April Flu

I must have picked up a stupid little flu bug at my doctor’s office last week. So I won’t be posting for a few days, but do stay tuned, because this has given me an incentive to finish my post on GERMS! 😉

Fractured English

Discovering that laughter helps boost the immune system and get our natural killer cells in motion has meant that I have been spending some time looking through the funny books that I have in my library. Has anybody read Richard Lederer’s “Anguished English” series? Well, if not, then off you go to the library or bookstore to get yourself a copy. You won’t regret it. I was just skimming through Lederer’s Fractured English, when I came upon the chapter devoted to English abroad. Since I used to translate from Italian to English and vice versa (still do, on occasion), I picked an example Lederer took from the brochure of an Italian hotel in the Dolomites area: Standing among savage scenery, the hotel offers stupendous revelations. There is a French widow in every room. We can offer you a commodious chamber, with balcony imminent to a romantic gorge. We hope you want to drop in. In the close village you can buy jolly memorials for when you pass away.

I always read hotel room instructions. I found a brilliant one in a hotel in Milan: in case of fire, please warm the manager. 🙂

Why is Curcumin so Effective?

A friend (thank you!) sent me the link to a very interesting article which may explain why curcumin is effective against so many different types of cancer. You can read the article at: http://tinyurl.com/2rtvha. The study cited in the article was published in Cancer Research in March 2007. I looked up the abstract (http://tinyurl.com/2k99mm), which shows that curcumin inhibits the activity of an oncogene (or oncoprotein) known as MDM2. The researchers conclude that the Down-regulation of the MDM2 oncogene by curcumin is a novel mechanism of action that may be essential for its chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic effects. Why is this oncogene so important and what does it do? It binds to p53, which is a tumour suppressor protein, and inhibits its anti-tumour activity. Not good! Since the researchers used human prostate cancer cells, my job was to find out if there is MDM2 activity in MM, too. And there is! A study co-authored by Kenneth Anderson (http://tinyurl.com/345dm5) shows that the overexpression of MDM2 is involved in both growth and survival of MM cells. Therefore, the discovery that curcumin blocks the overexpression of MDM2 is extremely significant for MM and any other cancer where this process occurs. Well, how about that!

Watch Out! Laughter could be Dangerous to MM

Very true, it’s no laughing matter to have cancer. However, I think that humour can be found in almost any situation, yes, even cancer. Laughter, by the way, isn’t just a way to relieve stress and make you feel good. I recently discovered that it can increase the activity of our natural killer cells. When we laugh, we apparently are raising our immunoglobulin levels. According to a Mayo Clinic article, laughter has both short-term and long-term benefits. Short-term effects: it can stimulate our organs and activate our stress response. The long-term effects are even more significant: laughter can boost our immune system and relieve pain: http://tinyurl.com/ytxz4w In fact, concerning pain, I used my quirky sense of humour while a nervous intern with trembling hands was performing a bone marrow biopsy on me in 2005. In the middle of this not-very-hilarious procedure, I started thinking about writing a funny story about it, and that got me through the pain.

An article titled Laughter is the best medicine (which I was unfortunately not able to read online but was quoted at http://tinyurl.com/2vfg2z) provides a detailed description of what laughter does to our immune system: the initiation of the spontaneous blastogenesis of lymphocytes, increased numbers and activity of natural killer cells, and increased numbers of cytotoxic and helper T cells, as well as B cells. Natural killer cells are lymphocytes that engage in cytolytic activity against tumor cells, and B and T cells are essential to the immune response. Studies have shown that levels of salivary IgA, an antibody that helps fight upper respiratory disease, were elevated after the subjects had watched a humorous film. Humor and laughter also raise levels of the antibodies IgM and IgG, and of complement C3, all of which enhance the inflammation, chemotaxis, and lysis of target cells. Laughter increases levels of interferon gamma, which inhibits virus replication, promotes antigen processing, and activates macrophages. Thus, an immune system that has been weakened by disease and its treatment, and burdened with adverse emotions, may be somewhat renewed in laughter. (from Patillo and Itano, 2001) This is confirmed by the results of a study carried out at the Indiana State University Sycamore Nursing Center, where 33 healthy women were put into two groups. The treatment group watched a funny video, the control group a tourism video. The blood of both groups was tested before and after the viewings. The funny video women had much higher levels of natural killer cell levels compared to the tourist video women: http://tinyurl.com/2jdey3

A friend recently posted a USA Today article on the MMA listserv (a great resource for us MMers, by the way, so please join, if you haven’t already. See the link on this page), concerning sense of humour and its healthful effects. According to Dr. Svebak’s study, cancer patients who had a great sense of humour were 70% more likely to survive compared to those who had a poor sense of humour, and this had nothing to do with their cancer prognosis: http://tinyurl.com/yquwha That’s a HUGE percentage. Of course, a lot depends on what type of cancer you have, what stage you are in, etc.

On the IMF website, I read the story of a prostate cancer patient, a comedian, and his experience with laughter and cancer. What he wrote exemplifies how I feel about MM. It’s a good, well-written account, so I encourage you to read it at: http://tinyurl.com/24lecv An excerpt: In assessing all the ways I could’ve responded to my diagnosis, surgeries and chemo – laughter was the only one that made sense. I could have raged. I could have kept to myself. I could have felt cheated and abused by life. I could have felt everything from depression to cynicism. But laughter was the only response that, as I used it, helped me grow. Plus there was a byproduct to sharing laughter. While loosening up my body, easing the fears of others and building communication, it provided the most needful tool for fighting any trial in life – a positive attitude. The other reactions; anger, depression, suppression, denial, took a little piece of me with them. Each made me feel just a little less human. Laughter made me more open to ideas, more inviting to others, and even a little stronger inside. It proved to me that, even as my body was devastated and my spirit challenged, I was still a vital human. Indeed! And let’s not forget Art Buchwald and Norman Cousins, who, in spite of very poor prognoses, lived longer than expected thanks to you guessed it laughter.

Laughter won’t cure MM, of course, but it can provide us with another healing tool. My feeling is that we should attack MM on as many fronts as possible, and besides, WHO doesn’t love a good laugh?

This provides the reasoning behind the creation of a Humour Page. So, if you have anything funny to send to me, please do so, and I will add it to my blog. For starters, have a look at this hilarious (I think) YouTube video, titled Medieval Help Desk : http://tinyurl.com/2khqns Cat lovers, please check out Nora, the piano-playing cat, on YouTube. And don’t forget to follow The Adventures of Cancer Girl (see link). And remember: a laugh a day may keep MM at bay!

It’s Official: No Bone Lesions

My GP is on a well-deserved holiday, so just a couple of hours ago I was seen by his substitute, a very nice peppy young doctor whose mother, coincidentally, has MM. She confirmed that I have no bone lesions, and told me that the arthritic thingies that were written on the report simply mean that I am getting older (I hadn’t noticed). Nothing to worry about, she reported cheerfully, and certainly nothing connected to MM. Sweet music to my ears. She added that it looks as though I have bad posture (I agreed), and advised me to see a posture-doctor (I am sure there is a better medical term for that). She also told me that my big heart and elongated aorta are nothing to be concerned about. Super.

Ginger, Osteoclastogenesis and MM

Now why am I NOT surprised??? I found not one but TWO studies on ginger and MM. A substance called 1′-acetoxychavicol acetate (ACA), found in the seeds and rhizomes of Languas galangal, a member of the ginger family, has been shown to induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in MM cells. Languas galangal is also known as Alpinia galangal, named after the 16th-17th century Italian botanist Prospero Alpino (I just love to find these Italian connections!). Like curcumin, this compound is a NF-κB inhibitor. The first study is titled 1′-Acetoxychavicol Acetate Is a Novel Nuclear Factor B Inhibitor with Significant Activity against Multiple Myeloma In vitro and In vivo. For the first time, a group of researchers showed that ACA inhibits the growth of, and then kills, human MM cells both in vitro and in vivo (mice, again): http://tinyurl.com/2xzffz The same research team published a second study, 1′-Acetoxychavicol acetate induces apoptosis of myeloma cells via induction of TRAIL, in 2005. The abstract can be read here: http://tinyurl.com/ypx8ke

