Author Archives: Margaret

“I’m 90-years-old, I’m hitting the road.”

norma 91 years oldA friend of ours posted this link on Facebook today: The link will take you to the inspiring story of a 91-year-old woman from Michigan who was diagnosed with uterine cancer and decided to spend her last months driving around the U.S.A. with her dog and family instead of undergoing the conventional treatments that “were unlikely to treat the illness” anyway.

She died in October 2016, after completing her long road trip.

Do you think she did the right thing?

I certainly think so. Remember, she was 90 years old at the time of diagnosis…Even her doctor supported her…

Punica granatum and myeloma

PubMed is such a fabulous treasure trove. A few days ago, I came upon a new, promising study on the devastating effects that extracts of the non-edible parts of a plant called Punica granatum had on U266 myeloma cells. The extracts not only stopped the myeloma cells from proliferating, but also took a hatchet to ’em, finishing them off for good:

Yes indeedie…Using more technical words, the extracts triggered apoptosis in this myeloma cell line…

Okay, and now it’s time for me to fess up…the joke’s on me! I mean, even though I studied Latin for many years, up to, and including, my last year in Italian high school, I didn’t recognize that Punica granatum meant pomegranate! Silly me!

And to think I’ve actually written FOUR medical-related posts on pomegranates (just search my blog for “pomegranate,” using the handy “Search” box on the upper right). Feeling a bit silly, now. Oh well, life goes on.  😎 

Anyway…Unfortunately, the anti-myeloma activity of this shrub/tree apparently isn’t in the fruit, but, as mentioned above, in extracts that came mainly from its stems and leaves, So the photo I took of two lovely pomegranates that we ate a few months ago is just for show, just to give some color to my post…

The study concludes the following: “The data suggest that the extracts can be envisaged in cancer chemoprevention and call for further exploration into the potential application of these plant parts.”


The full study is NOT available for free online, so I haven’t gotten my hands on it…not yet, anyway. I’d love it if someone could send it to me…hint hint! Yes, that would be fantastic indeed…I’d really appreciate it. Thanks!  :-) 

More on cardamonin and myeloma

After months of being too busy with other stuff, such as…life!, to do much research, I have been going through PubMed again, yaaaay, and this is one of the studies, published in 2015, that really caught my attention:

You can actually read the full study online for free, at this link:

As my blog title suggests, it’s about cardamonin, about which I actually wrote a brief post
in February of 2011 (see That post was based on a 2010 study, showing, and I quote, that “Cardamonin affects both the STAT3 and NF-kappaB pathways, which, as we know, are crucial for myeloma cell survival and proliferation. It also enhances the anti-MM activity of some conventional drugs used in the treatment of multiple myeloma: vincristine, doxorubicin, dexamethasone, bortezomib and thalidomide..[…] it also has a strong effect against COX2, Bcl-2, Bcl-xL, survivin, VEGF (angiogenesis).” Good stuff!

Cardamonin is extracted from a plant of the ginger family, called Alpinia katsumadai (see photo), which is widely used in Chinese medicine to reduce inflammation, among other things. It also has antibacterial and antiviral effects…

But, as far as we are concerned, the results of the 2015 study confirm those of the 2010 study, that is: cardamonin strongly inhibits myeloma cell activity and proliferation, and, at higher doses, kills the darn cells.

Music to my ears…

Another study that I hadn’t seen, published in 2013, tells us that cardamonin also blocks RANKL, thus suppressing osteoclastogenesis = the process of bone destruction:

This is also a bit of excellent news for us.

Well, the news would be even more excellent if it were super easy to find cardamonin. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as going to the health food store and buying some cardamom seeds to add to our food. There are, apparently, seven other Zingiberaceous species, and the cardamom seeds found in stores don’t come from Alpinia katsumadai. For example, in my health food store I found cardamom seeds from Elettaria cardamomum, that is, a different plant altogether. Bummer, eh?

So the search is on! If anyone knows of a reliable, safe source for this stuff, please let me know. But, as always, please be careful and do your research before ingesting anything!

More research needed, but hey, this looks extremely promising…

PLEASE NOTE (note added on March 19): There are different Zingiberaceous species, as I mentioned above. The seeds from Elettaria cardamomum are NOT the same as those from Alpinia katsumadai. The seeds look very similar, but they come from two different plants…Therefore, thanks for sending me the links to different websites that sell Elettaria cardamomum seeds, but it would be pointless and misleading for me to post them. 

