After several attempts, I finally managed to take a decent photo of my camera-shy buzzing friend this morning, busily collecting nectar from my monster raspberry plant, which grew from a tiny half dead shoot that I brought back to Italy from my parents’ back yard in the U.S. a couple of years ago. Mr. Honeybee is a bit out of focus, but it’s the best I have been able to do.
I would like to start out by thanking all the comment-writers. I REALLY enjoy receiving comments. For one thing, it tells me that my posts are actually being read! 😉 For another, many of your comments have given me research fodder. Case in point: a recent blog comment posted by a listserv friend about one of his newsgroup correspondents who had developed tongue cancer but couldn’t figure out HOW. He had a healthy, physically active lifestyle and had lived in Asian countries where his diet consisted mainly of hot spicy food. His oncologist told him that his tongue cancer had been caused by those very spices. The first thought that came to my mind was ridiculous!
Spices, as I have previously reported, have well-known anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties as well as general healing effects. However, I did go online to see if I could find a study that connected spices to any type of cancer. The result: nothing. Not one study. That doesn’t mean such a study doesn’t exist, of course, so if anybody has more success than I had this morning, please let me know. Did the cancer patient in question smoke, chew tobacco, or drink alcohol? Those are the three main listed causes for tongue cancer (that I found).
Just because you have a healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean you won’t get cancer. Indeed, a close member of my family had a terrible diet, drank quite heavily and smoked but was always as fit as a fiddle and died in her early 100s. It doesn’t make sense, but there it is.
A final point: spicy doesn’t necessarily mean HOT. I cook frequently with turmeric and other mild spices, which don’t set your mouth on fire but leave you with a pleasant sensation and aroma in your mouth: spice without the bite!
I love the Internet! I begin with a research idea and frequently end up going in an entirely different direction. This morning, for instance, I was going to do some more research on the bioavailability of curcumin but came across a fascinating study (http://tinyurl.com/2fh26z) titled Effect of heat processing of spices on the concentrations of their bioactive principles: Turmeric (Curcuma longa), red pepper (Capsicum annuum) and black pepper (Piper nigrum). Researchers tested these spices using three different home cooking methods: in boiling water for 10 and 20 minutes, and in a pressure cooker for 10 minutes. The greatest loss of curcumin occurred in the pressure cooking process: 53 %. Good thing I don’t own a pressure cooker, I guess!
The spices were heated separately and also with tamarind powder, an acidulant, and red gram, a legume also known as pigeon pea. The losses were still significant, although the combination turmeric-tamarind reduced the pressure cooker loss to 34 %. I have been cooking with turmeric and red pepper for a long time. (Since taking curcumin with piperine capsules, though, I no longer add black pepper to my food.) I will now make sure that I don’t overcook these spices, but add them at the last minute. I certainly don’t want to lose too many of their beneficial properties.
I was looking up the medicinal properties of honey and came across a fascinating bit of news by pure coincidence. In 2006, an Iranian pharmacist administered bee venom therapy (BVT) to a patient with MM. The patient improved considerably but, as soon as the venom therapy was stopped, his markers worsened (http://tinyurl.com/3dyj3l). I have not been able to get my hands on the particular study, so if anybody has access to the March 2006 issue of the Journal of the American Apitherapy Society, please let me know! Bee venom is no joke, as I quickly discovered. It stimulates the body to release cortisol, a natural steroid, and is being used to treat multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Researchers at CSIRO Molecular Science in Western Australia have been trying to modify bee venom to develop cancer treatments that would target only cancer cells, not healthy ones, and cause very few side effects. See: http://tinyurl.com/ywgmlx The main active ingredient in bee venom is melittin, a molecule with potent anti-inflammatory properties (according to Wikipedia, it appears to be 100 times stronger than hydrocortisone!) that attaches to the membranes of cells, causing them to collapse and die. The researchers’ task is to modify this molecule in order to prevent allergic/toxic reactions while maintaining intact its cancer-killing potential. The idea is to create an immunotoxin, that is, a combination of melittin and a specific cancer-killing antibody: melittin-MABs (or melittin monoclonal antibodies). If these attempts are successful, this might mean no more chemotherapy with hair loss, vomiting, weight loss, etc. Just think: only cancer cells would die.