Ginger and osteoclastogenesis. Osteoclasts are cells responsible for bone breakdown. The word osteo-clast is, in fact, a combination of the Greek words for “bone” and “broken.” Now, MM induces osteoclastogenesis and depends on the activity of osteoclasts. If this process can be inhibited, well, it would almost be too good to be true! We may be closer than we think: a 2006 study examined the role of ACA in the prevention of osteoclast formation and treatment of cancer-caused bone loss. ACA was also found to inhibit NF-κB. In any event, the most important finding, as far as MM is concerned, is that ACA managed to block MM cells from forming osteoclasts. The implications are extraordinary: ACA could possibly prevent bone destruction, which is a HUGE problem for MM patients. The full study can be read at: http://tinyurl.com/2633rb

General ginger facts. Ginger mainly controls inflammation (bingo!) and eases nausea. Indeed, its possible preventive effect on nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy is currently under study; see the ginger clinical trial at: http://tinyurl.com/284xcq . Herbalists use ginger to treat bronchitis, arthritis and ulcerative colitis. Apparently, it can relieve cold and flu symptoms, and also sore throats. For general information on ginger, see http://tinyurl.com/ys3frq and http://tinyurl.com/2abqh2 (the latter link is to a University of Maryland fact sheet that tells us how to take ginger, and provides dosages). I keep fresh ginger in my freezer, and cut off and peel pieces to add to my juices. It adds a lot of pizzazz to them. By the way, should you decide to chew on a piece of ginger, be prepared for some spiciness. Wow.

Ginger and other cancers. Studies at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center have shown its use against ovarian cancer that becomes resistant to standard chemotherapy. Researchers noted two effects when they added ginger to ovarian cancer cell cultures: 1. it induced apoptosis (which, by the way, has become one of my favourite words in the English language), and 2. these cells digested or attacked themselves in a process called autophagy. Another great word. See http://tinyurl.com/2xfc9u for more information on this study. Another interesting titbit is that these researchers are also looking at resveratrol and curcumin. Need I say more? 🙂 In 1996, ACA was found to inhibit oral cancer in rats: http://tinyurl.com/2fdzgk The above-mentioned apoptotic effects of ACA have been observed in human myeloid leukemic cells, and the following study, published in Clinical Cancer Research in 2004, suggests that it be used in the treatment of myeloid leukemia: http://tinyurl.com/2czdng. The anti-cancer effect of gingerol, a ginger extract, was tested also on colorectal carcinomas, with positive effects. See the BBC news report: http://tinyurl.com/2qae2u.

Conclusions. I have only scratched the surface of the anti-cancer effects of ginger. I will try to follow any progress made in this field, and report it here. However, perhaps the most significant discovery I made in doing research for this post is the osteoclast inhibition by ACA. I don’t mean to recommend that we start eating a ton of ginger (as I recall, 4 grams is the maximum tolerated daily dose), but my research strongly suggests that we incorporate some fresh ginger into our diet. It certainly can’t hurt, and it can also add flavour to what we eat. Add some sliced ginger to any meat dish, for instance, and give it some zing!

Big Heart But No Bone Lesions!