Climbing steps with smoldering myeloma

_MG_6707Yesterday Stefano and I drove to Siena with a couple of our best friends and their dog. Ah, what a glorious day! Sunny but not too sunny, cool but not too cool. In short, perfect weather.

When we first arrived, we went to have an espresso at Nannini (you simply have to do that…it’s practically the law in Siena…just kidding! :-) ), then ambled down to Piazza del Campo, Siena’s most famous, shell-shaped square…certainly one of the loveliest squares in Italy.

We’ve been to Siena before, many times, and I’ve posted photos of these day trips, but yesterday we had a different perspective, which means that I have some new photos to show you.

We decided in fact to climb to the top of the famous Torre del Mangia, the tall bell tower in Piazza del Campo (see photo no. 1: it’s on the left). The Torre del Mangia was built in the 14th century.

_MG_6682It’s 88 meters high (289 feet), and it’s also the third highest medieval tower in Italy.

I forgot to count the steps as we went up, up and up and up very narrow marble steps, steep ones at times…But I looked online and found that there are a total of 400 step. Compare that to the 414 steps of the bell tower in Florence, which you might be more familiar with. So, quite high.

Parts of the staircase were extremely narrow, making it difficult to let people by, either coming down or going up. Ah yes, it was quite a squeeze, here and there. But we all (tourists), er, squeezed away in good cheer.

So…400 steps…not bad, eh? _MG_6652

Check out my second photo, which gives a view of the stairwell, looking down almost from the top of the tower. As you can imagine, this climb is not intended for vertigo sufferers. Or for anyone with heart problems.

The view from the top is amazing. 360 degree views of the city and, of course, the surrounding hills of Tuscany.

_MG_6667Incidentally, you can click on the photos to make them bigger. No. 3, e.g., gives you a view of the back of Siena’s Duomo, = Cathedral, and also a nice view of the city’s rooftops. The last photo on the left is a view of the square where you can sort of make out its shell shape.

In sum, we had a lovely lovely day. Bliss.

And hey, I can still climb up to the top of a medieval tower and live to tell the story, puff puff! 😉

An “Essential” piece of nonsense…

As I mentioned in my March 4 2017 post, Dr. Michal Heger, University of Amsterdam, wrote a strong rebuttal to the “Essential Medicinal Chemistry of Curcumin” review, which was recently published in the journal “Nature.”

Interestingly, Dr. Heger and I, independently from each other, wrote our rebuttals based mainly on the fact that the review authors hadn’t looked at (or worse, had ignored) all the PubMed curcumin clinical trial results. If they had only checked out PubMed, which wouldn’t have been all THAT difficult, they would have found evidence negating their theory…

But in that case, they couldn’t have written anything so  negative, right?


I left Dr. Heger a comment on his March 4 Facebook post (on this topic, of course), and he replied, although. for some odd reason, I didn’t read his reply until yesterday. Anyway, here is the pertinent part of his reply: “That piece in the JMC deserved a scolding rebuttal, particularly since it was replete with alternative facts and had broad international implications. Our as well as your ‘quarantine’ of the fallout was therefore warranted.”

Alternative facts, indeed. Lately, we seem to be surrounded by lots of “alternative facts”……

At this point, I might as well announce that, based on the fact that Dr. Heger and I had the same reactions to this review, which was clearly biased and incomplete (on purpose, it seems), I have decided not to waste any more of my time on it. I am putting it aside, at least for now, and focusing instead on other, more important things…such as feeding and watching the birds hopping around the daisies in full bloom now in my backyard, preparing exams for my students, and most of all, as of a few days ago (see my polydatin post), getting into more research…I have already found some interesting stuff to write about…I just need to get to work…

PubMed, darling, here I come!

Margaret’s back!  😎

New study: polydatin blasts myeloma cells to smithereens

First, what is polydatin? Have you ever heard of it? I hadn’t…before this morning. Well, in short, it’s extracted from Japanese knotweed, a large, herbaceous perennial plant of the knotweed and buckwheat family Polygonaceae. japanese_knotweed-2The description sounds quite innocuous, but in fact this plant is far from innocuous. It’s a terribly invasive, almost impossible-to-get-rid-of WEED that can take over huge expanses of land if unchecked, and its rhizomes can even cause extensive damage to building foundations, walls, and whatnot. Okay, well, there go my first thoughts of planting some in the back yard. Oooops, not happening!!!

But forget the plant. What should interest us is Its extract, polydatin, which has been shown to inhibit “the proliferation of leukemia, breast cancer, lung cancer, cervical cancer and liver cancer.”

