Monthly Archives: March 2012

Magnesium and CRP, bacteria (shudder) and how capsaicin may protect the heart, too…

I really shouldn’t be reading any Science Daily articles today…I should be working instead…but a few items caught my attention, so I’m going to post the links. Ah yes, procrastination…I know, I know. I’m an expert in that field! 😉 

Before getting to the SD articles, I wanted to highlight something that I learned this morning from a blog reader who sent me the link to a study (full text available online) showing that low levels of magnesium might increase our C-reactive protein (= CRP) levels. Ooooh, that’s not good at all! Many myeloma patients take magnesium for leg cramps and neuropathy…but now there’s yet another reason to take it. See: http://goo.gl/jrcph 

Excerpt: Among the 70% of the population not taking supplements, magnesium intake below the RDA was significantly associated with a higher risk of having elevated CRP. The lower the magnesium intake, the higher was the likelihood of elevated CRP. ‘Nuff said.

Okay, now for the two Science Daily articles. The first is about bacteriaaaaa. Just writing that word, BACTERIAAAAA, gave me the willies. Brrrr! And I have to admit that after reading the first paragraph I wanted to shut down my computer, grab my cats, rush off and live out the rest of my life in a completely isolated mountain cave, if such a thing still exists…

I mean, someone coming into my study right now could be adding 37 MILLION BACTERIA to the air I breathe every single hour??? That’s almost 617000 bacteria per minute!!! 😯 Here’s the link (I dare you to read this…thing! 😉 ): http://goo.gl/hSzQ1

The second SD article is about capsaicin, the fabbbbulous ingredient in hot pepper, which inhibits the infamous STAT3 pathway, thereby killing myeloma cells (see my Page on capsaicin).

Well, capsaicin seems to have many other health benefits, too, as you can read in the article, including lowering blood pressure, reducing blood cholesterol and blocking the formation of blood clots. Oh, it also inhibits COX-2, which is involved in myeloma (and not in a good way!). This article highlights capsaicin’s heart-protecting potential: http://goo.gl/oe2rV So hey, bring on the heat! Yummy, too. 

Okay, now I’ll stop procrastinating and get back to work…Uffa. 

My tulips and a new Simon’s Cat video…

Here’s the link to a new Simon’s Cat video: http://goo.gl/dgPPu

And here are some photos of my tulips…love the colors…so beautiful they almost seem fake (but they’re not! I took the photos earlier today). And these are just the first ones…

I have a translation to finish, so I regret to say that I haven’t even glanced at the studies I’d planned to read today. Sorry about that! :( Soon, though…soon…

Back to my translation now…Ciao! :) 

Grandpa’s iPad, cat hair and some stunning news about popcorn…

I’m reading and reading…just not ready to post anything today. Not of a serious nature, anyway. 😉 

But I just got this from a friend (whom I met via the blog, incidentally…), and it made me laugh out loud, even though I don’t understand one word of German (= not necessary, as you will see…).

Enjoy! 😀

http://goo.gl/rjXVF

Oh, and here’s another funky thing I read earlier today. A “Science Daily” article on popcorn. I think you’ll be rather astounded…just as I was:

http://goo.gl/Pfbmf 

Gabbianello and Parco della Piana

Here are some of the photos that I took yesterday in two different bird reserves. 

In the morning we went to the WWF’s Oasi di Gabbianello, which I’ve written about in previous posts. It’s located near the town of Barberino di Mugello…about a half hour drive north from our house. 

In the early afternoon we came back toward Florence and went to the second reserve, a municipally-owned park in the town of Sesto Fiorentino, just outside of Florence. It’s called the Parco della Piana. Great place for bird watching…no admission fee, either. 

Photo no. 1. We’ll start at the top left, from the swan. 

Now, even though yesterday we came across an apparently very-difficult-to-spot bird (see photo no. 2), the swan photo is perhaps my favorite of the day. Such a lovely creature. Photo taken at Gabbianello. 

Photo no. 2. The above-mentioned, elusive Jack snipe. Cute little thing, isn’t it? I love its Italian name: frullino, which also means “whisk.” Yes, the kind that you use in the kitchen. No idea why… Photo taken at the Parco della Piana. 

Photo no. 3. The stilt and the…oh wait, let’s play “can you spot the second bird? And what is it?” 😉 Taken at the Parco della Piana.

Photo no. 4. A garganey. I read that it’s a “scarce and very secretive breeding duck in the UK.” Wow. And we saw at least three or four yesterday, both at Gabbianello and the Piana. Anyway, handsome fellow. This is the Parco della Piana one. 

It’s a tough life…

We’re going bird watching, while the cats…(the dimensions in this photo are totally off, by the way: Pinga is about one-quarter of the size of Piccolo, my black and white male…)

Is cancer outwitting personalized medicine?

A few days ago I read a fascinating article titled “Is cancer outwitting personalized medicine?” It’s a “must-read”: http://goo.gl/Ityrk

And then this morning I watched a short “Patient Power” video (February 21, 2012) on personalized treatment, side effects, myeloma heterogeneity and patient subgroups, cytogenetic abnormalities, high-risk disease, possibility of high risk genes/features, gene expression profiling on myeloma cells and much more: http://goo.gl/ygz7S

I have to admit I’ve always been a bit doubtful about personalized treatments. It’s not as though cancer cells just sit there and do nothing. No, they are constantly evolving and mutating and adapting…in response to their environment and also to treatments. However, as Dr. Noopur Raje said in the above-mentioned “Patient Power” video, myeloma cells are slow-growing, which might be a point in our favor. 

Speaking of the future, she also said that 4-5 years from now we may have the so-called genetic “signature.” But I have to ask: given the countless variables, how will that ever be possible? Will personalized medicine ever become a reality?

Food for thought.

Random readings…

This is going to be a busy work week for me, so I probably won’t be able to spend much time doing research and writing. I have some extra translating work to do, which is good for our household budget, of course…

But I will continue to find time for my daily readings. Here are some of the most interesting ones:

A “Guardian” article titled “Coping with cancer: you, me and the big C.” Three different stories about cancer…three different perspectives: http://goo.gl/CKq9P Well-written and moving. And a mention of curcumin in the first one, too. 

A “Mail and Guardian” article on cancer-busting foods: http://goo.gl/AXlM8 I love looking at food lists. You never know what you might find in ’em. :) To my surprise, this particular one mentioned margarine as “a healthy option.” Say whaaaaat? I’ve always avoided margarine like the plague. How can it suddenly be a “healthy” choice??? Any thoughts?

But this article intrigued me mainly because it lists Rooibos tea among the cancer fighters. I hadn’t even heard of this tea until recently. But now, whenever I’m home in the afternoon, I like to have a cuppa. Well, this article states that Rooibos tea boosts glutathione levels. Hmmm. That triggered a vague memory in the back of my mind: isn’t it bad to boost glutathione levels in myeloma? I tried looking that up but found way too much information for the little free time I have. However, I did find this: according to Dr. James Berenson’s 2004 “Biology and management of multiple myeloma,” glutathione levels are increased in melphalan-resistant myeloma cells. Increasing one’s glutathione levels would therefore appear not to be a good idea for those on melphalan. But what about the rest of us? Should I stop drinking this tea? Does anyone here have any thoughts/advice/etc.? Help! :)

While I was looking for more info on glutathione and myeloma, I came across this 2009 study, which shows that myeloma patients have reduced levels of antioxidants: http://goo.gl/f7zYs Now, that’s INTERESTING, and I quote: MM is closely associated with oxidative stress and reduced antioxidant capacity. Aha. Food for thought…

More than 60% of Americans get their health information online, according to this Science Daily article: http://goo.gl/fC9RP But How might information accessed online affect individual health decisions? In my case, A LOT! :)

P.S. Today’s blog photos were taken in a vineyard behind the Castello di Brolio, near Gaiole in Chianti, on Saturday.

Meeting with Prof. Gertz: patient-friendly approach and causes of myeloma…

Today’s post is based mainly on what I remember from the meeting with Prof. Gertz, Mayo Clinic (see previous posts), and on my fabbbbbulous friend DB’s notes. By the way, DB, thanks for going to the meeting with me! :)

A patient-friendly approach. Since Prof. Gertz kindly offered to meet with patients after lunch (a yummy lunch, incidentally), many of us stayed on until mid afternoon. And many of us had brought our test results/the results of a loved one.

I remember one man in particular. He’d brought his father’s test results. Since I didn’t write down any of this (I merely translated the back and forth Italian-English-Italian with Prof. Gertz…), the main thing I remember is that the father’s Bence Jones protein level had gone up in the past 7-8 months.

After looking at the father’s test results and asking a few questions such as “how does your father feel?” “does he have any symptoms?” and “how are his bones doing?” (the son’s answers: 1. fine; 2. no; 3. we don’t have the x-ray results yet), Prof. Gertz said that the only thing that concerned him a bit was the Bence Jones increase. And of course one would need to see the x-rays. But, he added, if the x-rays are okay, then this would be a “smoldering” situation, which means the father should be monitored carefully but not treated…not right now, that is. He added that if the father were one of his patients, he’d have him redo his tests in two months. On hearing that, the son looked absolutely stunned. He told me that his father was beginning treatment in a couple of days (last Tuesday, in fact). Prof. Gertz told him that, in his opinion, that wasn’t necessary. Why start treatment and begin having symptoms, he added? The son was clearly very distressed and at a loss as to what to do…

I wonder what happened last Tuesday…did the father go ahead with treatment? I hope not, but I guess I’ll never know.

