Monthly Archives: February 2014

“Yoga mat” chemical found in nearly 500 foods

This morning I read an incredibly scary news story. The Environmental Working Group (= great organization!) analyzed more than 500 “food” items and found that they contained “a potentially hazardous industrial plastics chemical.” It’s a chemical FOAMING agent. No kidding.

Now, I live in Italy and don’t buy any of these brands…but still, I wonder (shiver!) how widespread this really is…In any event, I thought I’d warn my U.S. readers to stay away from these brands (and yes, there is a full list…see below link)…

So, the next time you go to the supermarket to buy a Sara Lee blueberry crumble breakfast bread or Pillsbury’s Italian bread or any of the items on that list (hot dog and hamburger buns, bagels, pizza and pastries, e.g.), stop for a second and ask yourself the following question: would you ever chew on a yoga mat…or on your own plastic flip-flops? And also think of all that chemical foam ending up in your stomach…

😯

Here’s the link to the EWG story: http://goo.gl/QyZabA

Freeeeeeeeaky!

Muffet

My parents recently adopted a gorgeous, 10-year-old black female cat from the Cape Cod MSPCA shelter. There hasn’t been a cat in their house since our beloved Italian cat, Micia, died, many years ago, at age 17. I’d rescued Micia as a kitten in a field near Florence (long story), and she came with us, of course, when we moved from Italy back to the U.S.A. That would have been in the early 1980s…I was in my early 20s, and Micia was barely more than a kitten at the time…

Anyway, because of our wonderful Micia, my parents and I have always had a “thing” for black cats. Amazingly, though, most people don’t like black cats, mainly based on ancient (absurd!!!) superstitions.

In the Middle Ages, e.g., black cats were associated with witches and witchcraft, and millions of them (yes, millions) were tortured and killed all over Europe. It’s a wonder that ANY black cats made it to this century! And even today, in Italy, it is said that if a black cat crosses your path, you have to turn around and go in the opposite direction. I don’t know anyone who actually does that, but I’ve been told that it still happens…

What this means, though, is that black cats are less than half as likely to be adopted from a cat shelter than gray cats. So sad, but true: http://goo.gl/6rSdfS

Well, here’s a news flash: we’re not in the Middle Ages anymore. And black cats, like all cats, are wonderful, devoted life companions.

But this post is really about Muffet, my parents’ new furry companion…

Here is what the MSPCA had originally posted about Muffet (accompanied by a photo): “Hello, my name is Muffet. I am a 10 year old black short-haired kitty. I was brought to the adoption center because I was nervous around the grandchildren, because of this I would do best in a home with older children. I am an affectionate, quiet, lap cat. Please stop by the adoption center to meet me.” Now, I don’t know how long this link will be available online, but it’s been there for a couple of weeks, and today it’s still there, so you can check it out, if you want: http://goo.gl/UXZ33R

So Muffet was taken to the cat shelter because she got “NERVOUS” around the grandchildren, huh??? I mean, instead of showing the grandchildren how to treat an older cat, the grandparents chose to get rid of her. Oh boy, that’s a great lesson to teach the grandchilden, isn’t it? Shameful.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated story. It happens a lot. And it makes me so incredibly angry.

Stupid humans.

Anyway, after reading this online post, Mom and Dad fell in love with Muffet and decided to adopt her…without even seeing her. They knew that Muffet probably would never find a home mainly because of her age. Most people want kittens, or at the most young cats. Not many people will adopt a 10-year-old cat, especially a black one. And in fact, when Mom and Dad arrived at the shelter and announced that they were there for Muffet, one of the volunteers rushed over to hug my Mom. It turned out that Muffet had been at the shelter for NINE months…

Well, I want to tell you that Muffet is the PERFECT cat for my parents. She is absolutely LOVELY, in every sense of the word. My parents have gone absolutely bonkers over her and talk about nothing else, practically. What she eats, what she does, where she goes, etc. It’s all about super Muffet. As it should be.

Muffet is a purring lap cat. She follows my parents around, sits in their laps, looks at them with love and devotion, climbs over them while they Skype with me, sleeps all cuddled up with them at night, and plays with her new toys. She is such an incredibly happy cat. But I don’t think she could possibly be as happy as my parents are…

Thank you, sweet Muffet (my Mom also calls her “Amore,” which means “Love” in Italian)…

And thank you, MSPCA (about 10 days ago, I wrote the MSPCA a private thank-you note, by the way, to which I received an enthusiastic response, which was verrrrry nice…I will send them the link to this post, too…).

The only thing I don’t have is a photo of Muffet in her new forever home, and I won’t have one until I go visit my parents (= in April)…But, if you hurry, you will be able to see a photo of her in the link above (a photo taken of course at the shelter)… :-)

“If progression is slow, it’s harder to treat with chemo…”

This morning, after doing some work (as usual), I finally got around to going through the copious notes I took during the patient-doctor meeting with Dr. Morie Gertz (Mayo Clinic in Minnesota) that took place last month, on January 18, right here in Florence…well, just outside Florence, to be exact.

