucose levels, and improve functional health status and independent living skills among older adults. More stuff we can do to help our immune system… :)

Save the whales…

I know that this doesn’t seem like a myeloma-related topic, but in a way it is, since it involves stress…MY stress levels, that is! This morning, you see, I read a bit of news that greatly upset me…and, as we know, stress makes myeloma cells proliferate. So that is why I am writing a post on this topic today…

Quick aside. Thanks to the 2009 award-winning documentary “The Cove,” we now know about the absolutely horrendous massacres of helpless dolphins that are herded into a blind cove in Japan…where they are brutally killed with spears and knives. I have still not been able to watch this documentary…probably never will…Too upsetting…

But let’s get to the topic at hand: whales. This morning I learned of another unnecessary and horrific massacre of majestic sea creatures…a massacre of pilot whales that happens right here in Europe, in my Europe…in a Danish protectorate called the Faroe Islands. This morning I saw the photos of a cute smiling little boy happily stabbing a bloody, dying whale. :(

Well, that was IT. Completely shocked and outraged, I decided to write this post…By the way, I apologize for any repetitions, but I am still upset…

Hundreds of beautiful pilot whales, babies included!, get surrounded out in the open ocean by the Faroe islanders on their boats and driven to shallow waters near the beach…where they are slowly and brutally slaughtered with knives, stones, clubs and spears…well, you get the picture.

Most civilized countries try to SAVE whales and dolphins…for obvious reasons that I don’t need to list here. Yet even recently, at the 2010 meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Morocco, representatives of the 88 member nations discussed whether or not to lift the 24 year ban on commercial whaling (taken from Wikipedia).

LIFT THE BAN? YOU’VE GOT TO BE BLOODY KIDDING!!! Not surprisingly, three of the main whaling countries–Iceland, Japan and Norway–demanded that the ban be lifted. OUTRAGEOUS!!! Shame, shame, shame…

There are a few things we can do…and it will only take a few minutes:

  1. Sign the online petitions. The one that Stefano and I signed this morning, re. the Faroe Islands slaughter, can be found here: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/Stop-Whale-Massacre-in-Faroe-Islands/
  2. Write letters. Letters are even more effective. At age 14 (35 years ago!), I was one of the founding members of the chapter of Amnesty International here in Florence, Italy. I know that letters in particular can make a big difference…The above link also gives addresses…I am going to send a personal message to the Prime Minister later today…
  3. Go on whale watches, especially those organized by scientific teams…I lived on Cape Cod, MA, for a few years, so I have been on several whale watches with the Dolphin Fleet (these are a couple of the photos I took a few years ago)…It is an amazing experience. And hey, if the pro-whaling countries were brought to realize that whale watching could really contribute to their country’s economy, perhaps they would agree to stop killing these magnificent animals…
  4. Support organizations such as Sea Shepherd: http://www.seashepherd.org/

Thank you!!!

Swans in love…and a purple heron…

What a day…aaah, what a glorious day…

Truth be told, it wasn’t so glorious when we woke up. On the contrary, it was raining and quite gloomy outside.

Undeterred, we decided to go ahead with our plans–spending the morning at the WWF Oasis of Gabbianello (http://goo.gl/9KJkX), located about a half hour drive from our house…not too far from Barberino di Mugello, for those who know Tuscany…

It’s a wetland area that has become very important for many bird species, migratory ones in particular. In addition to the usual birds we have been accustomed to spotting at the WWF Oasis of Focognano–great-crested grebes, coots, mallard ducks and so on–we also got a few good shots of a purple heron. I mean, a purple heron, you guys! :) What a thrill!

Ah, yes, and this is clearly the season of love, sweet love, as you can see in my second photo… :) Yes, we were lucky enough to witness the elegant mating ritual of a pair of swans…

Since we are not, by any means!, experts in swan behavior, what this pair was doing looked a bit mysterious to us…The only thing that was obvious is that it was all part of their courtship: our two Gabbianello swans were doing a lot of twisting around each other and winding their necks together…and dunking their heads under water over and over again…and circling around each other slowly, in a sort of mesmerizing dance…

Later in the day, after getting home, I read that all this peculiar-looking activity has the purpose of stimulating the swans’ hormones in preparation for…well, you know what…!