The fact that I translated most of these informal, individual encounters gave me the opportunity to observe a true Master at work. I’m referring to Prof. Gertz, of course (and I wouldn’t say this if I didn’t mean it). He looked at every single test result (in Italian, to boot!), then he asked the patient/caregiver direct questions in a very gentle, professional way. If needed, he looked at the test results again. And then he said what he thought should be done…in a very simple, humble manner…

This is exactly what I think a specialist should do. First, ask how we’re feeling, then look at all our test results, ask relevant questions based on the tests and finally say what s/he thinks we should do. It is important to look at the WHOLE picture, in other words. Not just at one test. And it’s equally important to find out how the patient FEELS. 

I like Prof. Gertz’s cautious, gentle approach, one that clearly focuses on quality of life…

Causes of myeloma. While he acknowledged that there is a familial link in a tiny percentage of cases (1-2%, as I recall), he said that all the other causal links are weak. Basically, he said, “we just don’t know.” So I’m officially giving up. And anyway, I’d rather do research and focus on a treatment regimen that will keep me stable (or better!)…

Okay, I need to go get ready now. We’re about to go off to meet up with a couple of friends. Then we’re driving to a Tuscan town called Gaiole in Chianti, near Siena. I hope to get some good photos to post on the blog. It’s such a gorgeous sunny warm day…Sooo, I hope you all have a super weekend! Ciao! :)

P.S. today’s photo is of a greenfinch (though it’s quite yellow, eh, so I’m not certain about that); I took it in a park just outside of Florence. 

Meeting with Prof. Gertz: are statistics useful to us or not?

I thought I’d focus today on the discussion we had about statistics. A woman (the blog reader who told me she wished she’d known about curcumin earlier) said that when she was diagnosed with smoldering myeloma, her doctor told her that she had only three years to live. Even though I was almost rendered speechless, I managed to translate what she’d said.

Without batting an eyelid (I’m sure he hears this kind of stuff all the time), Prof. Gertz answered that statistics are useful mainly to doctors when they get together at congresses et similia. But, he added, statistics are simply of NO USE to patients. (Have you read Harvard Professor Stephen Jay Gould’s excellent essay on statistics? If not, click here: http://goo.gl/jzMkK).

He kept shooting examples at us, one after the other. The ones I remember, more or less, are these: 1. Statistics tell us that the average man is taller than the average woman. How tall is your sister? 2. Statistics tell us that the average European male makes € 40000 a year. (Turning to Vittorio) How much does Vittorio make?

Precisely. Statistics are a waste of time, as far as we’re concerned. And that’s one of the most important things I heard during this patient doctor meeting. Even before I read the above-mentioned essay and even though my brain has always refused to understand anything related to numbers and math, I have always felt (hoped?) there was something terribly wrong with myeloma statistics.

Example: in 2007 I read a Science Daily article on an Ohio University study that linked the stress hormone norepinephrine to the development of myeloma: http://goo.gl/BUHti While the entire article is very interesting, this particular paragraph is relevant to our discussion: In this latest study, the researchers looked at a different type of cancer – multiple myeloma. One of several types of cancers of the blood, multiple myeloma strikes nearly 20,000 Americans each year, killing at least half that many annually. Patients diagnosed with this disease normally survive only three to four years with conventional treatments.

Three to four years…

I shared this dismal statistic with Stefano who replied by quoting a sonnet by the Roman poet Trilussa (see my November 24 2007 post for the original text written in the Roman dialect). Here is my rough translation of the sonnet: You know what statistics is? It’s something you use to make a general count of the people who were born, who get ill, who die, who go to jail, who get married. But for me the peculiar statistic is the one dealing with percentages, because then the mean always remain the same for everyone, even for someone who has nothing. Let me explain, from the way they count in statistics nowadays, it appears that you eat one chicken per year: and, even if you can’t afford to buy a chicken, you are part of the statistic anyway, because there is someone else who eats two chickens. Spot on.

Whenever we happen upon any myeloma statistics, we should always remember Trilussa and his chickens. Or Stephen Jay Gould, and the fact that he survived 20 years after his diagnosis, exceeding his 8 month median survival by a factor of thirty.

We are individuals, not numbers. What do you think?

P.S. the photo is of my daffodils…