In this post I’m going to focus on the new/most interesting bits of his excellent presentation, which compares myeloma to a garden that is more or less choked with weeds. I’ve heard, and written about, the presentation before (do a search for “Morie Gertz” on my website, using my handy “Search” box, = top, right-hand side). I still took notes on it, since I find it fascinating, so if you have any questions or comments, please get in touch with me, and I can check my notes for you.

Interesting excerpt: “There are no absolutes in this disease, but doctors agree that if the percentage of plasma cells in the bone marrow is above 10%, it’s myeloma.” The part of this sentence that struck me is that there are “no absolutes.” No absolutes…

A bit further on he added that the average patient at diagnosis has 30% plasma cells in the bone marrow. More plasma cells = fewer red blood cells, as we know. And anemia, which gives us fatigue and shortness of breath, is a “cardinal feature of myeloma.” It occurs, he said, in 70% of MM patients.

75% of MM patients experience bone pain/fractures…”All bones are at risk in this disease.”

But how does a doctor figure out that someone–without any obvious symptoms such as the above-mentioned ones–has myeloma? The first signal, he said, is increased protein in the blood. Total protein is mostly the sum of albumin and globulin, he said. A normal person has more albumin than globulin…say, 40 and 30, respectively. But if the numbers are 35 and 50, well, that’s “abnormal.” Total protein is a “useful marker of disease activity,” he added.

Interesting: he said that the “quantity of protein” is different from person to person. Patients ask each another: “What’s your protein level?” But, Dr. Gertz stated, that means absolutely nothing: “you can’t compare across patients. Some make 400, and they’re having terrible problems. Others have 5500 and are fine,” he said. (And I add: no absolutes, right?)

Smoldering myeloma should NOT BE TREATED. I definitely wrote THAT down! :)

A few of the patients at the meeting had had allogeneic stem cell transplants, so he talked about allos a bit. Again, if you’re interested in this topic, write to me, and I’ll try to transcribe that part of my notes for you.

Note: he confirmed what I’ve read about our immune system not being very good at recognizing and exterminating MM cells. Big problem.

He also spoke about the post stem cell transplant issue of complete response (CR), partial response (PR), very good partial response (VGPR), etc. Patients always want a CR, of course. He noted, however, that some patients might not achieve a CR but have a protein level that remains the same for 10 years, whereas others might have a CR, but only for one year. So, he asked us, in your opinion is it better to have a short-lived CR or a much longer-lived PR? You can imagine our response…! Again, no absolutes…

Staging (= Stage I, II, III): he said that this is useful mainly for DOCTORS, not really for us patients. It enables doctors to talk about results and clinical trials, mostly. His example: let’s say there are two doctors, one from Rome, the other from Torino, who are comparing notes on their clinical trials (same drugs, of course). The trial in Torino: 80% of its MM patients are in Stage I; 10% in Stage II, and 10% in Stage III. The trial in Rome: 10% in Stage I, 10% in Stage II, and 80% in Stage III. The exact opposite, basically. No matter WHAT you do, Dr. Gertz said, the group in Torino will always do better. And that is why staging is important…

But now we get to what for me was THE MOST INTERESTING THING HE SAID…and I quote (yep, all modesty aside, I’m very good at taking notes…All that training, especially in grad school, has paid off; I guess! 😉 ): “If you’ve had MGUS or SMM for a long time, and progression is slow, it’s harder to treat your myeloma with chemo because of the slow-growing cells.” (Chemo targets fast-dividing cells.)

I couldn’t help it…I blurted out the first thing that popped into my head: “Well, that’s the best argument AGAINST early intervention…” I don’t think he replied…

And I think I’m right…

Just my opinion, as usual!

Ajoene, from garlic…

Today a blog reader/friend (merci!) sent me the link to a very interesting Science Daily article about the superhero-strong antibacterial properties of one of garlic’s chemical compounds, called ajoene: http://goo.gl/W0oNCc While we already knew about the antibacterial activity of garlic, the Science Daily article has some new information that I found really interesting…And that is why I would like to recommend it in particular to those who suffer from (recurrent) infections–a big problem for many myeloma folks.

Now, while I love garlic and don’t mind having “garlic” breath afterwards, my Stefano can’t digest it at all, which means that we almost never have ANY when we’re eating together. But I make up for that as often as possible…when I’m alone, that is (lunchtime, usually). For example, I adore pasta mixed with chopped up and slightly cooked (in olive oil) garlic, parsley, Nigella sativa and a bit of hot pepper. Try it. And yes, I use lots of garlic in this dish…at least 4-5 cloves. Actually, hmmmm, that doesn’t come anywhere close to the amount of garlic mentioned in the Science Daily article, as you will see…But, after all (knock on wood!), I don’t have any recurrent, tough-to-beat infections (I did in the pre-curcumin period, though! Curcumin is another substance that is antibacterial and antiviral…it got rid of my pesky, painful yeast infections, as I’ve written in many posts…)…Anyway, this Science Daily article might, I hope!, be something helpful that infection-prone folks can show to their doctors…

IMG_8865Okay, quick change of subject. Yesterday, while I was working at my computer, my big boy Piccolo jumped onto my desk and draped himself between me and my keyboard, purring like mad. I had to stop working, of course…I mean, I couldn’t reach the keyboard anymore! Anyway, he looked so adorable and loving that I just had to take a few photos and share at least one with y’all!