In the end, it wasn’t easy to leave our two graceful birds as they were water-dancing cheek to cheek and neck to neck…very sweet, it was…But we were beginning to get hungry…

So we left the oasis and had a late lunch in a nearby osteria, the English translation of which is something like “tavern.” The reason I mention this osteria is because I loved the two verses written on my paper placemat…these are from a poem written by Lorenzo il Magnifico (=Lorenzo de’Medici), the famous 15th century ruler of Florence (see http://goo.gl/VjvTu):

Literally translated:

Whoever wants to be happy, let him be so:
About tomorrow there is no certainty.

Fat cat in a pot…

After getting home from work today, I just couldn’t do any serious reading and/or finish editing my Part II draft…

So instead of a serious post, today you get this: http://goo.gl/KZpVi  :)

Don’t forget to watch the second video, which shows how the kitty “escapes”…Hehe…

Oh, and there is a new Easter video for all of us who love Simon’s Cat: http://goo.gl/9I57y 

Enjoy! :)

A 2011 dendritic cell-idiotype myeloma vaccination study…Part 1

In January, I came across a study republished in “Blood” (http://goo.gl/oaNjM), a study that I had posted about when it was first published in November 2010. It reminded me of a draft that I hadn’t finished (=a sequel to that initial November post), which frequently happens, I hate to say…

In the past few days I have been revising and rewriting my draft, mainly because I would like to discuss a new vaccine study that I have read and that should be of particular interest to early stage myeloma folks. I will discuss it in the second part of this post to be published tomorrow…or the day after tomorrow…

Let’s start with my November 2010 post, the published one, I mean, in which I discussed the Phase I anti-MM dendritic vaccine study you can find at the above “Blood” link. The link to my post is: http://margaret.healthblogs.org/2010/11/13/an-anti-myeloma-vaccine-the-full-study/. Please read it before diving into the rest of this post…

Okay, now that that is done, we can move on to some of the research I did for my unpublished and recently-revised November draft. Basically, back then I found out that vaccines had already been tested on MM patients. I found three different studies but am almost positive that there are more out there. At any rate, the first study I found dates to 1999 (http://goo.gl/3fZxy). Here a group of six IgG myeloma patients were vaccinated with a DC-based formula (where “DC” means “dendritic cell”). All these patients remained stable for a period, and one actually had a 25% paraprotein reduction. The authors admit they don’t know what this modest reduction means in terms of overall survival (see the Discussion part of the study)…

The second study I found was an Italian one. It tested an idiotype vaccination on 15 myeloma patients, began in 1995 and lasted for three years: http://goo.gl/DspW6 Again, the full study is online, so I don’t have to say much about it. As in the previous study, the idea here was to use vaccination as maintenance therapy after high-dose chemo. When comparing the survival rate in the control versus vaccine group, however, The difference was not statistically significant. Not very encouraging, eh…

A member of the MMA patient support list brought a third study to my attention some time ago. As luck would have it, the full study, published in 2009, is available for free online, so, again, all I have to do is give you the link: http://goo.gl/kDQCx I wasn’t as interested in this study, though, mainly because it was carried out on mice, not human beings…

And now, finally, we get to the new study on Stage 1 myeloma patients, published in the “Journal of Immunotherapy” in January 2011: http://goo.gl/KHCQh The abstract tells us that until now vaccines have been tested mainly on patients with advanced myeloma. This study instead focuses on a group of folks in an early stage–stage I.