So the newly-published Chinese study I read this morning on the effects of polydatin and myeloma didn’t just come out of the blue but is backed by a number of scientific studies…In fact, I just found a study on polydatin and laryngeal cancer in PubMed…published just two days ago…

Oh, before I forget, the full polydatin and myeloma study is available for free on PubMed. Just click here:

Interesting aside: as we can read in the abstract, in addition to its anti-cancer effects, polydatin has a bunch of other abilities, such as reducing blood lipids (and that is a great bit of info, considering what we know now about cancer cells and lipids, see my March 4 2017 post) and protecting us from strokes. Yes, interesting indeed…

Note: this study tests polydatin on cells, not people. But even so, the results, on the myeloma RPMI 8226 cell line, are quite amazing: the more polydatin was added to the mix, the more these myeloma cells stopped proliferating. The MM cells eventually died. DIED.

Super duper.

Now, the only thing that slightly concerned me was in the Discussion part, where the researchers state that polydatin was found to be less toxic to normal cells. Does that mean it was somewhat toxic to normal cells, though less so, compared to cancer cells? I couldn’t find an answer…can anyone else find it?

Reading on, we see that polydatin (or PD, for short), “functioned as a tumor suppressor in MM cells.  The proliferation of MM cells decreased and apoptosis increased progressively along with the increasing concentrations of PD.” Super duper…again.

The study concludes that “PD effectively suppressed cell growth and induced apoptosis and autophagy in MM cells through mTOR/p70s6k signaling pathway in vitro, which indicates that PD could be used as a potential anticancer drug for MM treatment. However, further research is needed to explore the anticancer effect of PD in vivo.”

Just one last comment on mTOR, that is, polydatin’s target. And here I’m taking from my own research: mTOR is a really nasty pathway involved with myeloma disease progression. When mTOR is activated, MM cell lines resist being killed. Obviously, not good at all. And, in fact, if you do a search of PubMed, mTOR inhibitors are being developed all over the place to treat myeloma.

Okay, so more studies (in vivo ones, especially) are needed, blablabla. But what I find tremendously significant is that this new study proves that the interest in finding new plant extracts that might possibly be useful in the treatment of myeloma and other cancers is live and well.

And that can only be a very GOOD thing…!!!

Backyard birding

I needed a break today, an easy one, so I thought I’d write a post about what is going on in our backyard. Amazing stuff!

_1190424Premise no. 1: Stefano and I love watching and photographing birds…all types of birds…puffins in particular, as you know if you’ve been reading my blog for at least a year. That said, we still aren’t very good at identifying bird species and often need to resort to friends and/or our birdwathing manual, but at least now, after years of birding, we don’t just say: “Hey, did you see that BIRD fly into the yard just now?” but rather, “Hey, did you see that blue tit over there?”

Premise no. 2: we have been trying for years to attract birds into our back yard. With absolutely zero success.

And we don’t kid around, either: every time we go to the U.S., we go to the (famous) Bird Watchers’ General Store in Orleans MA, and return to Florence “armed” with new bird feeders that we naively believe will attract even the most diffident birds. Hah. Forget it. Not even once. One time we even bought some special U.S. bird seed that was guaranteed to attract all sorts of birds from miles around. Didn’t work, either.

The simple and unfortunate fact is that birds in our neighborhood, like most Italian birds, are not used to being fed. Feeding birds is simply not an Italian hobby, generally speaking, although one of my closest friends has been feeding generations of robins with bread, cake, and cookie crumbs that she simply tosses onto a ledge outside her kitchen window. The robins are so tame by now that all she has to do is open the window and whistle, and they come flying down to the ledge. For years, I was soooo jealous of her robins._1190437

I also have an Italian friend who is an expert birder. He has proper feeders at his house, which is out in the country, and is always telling us about all the birds he’s been feeding.

But the thing is, I’ve never seen a proper bird feeder in anyone’s garden over here. The only place where I’ve seen birds being seriously fed is at the bird reserve just outside of Florence, the place where Stefano and I have taken all our photos of the black-winged stilts.

It’s really too bad, since we have fantastic birds over here…Italians should really pay more attention to their, er, birds…

Anyway, this winter everything changed. We had a rather prolonged and unusual cold (i.e., below freezing) spell here in Florence in January, and the various birding organizations made urgent appeals to feed the starving, frozen wild birds. We wanted to help, of course. But how?

Well, one day, back in January, I noticed a couple of birds (to be exact a yellow wagtail and a black redstart) hopping around on our kitchen terrace, looking unhappy and pecking around at…nothing. I grabbed a slice of panettone (a typical Italian Xmas cake, with raisins and whatnot) and took it outside. Almost the second I’d gotten back indoors, the birds were on top of the panettone, gorging themselves.