And now…I’d better get back to work before one of my other six cats gets the same idea! 😉

A curcumin implant shrinks breast cancer tumors…

Well, well…a very interesting bit of news today. The gist: in order to get around the (well-known) problem of curcumin’s low bioavailability, researchers at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, created teeny tiny dissolvable capsules filled with curcumin, which they implanted in (breast) cancer-ridden mice. They also put another group of mice on a curcumin diet (=the control group). Here are the links to a couple of online newspaper articles (easy to read):

Daily Mail, UK: http://goo.gl/rWTQVR

Medical Daily: http://goo.gl/HsLcBM

I was sorry to read that the curcumin diet (by the way, it was a curcumin, NOT a curry diet!) was ineffective. We have to keep in mind, though, that we are humans, NOT mice…and so I will continue to put some curcumin powder in my food, whenever possible…I just put some in Stefano’s homemade broth that I had for lunch, in fact…yummmmmmmmy!

For more details, here’s the direct link to the study abstract (not so easy to read): http://goo.gl/8CSCm7

Here’s the most important part: the curcumin IMPLANT decreased the size of the tumors in these poor mice, AND it slowed down the reproduction rate of their cancer cells. Significantly, I would like to add…

Now, this is great news for cancer patients who have solid tumors, since the capsules could be implanted at the site of the tumor (= this is all theoretical, since the research is still in the “in vivo” lab stage, of course) . For those of us who have a type of blood cancer, well, it’s not as exciting, since, uh, where would we have the capsule or capsules implanted? Inside our bone marrow? Ah, if only it were so easy…

I have to admit, though, that whenever I read news reports like these, even about other types of cancer, I still get excited. And here’s why: curcumin is increasingly being talked about and studied in labs and clinical trials, AND our myeloma/cancer specialists are beginning to acknowledge that curcumin may be helpful at least for some of us. And they aren’t rolling their eyes as much, either. 😉 Incidentally, I’m 100% sure that we, the patients, have brought about this change. So…KUDOS to all of us! :-)

A final, quick note before I get back to work: I’ve written many posts about the issue of curcumin’s low bioavailability (you can find them by doing a “search” of my website). Thing is, curcumin is NOT A DRUG and cannot therefore be expected to behave like one. In other words, the fact that it doesn’t show up much in our bloodstream (= a conventional measure of a drug’s bioavailability) shouldn’t surprise us. Of course, if we could somehow inject it right into our cancer cells…(ah, if only it were so easy…!)…

But let’s not forget this: a few years ago Prof. Aggarwal told me (in an email, in answer to one of my questions) that curcumin is absorbed by our tissues within a few minutes of ingestion. Ah.

And that’s good enough for me…At least, until a better, non-toxic sort of curcumin is put on the market…  :-)

An update on aspirin and myeloma

A couple of years ago, when I began preparing my “Good or bad for myeloma” Page (http://margaret.healthblogs.org/good-or-bad-for-myeloma/), I decided to add aspirin to the list of stuff that is possibly “bad” for myeloma because it seems to increase our TNF alpha levels (see my 2011 aspirin-myeloma post for more info: http://margaret.healthblogs.org/2011/03/28/to-use-or-not-to-use-aspirin-in-myeloma-conventional-treatments/).

But, as I found out while doing research for the aspirin post, a couple of other studies showed that aspirin also reduces COX-1 and COX-2 levels…Ahhhh, confusing. Back then I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with aspirin but made the choice to put it on the “don’t take” list…

Well, I have some new information on aspirin that has made me rethink my position. A few blog readers recently directed my attention to Dr. Durie’s recent post on aspirin. Well, it seems that aspirin MIGHT REDUCE the risk of developing myeloma: http://goo.gl/1VrKWh An excerpt from Dr. Durie’s post: A key question is: “Can aspirin use reduce or prevent the activation of MGUS or smoldering myeloma into full blown myeloma?” A tantalizing question indeed!  Carefully designed prospective studies are definitely warranted. I couldn’t agree more!

In the meantime…I wonder if MGUS and SMM folks should consider taking aspirin on a daily basis…My only concern would be for those of us who take a lot of curcumin, which, like aspirin, is supposed to have blood-thinning properties…Although I should note that I personally haven’t had any trouble in that sense (= with blood-thinning, I mean)…but then, we’re all different and therefore react differently to the exact same substance…So it’s definitely something that I’d be cautious about and would discuss with my doctor…

Your thoughts?