This morning I picked up my skeletal survey results and all the X-rays (about a dozen or so) that I had done last week. It’s a good thing that I earned my living for many years as a translator and acquired useful translating skills. I wonder if the language used in U.S. medical reports is as hard to interpret. Gee whiz! The report states that my aorta is elongated, and that I have a big heart, which is a good thing to have in romance novels and cartoons but perhaps is not such great news from a medical point of view. I will be discussing this with my GP day after tomorrow. Anyway, I am not overly concerned about that. Other minor things in the report are connected to the aging process: arthritic this and that. Also, the consequences of pleurisy are definitely visible. I was told that I would have pleuritic scarring (and occasional pain) for the rest of my life, so I expected it would show up on these X-rays. It did. No big deal. However, the main result is: NO BONE LESIONS. 🙂

Alternative MM Listserv

Several months ago I subscribed to the http://beating-myeloma.org/ website and have now signed up for its newly-created MM listserv, which focuses on alternative and complementary treatments. If you are interested in supplementation, nutrition, exercise, detoxification etc., please have a look at the website and sign up for the listserv (click on Forum/Listserv and follow the instructions). Once you have done that, check out the Listserv Help for information on how it works. It’s easy! For instance, if you have a question about a supplement you are taking, or would like to know if there is anything you can change in your diet, simply go to the website and post your query. Someone is bound to answer. The new listserv offers us an opportunity to share our experiences and, I hope, find new, perhaps even creative ways of dealing with this cancer, whatever stage we are in €”MM, MGUS or SM. I also subscribe to two other MM listservs, which means I do a lot of reading every day!, but I think that the more information and sources of information we have on this cancer, the better. So, go on and join! I say, the more, the merrier!

Balls!

My black and white cat, Piccolo, is obsessed with balls. He joined our family about three and a half years ago, when he was five months old.

He was small for his age, so we named him Piccolo, which means little in Italian. As fate (or diet) would have it, my Piccolo is now a big boy. He must weigh at least eight kilos (about 18 lbs).

From the very beginning, he wanted us to throw balls, which he would retrieve and bring back to us to be thrown again. And again and again. As a kitten, he never seemed to tire of this game (we did!).

Our bedroom faces the staircase. At night, Piccolo will still bring me a ball and eagerly wait for me to throw it down the stairs. He then shoots off the bed and down the stairs like a furry rocket, but within a few seconds he is back, spitting the wet-with-cat-drool ball into my lap, as proud and happy as though he had brought me a hot cappuccino and brioche (my secret dream…).

At least twice a day he brings me a ball when I am in my study. If I ignore him, he will reach up and tap me on the arm. If I continue to ignore him, he will become a bit more insistent, digging his sharp little claws into my arm or leg. Then, when he starts getting tired of the ball game, he will begin dropping the retrieved ball farther and farther away from my desk chair, so I have to get up in order to toss it down the stairs.

Like most Italian kids, he loves to play soccer. He frequently waits on the stairs (see photo) with a ball placed in front of him. He will call your attention to the ball, which you are supposed to kick towards him so he can try to stop it from flying down the stairs. Sometimes he jumps up high and catches the ball in both paws, like an acrobatic goalkeeper. Indeed, we should have named him Gigi Buffon, in honour of the Italian soccer team’s world-class goalkeeper.

Piccolo frequently walks around the house carrying a ball in his mouth. When he encounters one of us, he will drop the ball, always ready to play. He is a clean boy, and will often drop his balls into the cats’ water bowl to give them a wash. Of course, he then forgets to take them out of the bowl.

He has also been known to leave a few balls in the kitty litter boxes…

Piccolo is a wonderful but rather heavy lap cat. When I am in bed, he will lie on me for hours, purring or sleeping or looking at me in adoration. As soon as I finish dinner, he will jump into my lap. Whenever I sit down, he seems to be in my lap.

He is a big talker, too. He chirps and makes weird un-catlike noises, telling me how he feels about things. I don’t really understand, but will helpfully chirp back. He likes to bump foreheads with us before mealtimes from his perch above the kitchen counter. Bump bump bump. When he wants to get my attention, he will sometimes give me a gentle slap in the face, no claws. Piccolo also enjoys leaping after flies and jumping on top of the furniture.

But, most of all, he loves playing ball.