Before reading the full study, though, I wanted to have a closer look at idiotype vaccines…Unfortunately, my brain shut down after a little while. This stuff is not easy to digest! Zzzzz. Here is the little I was able to grasp before the, er, shutdown: we myeloma folks “secrete” our own type of (monoclonal) immunoglobulins, also called idiotype proteins. These are patient-specific proteins—mine are different from Beth’s, Beth’s are different from John’s and Scott’s, and so forth—which sit on the surface of our myeloma cells. They can also be found swimming around in our blood, conveniently ready to be collected and used in vaccines. Indeed, the fact that they are typical only of myeloma cells, not healthy cells, makes them perfect candidates for the development of personalized vaccines. In this study, each patient’s idiotype proteins were stuck onto dendritic cells, or DCs, which I have written about before (just do a “search” of my blog)…In a nutshell, though, DCs are the guardians of our immune system…

The abstract tells us that nine IgG patients with stage I myeloma participated in this vaccination study…and also that the M-protein levels of three patients decreased to some extent. In the full study, we can read that this decrease was, on average, 2.6 g/L, and also that the remaining six patients experienced light to moderate increases in their paraprotein levels (an average of a 2.2 g/L increase). Furthermore, eight months after the vaccinations ended, one patient had to resort to conventional treatment after progressing to stage III. Not too reassuring, eh?

The authors themselves list some of the problems faced by this study, namely, the restricted number of patients involved AND the fact that there was no control group. Therefore, they write, the results were difficult to interpret, even though they ultimately believe that their findings show that Id-specific immune responses might be activated in stage I myeloma patients via immunotherapy. Note the use of the conditional tense…

Okay, I think I have provided enough fodder for thought for today…Back to my reading…

Another study on the progression from MGUS and SMM to full-blown MM. The idea of early intervention…

The umptieth “progression” study that I read this morning is co-authored by three authoritative, internationally renowned myeloma specialists for whom I have a lot of respect (even though I am about to tear apart some of their arguments…). You can read the abstract here: http://goo.gl/R8xVG I have also read the full study and will try to summarize the main points of interest…

First, though, the abstract tells us two main things: 1. we need to better understand mechanisms that regulate transformation from precursor to full-blown multiple myeloma; and 2. patients diagnosed with MGUS and smoldering myeloma should not be treated outside of clinical trials. In the near future, it seems reasonable to believe that high-risk precursor patients will likely become candidates for early treatment strategies.

I agree with point no. 1…but, concerning no. 2, as you may know/have figured out, I am highly suspicious of any early intervention strategies…My suspicions are based in part on a gut feeling, but mainly on what I have read in the past few years. Here is a concrete example: on page 297 of Dr. Ola Landgren’s MGUS/SMM study (see my January 20 2011 post for more info) we can read the following: we do not know if early treatment may facilitate selection of aggressive clones that are more capable of competing in the treatment-altered microenvironment. Well, as far as I am concerned, this risk–of creating aggressive, treatment-resistant, Darth Vader clones and making things much worse than they already are–drives the final nail into the “early treatment” coffin…As usual, though, this is just my opinion!

So if, like me, you are in a high-risk smoldering group, my advice would be to first try something non-toxic but (obviously!) backed by scientific studies/clinical trials. If the non-toxic approach doesn’t work, then you can take into consideration potentially dangerous conventional treatments (only in a clinical trial setting, of course, as emphasized by the authors…but even then, please make sure that it is not a big pharma-sponsored trial…). I repeat, this is JMO!

Okay, now for the full “progression” study. It begins with an overview of MGUS, then one of SMM…Then it discusses the various subtypes of MGUS: non-IgM (IgG or IgA) MGUS, IgM MGUS and light chain MGUS. Each subtype behaves differently. For instance, if you have IgG and IgA, you might progress to SMM, whereas with IgM the next “progressive” step is smoldering Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia.

Light chain MGUS. Since I get a lot of queries from folks who have light chain disease, about which I know very little, I was interested to read this part of the study. Predictably, the malignant LC stage is called “light chain MM.” Almost 20% of newly diagnosed myeloma folks have the light chain variety. Another thing I didn’t know is that “idiopathic Bence Jones proteinuria” is the equivalent of smoldering (asymptomatic) myeloma and smoldering Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia in the light chain field. Idiopathic B-Jones proteinuria belongs to the benign “light chain monoclonal gammopathies.”

Note: patients with MGUS with fewer than 10% cancer cells in their bone marrow can rest easy, according to the authors. Their overall survival is in fact similar to that of healthy folks. That’s because most MGUS folks will never progress to MM. I have highlighted this fact in many blog posts, too.

At this point we stray into unknown territory—the Risk Factor territory. A lot of uncertainty, here. The authors first discuss the Mayo Clinic risk-for-progression model for folks with MGUS and SMM, then the Spanish one. I have gone over both models in rather excruciating detail in previous posts, so there is no need to cover the same ground again…

Anyway, the upshot of everything I have read in this study up to now is that the risk of progressing to myeloma differs greatly from one individual to another. That is not good news for overtired doctors who would like to fit their patients into pre-packaged treatment protocols…And it is also not good for those folks who really want to know IF they are going to progress/how much time they will have until progression/and so on.

But I prefer to view this rather chaotic situation in a positive way. Given all this unpredictability, we, the individual carriers of this cancer (at whatever stage), have the ability to act…to do something…We don’t have to, and indeed SHOULDN’T, sit back and “wait for the other shoe to drop” (= an expression used by some myeloma patients that has always ruffled my feathers). And those doing chemotherapy or radiotherapy can at least try to protect their healthy cells in various manners…

That reminds me…Quick anecdote: one of my Mom’s friends, a woman with breast cancer, went through her harsh chemo treatments without losing her hair and experiencing many of the common side effects. Her doctors and nurses were flabbergasted. They had never seen anyone do as well as she did. Well, she had a secret: she took curcumin…And, by the way, she is still doing remarkably well now. I forget if in the end she told her doctors about her curcumin intake or not. I hope she did. I am ALWAYS in favour of telling doctors what we take…

Here I would like to toot my own horn, too. Just a wee bit.  :) After living with MGUS for six years, probably longer in fact (before I was officially diagnosed back in 1999, I mean), in the fall of 2005 I was diagnosed with SMM. And even though I am clearly a member of the high-risk-for-progression group, I continue to be stable…still stable after more than five years.

So, for now at least, I have beaten the odds…I have read statistics showing that a whopping 76% of us high riskers will progress to full-blown myeloma in the first five years. Indeed, the average time to progression in my high-risk group is 1.9 years. As I write this paragraph, I am knocking on wood (!)…But my progression risk percentile has now dropped from 10% to 3% per year…

Let’s get back now to our “progression risk” study. The authors mention two studies showing that MGUS precedes MM. I think I have reported on both of them, but anyway, here are the direct links: 1. “Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) consistently precedes multiple myeloma: a prospective study” (“Blood,” 2009), available for free here: http://goo.gl/N0Skl; and 2. A monoclonal gammopathy precedes multiple myeloma in most patients.” (“Blood,” 2009), also fully available for free: http://goo.gl/t8lxO

The interesting part of the authors’ summary of these two studies (for me) concerned the M-protein. Even though I had read both of the above studies, I had forgotten this bit of info: in half the patients who eventually progressed to myeloma, the M-protein kept increasing every year (as mine was before I began taking curcumin). In the other half, the M-protein was stable until their diagnosis. The same was true for the light chain folks, whose FLC ratio was “skewed” two years before their MM diagnosis. Interesting. What this tells me is that we must go for regular check-ups…

Molecular stuff: I hope the authors won’t mind my telling you that the path from precursor to active myeloma is not sudden and discontinuous but rather is cluttered with a series of overlapping oncogenic events that occur inside the myeloma cells. These “events,” such as cyclin D (which I have discussed in previous posts), begin in the MGUS stage…

I found something interesting in the subsequent paragraph, which begins with the statement that organizing treatment trials for MGUS folks is complicated, mainly for these reasons:

  1. They are a bunch of healthy folks, more or less…
  2. Most MGUSers won’t progress, or have a low risk of progressing, to full-blown myeloma and are more likely to die of unrelated causes.
  3. Ideally, the best treatment for high-risk-of-progression patients would be non-toxic. The authors add that right now we do not have access to any such treatment…

Uhm. Double-and-triple Uhm…EXCUSE ME!!!!!! How about CURCUMIN?????? And, in addition to curcumin, my blog by now has quite a substantial list of scientifically-backed substances that attack and kill myeloma cells both in vitro and in vivo. I have been compiling this list since 2007…And I am merely a non-scientific researcher who holds a non-scientific Ph.D. I have had no scientific training since high school. Therefore, I am sure that there are many more substances with anti-MM activity out there! Let’s start finding and testing them! C’mon! Oh, this is so amazingly frustrating…

Let’s keep reading. Next topic: early intervention strategies for SMM patients. The authors see these strategies as “attractive” because we (smolderers) are at a much higher risk of progressing to full-blown MM. During their review of the trials that thus far have failed to show any benefits for SMM folks, the authors mention, however, that the trial involving zoledronic acid was stopped because a patient in the treatment arm developed osteonecrosis of the jaw, familiarly known as ONJ…Eh.

Okay, I am going to hang out the laundry now…I need to cool down a bit. I didn’t realize how upset I would get just by writing the last couple of paragraphs…

(Some time later…) I’m back. The laundry is hanging out to dry, and I am cool and focused again. Let’s see. In the midst of all this rubbish about early treatment for SMM folks, I was encouraged to find a cautionary note on the long-term use of lenalidomide in MM and SMM, based on the studies, presented at ASH last December, showing that secondary cancers can develop in some patients after extended use of lenalidomide (Revlimid)…No comment necessary, methinks…

Discussing the potential benefits of FUTURE early treatments, the authors mention the possibility of unexpected long-term adverse events, and they also raise the possibility that aggressive Darth Vader clones (the Darth Vader expression is my own invention, by the way…I mean, it isn’t in the study! :) ) might be born, which is not surprising, since Dr. Landgren is a co-author of this study. At any rate, scary stuff…

At the end of this section, the authors conclude that high-risk precursor folks will likely become candidates for early treatment strategies. A few sentences later, though, they add that “prolonged stable disease” may be the best approach for smoldering patients. Mamma mia, roba da matti!…Oh bother, I have no more laundry to hang out. 😉

Okay, let’s be serious now. I admit that I always feel a bit discouraged after reading studies such as these…studies that make no mention of the possible benefits of diet, exercise, yoga, qigong, meditation, supplements…vitamin D testing…and so on. The sole focus is chemotherapy…nothing else. 

The status quo must change. But it won’t change unless we, the impatient patients!, intervene. And intervene we must, since our lives are at stake here. The easiest way is for us to start with our own doctors. It’s time for them at least to consider integrative myeloma treatments…I mean, we now know that there are things we can take that will enhance the anti-MM effects of certain chemo drugs while protecting our healthy cells at the same time. How can our doctors ignore the evidence that is piling up, study after study? And for how long can they ignore it?

Well, at the very least, improving our diet by adding anticancer foods/herbs/spices AND taking at least a few, scientifically-backed supplements AND vitamin D (if our D levels are low) can certainly do us nothing but good…at any stage of myeloma…

P.S. Sorry for any repetitions…no time now to check this post before publishing it…I have to dash off now. Ciao!