And so my daily bird feeding routine began. I asked for and received panettone presents from our friends, and in fact, thanks to them, I still have some, and it’s March!!!

But I was worried about Romeo (see my Feb 19 post), the outside cat who sleeps in a shelter on our terrace. I decided to move the panettone, which I’d by then put inside containers so it wouldn’t get dirty, off the terrace and over to a safer spot in our backyard.  One of our heretofore unused bird feeders, built for us by our birdwatcher friend in fact, is stuck on top of a tall post and is shaped like a little house. Its little roof, as you may be able to see in the photos, protects seeds and panettone from rain and even wind. For years its only inhabitants had been spiders. I decided that it was time to train the birds to use the little house, which, by the way, is open on all sides. _1180812

It didn’t take long for the birds to figure out that their panettone had moved to the bottom of the garden. I ordered some wild bird seed from Germany and added that to the mix, too.

So we finally have birds now…right in our back yard. And our binoculars are finally being used at least five or six times a day, more on weekends. The birds are still a bit camera-shy, so Stefano and I are thinking of setting up some sort of hide on the terrace when the weather gets warmer…

And I already have a plan for when we run out of panettone: I will buy some “colomba,” a typical Italian Easter cake shaped like a dove. It’s very similar to panettone, in my view, so the birds should love it. Right after Easter, I’m going to be buying as many “colombe” as possible during the two/three-for-one sales. Anything to make our birds happy…and to keep them coming to our yard.

The first two photos show our bird house and one of the robins. In the first photo, which I took through the dining room window (so it’s not very clear), he’s got some panettone in his beak. I tried to get a better shot, so I quietly went outside and stood very still for about a half hour, but the robin was still very wary and stayed on the fence to the right. The third photo shows one of my favorites, a very smart little bird, the black redstart, staring straight at me. Again, photo taken through the window…not very clear.

Here’s a list of the birds that have been eating in our bird house, thus far (the ones I’ve seen and been able to identify, anyway):

  • European robin
  • Black redstart
  • Yellow wagtail
  • Dunnock
  • Eurasian blue tit
  • Great tit
  • Eurasian blackcap (I think)
  • Common blackbird
  • Sardinian warbler (seen on March 30)

P.S. Do you have any birding tips for me? :-)

Cancer cells may prefer fats to sugar

I just read a fascinating new study about cancer cells slurping up lipids rather than glucose, as has been thought for a long time. I’m in a bit of a hurry now, but I thought I’d go ahead and publish the link:

By the way, please have a look at the comment that Charlotte left on my previous post, the one about the negative curcumin review. Dr. Michal Heger, University of Amsterdam, wrote a strong rebuttal to the review (Charlotte provides the link), and, interestingly, he had one of the same objections that I had, namely, that the review authors hadn’t looked at (or worse, had ignored) PubMed curcumin clinical trial results, where they would have found evidence negating their theory…

There you go. Thank you, Dr. Heger!

“The Essential Medicinal Chemistry of Curcumin”

No, I haven’t finished reading what I have called the negative review on curcumin, but I already have some preliminary comments, which I thought I’d go ahead and publish today. Here’s the link to the abstract, by the way:

First impression: this review seems to prove that if you have a thesis, any kind of thesis on any kind of subject, you can look around and always find something to support it. If I wanted to prove that tinsel grows on trees, I’m sure I’d be able to find something online to prove that. Okay, okay, you’re probably right: my example is a bit too wacky. But I’m sure you see what I mean…

Seriously now: what if I told you only good things about curcumin and never touched on the potentially negative stuff? Not that there are many, as it happens, but, for example, what would you think of me if I didn’t warn you about the dangers of having gall bladder issues while taking curcumin? What if I didn’t tell you that you might experience some diarrhea, at least in the beginning?

Well, duh, I would never do that…

I mean, I’m not just some random person writing about curcumin. I actually take curcumin, every day, and at what is considered to be a high dose. I want to keep my smoldering myeloma stable for as long as possible. Oh, by the way, I should mention that I’ve been taking it for the past 11 years (January 2017 marked the start of my 11th curcumin-taking year), which I say is cause for celebration…  😎

Anyway, getting back to the point, I think it goes without saying that I don’t want to be taking anything that might harm me or cause my myeloma markers to worsen. How dumb would that be?

And I wouldn’t want anyone else to be taking something harmful, either. Duh.