Curcumin and Immune Disorders

This morning I read the most recent article sent to me by a member of Prof. Aggarwal’s team at the MD Anderson Cancer Research Center in Texas (for more information on these curcumin-related mailings, please leave me a comment here). Today’s article, titled ‘Spicing up’ of the immune system by curcumin, was published in the January 2007 edition of the Journal of Clinical Immunology. The abstract can be read at: http://tinyurl.com/2734me The study focuses on how curcumin affects the immune system, and more than reinforces my conviction that, whenever possible, ALL cancer patients should be taking curcumin (see my Warning section for counter indications). Indeed, healthy people should be taking it (at low doses), or should be using the spice turmeric in their cooking. Why? Because curcumin PREVENTS illnesses of all kinds. Not just cancer. Have a look at the following list, which, sorry!, does repeat a few of the things that I have written in other posts (last month’s Curcumin, a Panacea? ), but hey, repetition is not necessarily a bad thing.

Study excerpt: [ ] Turmeric has been used as a non-toxic drug in Ayurveda for centuries to treat a wide variety of disorders including rheumatism, body ache, skin diseases, intestinal worms, diarrhea, intermittent, fevers, hepatic disorders, biliousness, urinary discharges, dyspepsia, inflammations, constipation, leukoderma, amenorrhea, and colic. Turmeric has been considered as an emmenagogue, diuretic, and carminative when taken orally, whereas topical application is commonly used to treat bruises, pains, sprains, boils, swellings, sinusitis, and various skin disorders. Turmeric is used to treat angina pectoris, stomach-ache, postpartum abdominal pain, and gallstones in the Chinese system of medicine. It seems to promote the qi flow, stimulates menstrual discharge, and relieves menstrual pain. The poultices prepared from turmeric are topically applied to relieve pain and inflammation. A mixture of turmeric powder and slaked lime is applied topically as a household remedy to cure injury-related sprains and swelling. Turmeric is also an effective household remedy for sore throat, cough, and common cold, where it is taken orally with tea or hot milk.

Study conclusion: Curcumin primarily exerts its therapeutic effects by inhibiting the degradation of IκBα and subsequent inactivation of NF-κB, thus initiating a cascade of downstream inflammatory and immunogenic events. Curcumin’s inhibition of NF-κB activation, in turn, leads directly to the inhibition of expression of a number of proinflammatory cytokines (e.g., TNF, IL-1, IL-2, IL-6, IL-8, and IL-12) and downregulation of the mRNA expression of several proinflammatory enzymes (e.g., COX, LOX, MMPs, and NOS). In addition, curcumin’s immunogenic response is further enhanced by its ability to inhibit TLRs. Finally, curcumin exerts proimmune activity in several autoimmune disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, allergy, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, renal ischemia, psoriasis, and scleroderma. Overall, these findings suggest that curcumin warrants further consideration as a potential immunoregulatory treatment in various immune disorders. Overwhelming, to say the least.

My personal experience. I have no doubt that curcumin has brought down my IgG count and is keeping my MM stable, which of course is my main purpose in taking it every day. However, curcumin has also given me many unexpected side benefits. For instance, I no longer have asthma, allergies, body aches, constipation and menstrual pain. Curcumin has also helped me improve my memory. In the pre-curcumin era, I used to forget everything, and had to write important things down. Then I would forget to read my notes! In a word, I was a scatterbrain (however, this could also be imputed to my high levels of blood viscosity, which have since decreased). Now I find it easier to remember things; even my husband has noticed a big improvement in my mental acuity. Plus, compared to the pre-curcumin era, I haven’t had any night sweats, and my night-time peripheral neuropathy (PN) has almost completely disappeared (it returns only on occasion, usually after I have eaten foods I normally avoid, like sugar). I have mentioned elsewhere that my cholesterol levels, which used to be very (very!) high, are now practically normal. So, you see, I have many good reasons to be curcumin-obsessed… 🙂

P.S. Yesterday I added my EGCG page to my Pages section (right hand of your screen). It has more information and study links compared to my EGCG posting. I also found a couple of interesting studies on EGCG and resveratrol used together with chemotherapy.