Birdwatching in Florence…

I have already devoted a post (http://margaret.healthblogs.org/2009/05/09/oasi-stagni-di-focognano) to the WWF oasis known as the “Oasi di Focognano,” located in Campi Bisenzio, a small municipality just outside of Florence…

Well, today, a beautiful day in Florence, Stefano and I decided to spend a few hours there…

Ah, I should mention at this point that we are both enthusiastic birdwatchers…but most of the time we have absolutely no idea what we are looking at and taking photos of, unless of course the birds happen to be puffins. 😉

No matter, we enjoy walking around nature reserves, taking photos…blissfully ignorant…Besides, it’s fun to look up the birds in our bird book or on internet once we get home…

There are no puffins at Focognano, obviously, but, if you are lucky (!), you will come upon a bird known as “Cavaliere d’Italia” in Italian, and “black-winged stilt” in English. I prefer its Italian name, which means “Knight of Italy.” Yes…definitely a more appropriate name for this long-legged, elegant black and white bird…

We have been to Focognano several times in the past couple of years, but we have seen and photographed only ONE knight… 

This morning, though, as luck had it, we were able to admire not one, not two, but an entire FLOCK of black-winged stilts. They were very active, too (see photo no. 2).

There were other birds, too–coots, grey herons, mallards and whatnot–but I had eyes only for the knights. My ecstatic contemplation was disturbed only by the arrival of a group of very excited school-age children, who had obviously not been warned about keeping quiet…

Oh well.

We left…But by then, between the two of us, we had taken about 500 photos… :)

My only regret is that most of my photos turned out a bit fuzzy…mainly because the knights stubbornly stuck to the other part of the lake (as you can see in photo no. 3)…

Still…what an amazing experience…

Astaxanthin…

Just a couple of minutes ago (which, by the time I finish writing this post, will have turned into a couple of hours…at least…), I came across an interesting study published in March 2010. Luckily for us, it is fully available online: http://goo.gl/RoC45

First, what is astaxanthin? It’s a carotenoid, which means it’s a tetraterpenoid (=contains 40 carbon atoms) organic pigment…eeeeh? Oh, forget it…Let’s try to find a simpler explanation…

Okay, we know what carrots look like, right? Well, their bright orange color is caused by a carotenoid. Another carotenoid is lycopene, which can be helpful in preventing the onset of prostate cancer and is found in tomatoes and other red fruit/veggies (not strawberries or cherries, though).

Now, when I did an online search for astaxanthin, I discovered that Dr. Oz (some of you, especially U.S. readers, will be familiar with him, or at least have heard of him…and actually, his program can now be watched here in Italy, too) spoke about this substance in one of his segments. This article actually gives us some fascinating titbits, such as the fact that flamingos are really born white, and it is astaxanthin that gives them their “pink look”: http://goo.gl/C5ruc After reading the above-mentioned study, though, I would like to state that the astaxanthin dosage mentioned here by Dr. Mercola seems a bit too high to me (I wouldn’t go above 2 mg, for reasons we will see in a sec…)…

Let’s see. I read on other websites that the highest levels of astaxanthin can be found in algae. I also read that some commercial sources of astaxanthin include shrimp processing waste…ewww! And here is another ewww!: it can also be produced synthetically (much cheaper, this way), which means that it might contain some extra stuff that might not be so good for us. So, if we decide to give this substance a whirl, we must be careful when choosing our sources…

Okay, here is what we know thus far: astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant with powerful anti-inflammatory activity. As such, it might be useful to treat heart, immune, inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases. More to the point, it might be useful in the prevention and perhaps even treatment of cancer…

I didn’t find any astaxanthin and myeloma studies in PubMed, but that didn’t keep me from doing a bit of research on astaxanthin, which seems to hold some promise as an anticancer substance…

If you check out PubMed, you will find, in fact, that astaxanthin has been studied in other types of cancer, e.g. breast cancer, where it delayed tumor growth and modulated immune response: http://goo.gl/CHMp8 This study is interesting, since it shows that astaxanthin was useful in the prevention of breast cancer. However, when administered after the onset of cancer, it seemed to be harmful. This reminds us that we should always be super careful, do our research carefully and talk to our doctors before taking anything…and always monitor our blood test results…

Administration of astaxanthin was shown to be beneficial in canine osteosarcoma: http://goo.gl/SVlnE

Last but definitely not least: http://goo.gl/qxcJG This study shows astaxanthin decreased the levels of MMPs (2-9), ERK-2 and Akt. These three proteins are involved in myeloma, too…quelle surprise. You can do a search of my blog for all three…but, for example, MMPs are enzymes involved in bone destruction and cancer growth…need I say more? Astaxanthin decreased the serum levels of these three proteins in rats with colon cancer…and it also lowered their levels of NF-kappaB, which is one of the big criminals in myeloma, too…So this finding is verrrrry interesting…

Okay, there are other PubMed studies, but I will stop here before this post looks more like a laundry list than a proper post. Let’s now have a look at the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study that prompted this post in the first place (see the first link in this post…).

Results that I thought were interesting and possibly relevant to MGUS, SMM and MM folks:

  1. C-reactive protein levels decreased in the volunteers taking 2 mg of astaxanthin. Good news. Note that the higher, = 8 mg, dosage didn’t have a further lowering effect on CRP, which just goes to prove once again that too much of a good thing might not necessarily be…a good thing.
  2. Astaxanthin increased the activity of Natural Killer cells, and also T and B cells. It increased the immune response in these healthy college-age women.
  3. Concentrations of something called “8-OHdG” (=a DNA-damage biomarker that could be a risk factor for cancer and atherosclerosis, among other nasty things) were significantly lower in the 2 mg group. Not sure how relevant this bit of news would be to folks who already have cancer…but surely it would be a good thing to decrease those DNA-damaging levels, no?
  4. Those taking 8 mg of astaxanthin had increased levels of IL-6…Not good. Again, too much of a good thing blablabla…So, if I were to decide to take astaxanthin, I would keep to a low dosage, not the 10 mg one suggested by Dr. Mercola.
  5. A 200-g serving of salmon provides approximately 1 to 7 mg astaxanthin.

In conclusion, it seems that 2 mg of astaxanthin might be a good thing to test, but I have so many other substances gathering dust on my cabinet shelf that I probably won’t be buying anything new for a while…

Still, it’s good to know about these new discoveries…and keep an eye on ‘em!

Arvelexin, from Brassica rapa, inhibits many of the signalling pathways involved in myeloma growth and survival…

A blog reader (thanks!) alerted me to the existence of a recently-published study on Brassica rapa, which is more commonly known as field mustard or turnip mustard. In Italian, cima di rapa. Luckily, it happens to be in season now, so yesterday I bought some (see photo showing Piccolo munching on one of the stems…) at a farm cooperative conveniently located close to the company where I teach English…

We ate it last night, tender leaves and all–lightly steamed, with the addition of garlic, red pepper (capsaicin!), olive oil and lemon juice. Yummy!

Okay, let’s get back to our study. Here is the link to the abstract: http://goo.gl/rlMHN Now, there is no mention of myeloma in the abstract or the full study, but, as the title of today’s post states, arvelexin, which is extracted from Brassica rapa, inhibits many of the main survival (etc.) mechanisms of myeloma cells, including IL-6, TNF-alpha, NF-kappaB and IL-1beta. Speaking of which, let’s not forget that IL-1beta is closely involved in the progression from SMM to MM, which is why we (smolderers) must closely monitor our CRP levels…According to my most recent tests, my CRP is the lowest it has been in ages…much lower than it was in 2005 (=the pre-curcumin period)… :)

Okay, I am looking at the full study now. The introduction tells us that Brassica rapa has been traditionally used to treat hepatitis, jaundice, furuncle and sore throats. Oh, and one of the flavonoids contained in B. rapa is quercetin, which is part of my daily protocol…not coincidentally, I would like to add!

Well, well, well, and lookie here: arvelexin has antifungal activity. Hah!

Without going into too much detail, the main point of this study is that arvelexin inhibits many of the pro-inflammatory genes that are regulated by NF-kappaB, one of myeloma’s bestbestbest buddies. And that is why I predict that a few years from now (at the most) we will come across a study showing that arvelexin kills myeloma cells…Mark my words…

In conclusion…Eat turnips! :)