Artificial Food Additives and Our Health

Supermarket food looks so bright, colourful and healthy-looking, right? Well, that brightly coloured food is not healthful at all, according to recent studies carried out in the United Kingdom. And when you think about it, it makes total sense: blue and pink cake icing? Hello? There’s no question that those colours are attractive (I confess to having eaten blue supermarket cupcakes in the past), but hardly natural. And last year (ok, ok, another confession, just last week, too!) I tried the freshly-made pesto sauce from our local supermarket. It maintained its lovely healthy-looking greenness even after a couple of days spent in my fridge. When I make my own pesto sauce, it immediately turns brown no matter how quickly I cover it with olive oil. 😉 Well, duuuuh!, the supermarket pesto is full of artificial colours, Margaret. And have you ever wondered why ground beef remains bright RED for hours/days/centuries? When my husband and I grind our own beef, it goes brown almost instantly. What’s the difference between the store-bought meat and ours? Gee, let me guess. And if you want to be really scared, have a look at this Consumer Affairs’ report about carbon monoxide allowed in U.S. meat packaging to keep meat red and fresh-looking:

Yellow dye, or tartrazine, derives from coal tar, see, where you will also find a list of foods containing this dye. Can tar be considered food? Right, I thought not. Do you want brilliant yellow food? Well, simply add a natural colouring agent to it. For instance, the easiest way to have a lovely bright yellow frittata is to add some turmeric. Ok, before I get too carried away, let’s have a look at the UK studies, which inspired me to write this piece in the first place.

On May 8, BBC News (see: reported about a study by the University of Southampton concerning the effect of food additives on children. This study apparently confirms the findings of a previous one (known as the Isle of Wight study: that linked food additives to children’s temper tantrums, hyperactivity, sleep disorders, allergic reactions (asthma and rashes, e.g.) and poor concentration. The University of Southampton researchers gave certain additives €”tartrazine (E102), ponceau 4R (E124), sunset yellow (E110), carmoisine (E122), quinoline yellow (E104) and allura red AC (E129) €”to three-year-olds and eight-to-nine year olds, in the amounts that an average child would consume on a daily basis. The study findings have not yet been published, but preliminary results have raised so many concerns that a few supermarkets have already banned the use of these additives as well as of aspartame, hydrogenated fats and flavour enhancers (such as monosodium glutamate): ASDA (the third-biggest supermarket chain in the UK) and Marks & Spencer, see

Of course, it’s not just children who are being affected. We adults are victims of this artificial crap, too. I used to love eating brightly coloured chocolate covered peanuts (no brand names! 😉 ). After reading these reports…well, you can imagine how I would end this sentence !

Ellagic Acid and MM, Part I

I read about ellagic acid and its anti-cancer effects about three years ago. And that is why I brought back to Italy a couple of half dead shoots from my parents’ enormous raspberry bush in the States. Those shoots not only survived, but THRIVED in my back yard. I guess they like their new home in Florence. Every spring, there are new shoots all over the yard. But the best part is that we have raspberries from the end of May until October. And raspberries are full of ellagic acid, which will be discussed in Part II. Poldo

Yesterday afternoon I took a break from work and walked around our back yard, checking all my herbs and flowers. I stopped to take a closer look at the still unripe fruit on my raspberry plant and felt something tap my foot. Something warm and furry. I looked down, a bit startled, and saw the front part of my neighbours’ cat sticking out from under the bush. This handsome long-haired male cat looked so adorable that I rushed to get my camera. So here is Poldo, escaping from the heat under my raspberry bush.

Antioxidants and Chemotherapy

A listserv friend recently wrote a post about a study titled Impact of antioxidant supplementation on chemotherapeutic efficacy: A systematic review of the evidence from randomized controlled trials, published in Cancer Treatment Reviews in January 2007. With the help of an Italian friend (grazie mille!), I managed to gain access to the full study, not just the abstract (which is available at: It is estimated that between 13 and 87 % of all cancer patients take antioxidant supplements. Significant numbers. Yet many MM patients have told me that their doctors warned them, sometimes quite strongly!, against taking any supplements while doing chemotherapy, based on the myth that supplements could interfere with and even diminish treatment efficacy. Well, perhaps this 2007 study will debunk the myth once and for all.

This group of researchers went through electronic databases and looked at the randomized, controlled clinical trials that reported survival and/or tumor response 19 trials met the inclusion criteria. Antioxidants evaluated were: glutathione (7), melatonin (4), vitamin A (2), an antioxidant mixture (2), vitamin C (1), N-acetylcysteine (1), vitamin E (1) and ellagic acid (1). Subjects of most studies had advanced or relapsed disease. A total of 1554 patients were evaluated. Most of the 845 trials were excluded for a variety of reasons–because they were not controlled trials, because antioxidants were not given together with chemotherapy, etc.

An aside: since ellagic acid is on my June list, I was interested to read that prostate cancer patients taking ellagic acid had significantly decreased neutropenia over patients taking a placebo (33 versus 75 %). Those patients also lived longer and had a better response to treatment. Another interesting bit of news is that all studies reported similar or less neurotoxicity in the antioxidant group than the control group.

The study concludes that patients taking antioxidants during chemotherapy had increased survival, increased tumour responses and fewer toxic side effects. The researchers hope that their data will pave the way to larger studies on the concurrent use of antioxidants with chemotherapy. However, even though this study examined only a small sample of clinical trials, I believe its findings are significant enough to make dubious doctors change their minds on supplements. About time.

Honokiol and MM

When we moved into our house about six years ago, the most imposing feature in our small front yard was (is!) a huge magnolia tree that was planted, I was told, about 45 years ago (yes, it’s as old as I am, what an odd coincidence, huh?) by the previous owners and never pruned. I used to think this tree (see photo) was such a nuisance because it is so messy. Its fallen leaves suffocate my herb plants and flower beds. However, recently I have come to look at it as a symbol of my quest to find alternative treatments for my MM. Why? Because magnolia trees contain a very important active component called honokiol, extracted from its bark and seed cones. Honokiol has been used for about two thousand years in China and Japan to treat a variety of disorders €”anxiety, nausea, fever, coughs, headaches, digestive problems, etc.

In 2005, a study carried out by a group of researchers at the Dana Farber/Harvard Medical School and published in “Blood” revealed that honokiol induces apoptosis in B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukaemia cells (, without killing normal B-cells (good news!). Another bit of good news is that low doses of honokiol increase the cytotoxicity potential of three chemo drugs used in B-CLL. Detail of my magnolia tree

A few months later, a study on honokiol and MM was published in Blood ( A group of researchers found that honokiol has antioxidant, antifungal and antibacterial properties (sound familiar? Yep, curcumin!). Their most significant discovery, however, was that honokiol inhibits growth and induces apoptosis of MM cells. Honokiol, or HNK, was also found to enhance the anti-MM properties of bortezomib (Velcade). The growth of MM cells taken from patients with relapsed/refractory MM was also greatly reduced by honokiol. And I would like to underline that normal cells treated with honokiol were not negatively affected. More similarities with curcumin, which affects only cancer cells. The study concludes that HNK induces apoptosis via caspase-dependent and -independent pathways in MM cells. It induces cell death in drug-resistant MM cells and overcomes the growth-promoting activities of IL-6, IGF-1, and BMSCs; its antiangiogenesis activity further supports its anti-MM potential in the BM milieu. These results suggest that HNK, used either alone or in combination with other drugs, represents a promising novel targeted approach to overcome drug resistance and improve patient outcome in MM.

A 2006 study ( reports that the NF-kB and NF-kB-regulated gene expression inhibited by honokiol enhances apoptosis and suppresses osteoclastogenesis and invasion. Another osteoclastogenesis inhibitor. Well, well. However, how do we figure out dosages and how can we be sure that what we buy is absolutely pure and safe? Good question. And what about side effects (apart from possible drowsiness, which I did read about) with high doses of honokiol? Another good question. There are currently no clinical trials testing honokiol, which I think is a shame, given its potential in vitro and in vivo. Perhaps I should just begin chewing on the bark from my magnolia tree. 😉

A selection of studies on honokiol and:

angiogenesis (;

breast cancer (;

prostate cancer (;

neurodegenerative diseases (;

colorectal carcinoma, (;

acute promyelocytic leukaemia (;

cerebral infarction (;

antimicrobial activity (;

myocardial ischemia (;

hematologic malignancies (;

acetylcholine levels (Alzheimer’s disease) (

Friday Humour

It’s Friday, and I feel happy today: the weekend is around the corner, plus it’s another glorious sunny day in Florence! So, after writing about crazed osteoclasts yesterday, I am going for a bit of humour today, following my own advice to laugh as much as possible in order to stimulate my immune system and natural killer cells. Are you afraid of flying? Well, I wasn’t, until I reached my early 30s when for some unknown reason I began to develop a bit of flying anxiety. Hmmm, well, on second thought, it could have started when I landed in Toronto once during a snowstorm. That was NOT fun. At any rate, what follows is a collection of (apparently!) REAL in-flight announcements. I saved the best for last

Heard on a Southwest Airline flight. “Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to smoke, the smoking section on this airplane is on the wing and if you can light ’em, you can smoke ’em.”

“Thank you for flying Delta Business Express. We hope you enjoyed giving us the business as much as we enjoyed taking you for a ride.”

As the plane landed and was coming to a stop at Ronald Reagan, a lone voice came over the loudspeaker: “Whoa, big fella. WHOA!”

After a particularly rough landing during thunderstorms in Memphis, a flight attendant on a Northwest flight announced, “Please take care when opening the overhead compartments because, after a landing like that, sure as hell everything has shifted.”

“Weather at our destination is 50 degrees with some broken clouds, but we’ll try to have them fixed before we arrive. Thank you, and remember, nobody loves you, or your money, more than Southwest Airlines.”

“Your seat cushions can be used for flotation; and, in the event of an emergency water landing, please paddle to shore and take them with our compliments.”

Another flight attendant’s comment on a less than perfect landing: “We ask you to please remain seated as Captain Kangaroo bounces us to the terminal.”

An airline pilot wrote that on this particular flight he had hammered his ship into the runway really hard. The airline had a policy which required the first officer to stand at the door while the passengers exited, smile, and give them a “Thanks for flying our airline.” He said that, in light of his bad landing, he had a hard time looking the passengers in the eye, thinking that someone would have a smart comment. Finally everyone had gotten off except for a little old lady walking with a cane. She said, “Sir, do you mind if I ask you a question?” “Why, no, Ma’am,” said the pilot. “What is it?” The little old lady said, “Did we land, or were we shot down?”

After a real crusher of a landing in Phoenix, the attendant came on the horn, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please remain in your seats until Capt. Crash and the Crew have brought the aircraft to a screeching halt against the gate. And, once the tire smoke has cleared and the warning bells are silenced, we’ll open the door and you can pick your way through the wreckage to the terminal.”

Part of a flight attendant’s arrival announcement: “We’d like to thank you folks for flying with us today. And, the next time you get the insane urge to go blasting through the skies in a pressurized metal tube, we hope you’ll think of US Airways.”

And now for MY personal favourite:

A plane was taking off from Kennedy Airport. After it reached a comfortable cruising altitude, the captain made an announcement over the intercom, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Welcome to Flight Number 293, nonstop from New York to Los Angeles. The weather ahead is good and, therefore, we should have a smooth and uneventful flight. Now sit back and relax…OH, MY GOD!”

Silence followed, and after a few minutes, the captain came back on the intercom and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am so sorry if I scared you earlier. While I was talking to you, the flight attendant accidentally spilled a cup of hot coffee in my lap. You should see the front of my pants!” A passenger in coach yelled, “That’s nothing. You should see the back of mine!”

Curcumin May Prevent Bone Loss

It always helps to reread studies. Yesterday I had a second look at a study on curcumin and bone resorption published in 2004 in the Journal of Immunology (, according to which curcumin may be helpful in treating secondary bone lesions associated with breast cancer and multiple myeloma and those associated with nonmalignant diseases like postmenopausal osteoporosis, Paget’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis… Researchers examined the effects of curcumin on RANKL, which stands for: Receptor Activator for Nuclear Factor-kB Ligand. Before proceeding, though, what does RANKL have to do with MM? MM cells can stimulate this receptor activator: the level of RANKL expression by myeloma cells correlates significantly with osteolytic bone disease. (See: Therefore, news of any RANKL inhibitor is GOOD news. And it just so happens that, according to the abovementioned Journal of Immunology study, RANKL induces osteoclastogenesis through the activation of NF-kB, and treatment with curcumin inhibits both the NF-kB activation and osteoclastogenesis induced by RANKL. Perfect.

I also read about a 2006 University of Arizona study (head researcher: Dr. Janet Funk) on bone loss and curcumin, see Bone loss is a big problem in MM. The proliferation of MM cells reaches the point of inhibiting the regular functioning of bone-forming cells. As a result we may develop lytic lesions, which look like holes (!) and put us at a great risk for fractures, not to mention pain. Under normal circumstances, osteoclasts (about which I have written in my post on ginger) are cells that rebuild what is called fatigued bone, with the help of osteoblasts. In MM, osteoclast activity is increased (bad bad bad!), which causes bone loss instead of bone repair. (I don’t want to get bogged down in the details of this process, which is well explained here: I found another study with the same results, i.e., curcumin induces apoptosis of osteoclasts: What is relevant for us MMers, and indeed for anybody suffering from osteoporosis, is that curcumin inhibits excessive osteoclast formation. Excellent! A few more feathers in curcumin’s rather large cap, I’d say.

Now, in all fairness, I also read a study ( that seems to indicate that curcumin inhibits the proliferation and mineralization of osteoblasts. If proved true, this would mean that curcumin might have opposing effects, which, however, might end up annulling each other (I may really be going out on a limb, here! 😉 ). That is, no bone loss but no gain, either. Among other things, the following study indicates that arthritic rats treated with curcumin showed improved mineral bone density: It will be interesting to see future developments based on studies carried out on actual human beings instead of rats and cell cultures. Of course, since I have been taking 8 grams of curcumin for more than 16 months and my most recent skeletal survey showed no lesions, I have the feeling that Dr. Funk’s research will turn out to be the winner. The eternal optimist! 🙂


Veduta di Piazza del Campo con la Torre del Mangia ed il Palazzo PubblicoWe spent a lovely day in Siena, yesterday. One of my best photos is of the famous 14th century Piazza del Campo, a shell-shaped square that slopes down toward the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia (the bell-tower). Yesterday it was packed with tourists, loudly chattering Italian school groups and people sitting (or lying) on the ground having picnics and reading books or newspapers, yet there was still plenty of space for us to walk around. Siena is simply gorgeous.

Buon Anniversario!

My husband and I were married eight years ago today. We are celebrating our anniversary by driving to Siena later this morning and having lunch there. On the way, we may even stop briefly in San Gimignano, a small Medieval hilltop town with thirteen still-standing towers. A day spent together out in the gorgeous Tuscan countryside. And it just happens to be a beautiful sunny day. Who could ask for anything more?

Yesterday I went into town on an errand, and as I was riding home on the bus I began thinking how lucky I am to have this wonderful supportive man in my life. We have been together for more than ten years, yet I still discover new things about him. He still surprises me, my best friend and soul mate. And he makes me laugh (well, I make him laugh, too!). There is much to love about my tall dark smart and handsome Italian husband.

He has always been the one to say the words I love you. And now, after eight years, it’s my turn: Buon Anniversario, moro. Ti amo.

My Friend the Honeybee

After several attempts, I finally managed to take a decent photo of Honeybeemy 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.