A bit more research led me to the following study (http://tinyurl.com/yvgh3o) published in the International Journal of Oncology in 2003: a melittin/avidin conjugate was successfully used to reduce tumours both in vitro and in vivo. Avidin is a glycoprotein, by the way, and was coupled with melittin to reduce its toxicity. At any rate, this conjugate ignored healthy cells but targeted MMP-2 (matrix metalloproteinase 2), an endopeptidase that plays an important role in cancer metastasis and is active in MM, too. See, for instance, http://tinyurl.com/27m7wm, http://tinyurl.com/3exzcd and http://tinyurl.com/2uxeom
Bee venom, a possible cancer treatment? Who would have ever thought?!
Today I had an appointment with my haematologist. She is a very cautious doctor and doesn’t let on that she is overjoyed when reading some good news (as I imagine she would not show disappointment when reading some bad news), BUT I could tell that she was very pleased with my tests â‚¬”my skeletal X-rays (she confirmed that there were no lesions) and most recent blood tests. She told me that she wants to see me 4-6 months from now, and that is how she let me know that she thinks things are definitely going well. She said I should get in touch with her if something negative shows up on my next tests, but otherwise we can schedule our next appointment in the fall. Yippee!!!
An aside. Whenever I whip out my list of questions, she almost rolls her eyes in resignation. But today we ended up discussing a couple of my most recent research topics, and her final words to me were: I always learn something from you. That made my day. Perhaps my week. My month?
I have always wondered what made me so lucky (tongue-in-cheek!!!) to have developed MM from my previous MGUS condition. Well, an explanation may be close at hand. This morning I read an interesting report on immunity to cancer stem cells that might explain why some people develop a malignant condition while others do not. By the way, I subscribe to the IMF newsletter, which provided the link to this EurekAlert! (http://tinyurl.com/35smgq). Cancer stem cell research is a hot topic right now, but this is the first time I have seen it connected to MGUS-MM progression. In a nutshell, these stem cell researchers discovered that those MGUS patients who had an immune response to a stem cell protein called SOX2 (appropriate name, I would say, except I would have spelled it out a bit more: SOX-it-2U) did not progress to MM. This immunity provided them with a sort of protective shield against MM. To read the abstract, please go to: http://tinyurl.com/2tn6e2 I found it significant that cancer stem cells are the target in this study, not just regular MM bulk cells. And this discovery is could lead to a future cancer vaccine. How about that?!
I will end with a quote by research head scientist Madhav Dhodapkar, “You need to target the roots to really kill the tree, but what we’ve been doing is trimming the branches and it hasn’t worked.” I’m all for working on the roots!
After watching my little honeybee friend buzz around my raspberry plant today, I decided to write about the worrisome decimation of bee populations in the U.S., Germany and Italy, just to mention a few countries.
In 2005, the Italian Corriere della Sera reported that the bodies of millions of bees had been found dead, scattered around their hives, throughout Italy. Bees began to die in France in the late 1960s, when the molecule of an insecticide sprayed on corn and sunflower seeds contaminated the plants (once they had grown) and the bees that carried the poisonous molecule back to their hives and well, you can imagine the rest. And the really sick part? This insecticide was banned in 1999 but the producers were allowed to continue to sell their stock, rather than destroy it. This article can be read in Italian: http://tinyurl.com/2dojyh
According to a March 22, 2007 Der Spiegel article, millions of bees have been disappearing everywhere. Why is this happening? The reasons given: herbicides, the practice of monocultures, the use of genetically-modified plants. The article can be read (in English) at: http://tinyurl.com/2c5mvc In the U.S., bee deaths have reached the level of catastrophe. Yet I hadn’t read anything about it. Then, just recently, two of the alternative newsletters that I subscribe to contained reports about the bee calamity. I began to get worried.
An April 2007 article from the British Independent (http://tinyurl.com/3cutao) offers the theory that the radiation emitted by our cell phones and other gadgets is causing bees to lose their sense of orientation so that they cannot make it back to their hives. As weird as that sounds, a recent German study has shown that bees will not return to their hives when cell phones are placed near it. My husband and friends used to get annoyed with me because I always keep my cell phone switched off. Well, perhaps I was right after all. (Are you turning your cell phones OFF?)
Aside from the obvious, why am I so concerned? I use organic honey instead of sugar. I know, it’s not like eliminating sugar altogether, but honey has so many medicinal properties that it would be classified as a drug under the new FDA S1082 bill. And keep in mind what Albert Einstein said: “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”
I was asked about resveratrol recently and wanted to post that I began taking it last Friday: two capsules a day. Each capsule contains 100 mg of trans-Resveratrol and 80 mg of polyphenols (from red wine matrix (Grape (Vitis vinifera)) and Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatrum)). Next blood tests in June.
Someone recently said that people who take curcumin turn yellow. That is ridiculous. I can safely state, after examining myself closely in the mirror, that I have not turned a different colour, not yellow, not orange, not purple. I am still as pale as I have ever been. 😉
This morning we were in our garden setting up the automatic irrigation system (of course, the second we had finished, there was a huge downpour, with thunder and lightning ). Anyway, as I was pulling weeds from the ground as though I were pulling myeloma weeds from my bone marrow, I saw a honeybee buzzing from bud to bud on my raspberry plant. I started watching this little creature busily collecting nectar. Honeybees have been doing this for at least 35 million years. Extraordinary. At any rate, I began thinking that I never would have stopped to watch a bee in my pre-MM life. MM has given me the gift of enjoying little things in life â‚¬”a honeybee, my husband teasing me, the sight of one of our Barni roses in full bloom (see photo), or one of my cats sleeping in the crook of my arm. Happiness can be found in small things. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to say that I am HAPPY to have MM (hardly!!!), but I always try to look at things, yes, even cancer, in a positive manner. MM has given me a determination that I did not possess, or did not know I possessed. My research into alternative treatments, while keeping track of what’s going on in conventional medicine, has become perhaps my main purpose in life. Last but not least, I have met some truly splendid people through the listservs and this blog. And all this, for what it’s worth (and I think it’s worth a lot!), is the gift of myeloma.
I am all in favour of drug safety and regulation, of course, but I recently heard some news that concerns me, to put it mildly. A friend sent me a Life Extension Foundation article on the controversial “Food and Drug Administration Revitalization Act” (S1082), sponsored by Sen. Kennedy with the support of Sen. Enzi. It has already passed a Senate subcommittee and will soon (tomorrow???) go to the Senate floor.
This “Revitalization” Act gives new powers to the FDA that could affect all of us who are taking supplements. If the bill passes, the FDA would no longer be a theoretically impartial agency that is supposed to regulate drug safety: It would officially and unambiguously put the U.S. government in the drug business, where it could license pharmaceuticals and collect royalties on their sale. For obvious reasons, this is a particularly dangerous situation for consumers. Government should be regulating drug companies, not joining them as partners in profit. (quoted from: http://www.newstarget.com/021811.html) With this bill, impartiality goes out the window. Furthermore, taxpayers will foot the bill for drug development and then be charged outrageous prices for the drugs. [ ] This new bill panders to concerns of Americans regarding the safety of drugs. This legitimate worry is used by Kennedy and Enzi to garner support when in reality the bill does just the opposite – exposing Americans to almost unfathomable new drug risks and dangers while simultaneously making it possible to remove super safe, therapeutic, and helpful dietary supplements. (from http://tinyurl.com/33bclq).
The worst part is that, based on S1082, the FDA could classify as drugs any vitamins, supplements, herbs and other natural substances, even water when it is used to “treat” dehydration. Water? Gimme me a break! So we might not be able to obtain any of our supplements without a medical prescription. Not to mention the rise in cost to us consumers. Would we be able to afford a simple bottle of multivitamins? Would I be able to afford my curcumin? Does this make ANY sense? You can read the full text of S1082 at: http://tinyurl.com/2kqx9j And if you would like to do something about it, please please please go to: http://www.lef.org/featured-articles/consumer_alert_042707.htm. This LEF page enables you to send an e-mail to your representatives and senators telling them to vote NO on this awful bill. Just click on the take action now button. Or call your senators and let them know how you feel about this. Please do it. Now.
It began as a joke. Knowing that I love chocolate and have been unhappy to cut back on my intake (last year I gave it up altogether for a few months but have since fallen off the absolutely-no-chocolate wagon), friends began sending me articles reporting that chocolate is a healthful food. So, just for the heck of it, I began doing some research into the matter, and yes, it is true, natural cocoa is extremely rich in antioxidants that have protective cardiovascular effects: http://tinyurl.com/yqvgmc. Some types of cocoa could even increase the flow of blood to the brain, thus improving brain function (http://tinyurl.com/3dvjqg). Cocoa flavanols may prevent diarrhea (http://tinyurl.com/36b2tp), and seem to have a positive effect on our immune system (http://tinyurl.com/2xp2gv). So far, so good. But what about cocoa and MM? In my wildest dreams, I never dreamed that chocolate might be good for cancer patients. Hmmm.
Let’s start with MM. No, I did my best, but (sigh) I did NOT find a specific study on MM and cocoa compounds. However, I did find a 2005 study titled Flavonoids from Theobroma cacao Down-Regulate Inflammatory Mediators, (http://tinyurl.com/2h9bs9) which shows that an unspecified (in the abstract) cocoa extract decreased IL-6 mRNA expression. Remember IL-6? Yes, the inflammatory cytokine that is active in MM and promotes cell proliferation and growth. Among other things, cocoa flavonoids downregulate inflammatory cytokines. Aha! They also downregulate TNF (tumour necrosis factor) alpha. I was not able to read the entire study, but this was enough information to grab my attention. I have already used the study (http://tinyurl.com/22gcme) that examines the effect of EGCG on MM cells. HOWEVER, read this excerpt: the polyphenolic compounds present in green tea include ( â‚¬”)-epigallocatechin-3-gallate, ( â‚¬”)-epicatechin-3-gallate, ( â‚¬”)-epigallocatechin, and epicatechin, which have been shown to have cancer chemopreventive effects in many animal tumor models. [ ] We first examined whether the green tea polyphenols and the polyphenolic epicatechin derivatives induced inhibition of the growth of myeloma cells (IM9, RPMI8226, and U266) [ ]. Now, cocoa contains high levels of epicatechin. True, the tests carried out in this particular study showed that epicatechin was not as strong as EGCG against MM cells, but is it enough to give chocoholic MMers an excuse to eat chocolate now and again? 😉
In the following 2003 study, cocoa was found to be higher in antioxidants than black tea, green tea and red wine: http://tinyurl.com/2sfy2s Could cocoa flavonoids be chemopreventive? It would appear to be so. Norman Hollenberg, a professor of medicine at Harvard University, spent years studying an island-dwelling population off the coast of Panama, the Kuna, who drink a lot of natural cocoa, at least 900 mg a day. It turns out that the Kuna have much lower rates of cancer, stroke, heart failure and diabetes compared to the mainland population: http://tinyurl.com/2o93w6 Note: apparently, flavanols are what give dark chocolate its bitter taste, and frequently get removed in the mass-production process. So if your dark chocolate tastes really bitter, don’t complain, but think of the health benefits, which include fewer calories. Even though the Kuna study is an observational study, not a randomized, controlled clinical trial, it is worth reading. More on chemoprevention: http://tinyurl.com/2ncnzu I also found a 2005 study that examines the cytotoxic effects of pentameric procyanidin (another cocoa compound) on breast cancer cells : http://tinyurl.com/39h4te
And hey!, cocoa beans also contain quercetin (bingo!). But before you start unwrapping a chocolate bar, let me add (sadly) that during the chocolate-making process as much as 90 % of flavonoids are destroyed: cocoa beans are left to ferment in order to get rid of some of the bitterness caused by the flavonoids, and are then roasted. Is there a solution? Sure, look for chocolate bars made with pure cocoa, without any sugars or artificial sweeteners, and forget about milk chocolate. I have tried a 100 % chocolate bar, which is not as pure as what the Kuna drink but will have to suffice, since I don’t have a cacao tree in my back yard.
One last note: the cacao tree was given the scientific name of Theobroma by botanist Carolus Linnaeus. It means food of the gods. You may draw your own conclusions… 😉