And that is precisely why I will always read and comment and post about any negative information about curcumin. And so we get to the review that I mentioned in my January 12th post.

Ah, this review isn’t simple at all…lots of technical jargon…unraveling it could take a while. But, as I mentioned before, here are a few of my first impressions…comments…Ready? Let’s dive right in:

The researchers state the following, both in the abstract and in the body of their review: “The likely false activity of curcumin in vitro and in vivo has resulted in >120 clinical trials of curcuminoids against several diseases. No double-blinded, placebo controlled clinical trial of curcumin has been successful.”


My reactions can be boiled down to the following, for now at least:

  • What do those researchers consider to be a “successful” trial?
  • Do they realize that curcumin isn’t a drug and therefore does not and cannot behave like a drug?
  • Did they check every single double-blinded etc. clinical trial?

I cannot answer the first two questions yet (as I said, I haven’t gone through the entire review), but I can answer the third one. Surprisingly, the review authors chose to discuss only FOUR curcumin clinical trials. But it isn’t just that: they essentially admit that it would be pointless for them to examine the results of ALL the curcumin trials…for the purposes of their review, that is. And so they chose four “archetypical” curcumin trials that support their thesis…their thesis, that is, that curcumin is useless, therapeutically speaking.

I found that astounding.

I mean, how would you react if I declared the following, for example:

  • Premise: I have 135 neighbors (135 = same number of curcumin trials).
  • Thesis: all my neighbors have dogs.
  • Proof: I leaned out of my study window one day and saw 4 of my neighbors (4 = same number of clinical trials checked in the review) walking their dogs.
  • Conclusion: all my neighbors have dogs.

Of course, you’d say that’s ridiculous. And you would be right.

You can’t just consider the specific trials that support your theory.

This means that if you are making sweeping statements about curcumin, it is indeed NOT “beyond the scope” of your work to look at ALL the trials that have results. But that is what  seems to have occurred here.

Note: the review authors tell us that they chose these trials because the data is available on the website. Um, I’d like to point out that there are curcumin clinical trial results in PubMed, too…

Let’s look at their first choice, which I thought was quite interesting for a variety of reasons, as we will see:

The goal of a recent University of Rochester study testing curcumin on breast cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy was to reduce radiation-caused dermatitis. Its results, the review authors say, are “inconclusive.”

I looked up the results on the clinical trial website (as far as I know, and as far as the review authors know, the results have not been published anywhere else yet), and yes, true, there was not much difference between the Mean Radiation Dermatitis Severity Scores of the two groups: 2.02 in the curcumin group, 1.99 in the placebo group.

However, I didn’t stop there.

I found a previous University of Rochester clinical trial, in which curcumin was tested on a group of breast cancer patients. Same group of researchers, same center (University of Rochester), same everything, including dosage, except that in this trial, there were only 30 women, compared to 686 women in the second trial.

The results of the smaller clinical trial led the University of Rochester researchers to state the following:

In conclusion, oral curcumin, 6.0 g daily during radiotherapy, reduced the severity of radiation dermatitis in breast cancer patients.” And, quoting from the full study: “Overall, although curcumin did not completely prevent radiation dermatitis in this trial, the reduction in moist desquamation is clinically significant and suggests improved quality of life during RT.”

You can read the abstract and download the full study (for free) here:

Now, in order to understand why there were such different results between the two trials, we will just have to wait for the full study to be published…Pointless to speculate about results without having access to all the information, right?

Note: the review authors chose not to mention the earlier, smaller trial, even though it had results (in fact, very good results), and even though it was carried out at the same center…and, let me add, even though the full study was published online…and for free, as we have seen.

Well, I suppose it’s clear at this point that I didn’t just look at the clinical trials website. I also checked out PubMed where I found a number of curcumin clinical trials whose results are “successful,” at least in my opinion. And that includes the Australian curcumin trials, which concern us, in particular…

But it’s time for lunch now, and then I have stuff to do, so I have to leave it at that, for today. Ciao!!! :-)

Curcumin kills malignant mesothelioma cell lines

Well no, it’s not myeloma, but mesothelioma (but its acronym is MM, too), which is a terrible cancer with poor survival rates, high resistance to conventional therapies, etc.

Previous studies have showed that curcumin might help in the treatment of mesothelioma, but the one I read about today has just come out, and it’s from the University of Rome, Italy (I always have a soft spot for Italian studies…): Interesting…Poor mice, though…!!!

From this link, you can read more about it, if you want. And if you want to have a look at the abstract, click on this link:

I’m going to finish reading the anti-curcumin review this afternoon…Wish me luck!  :roll: