Xmas Burraco…

This photo will give you an idea of what I have been doing during these holidays, in addition to strolling around downtown Florence and eating eating and…more eating! It’s been a busy but restful holiday. Day before yesterday, Stefano’s aunt and uncle drove up from southern Italy to celebrate the New Year with us, and brought a TON of food. So we haven’t really had to cook at all, which has been fabulous.

Getting back to my photo, though: this card game is called "burraco," which has in recent years become all the rage in Italy. (Note: I have been playing it for years, that is, way before it became so popular.) There are burraco clubs that organize charity tournaments and even serious competitions. There is even an Italian Burraco Federation (see: http://www.fibur.it/ if you don’t believe me ) with rules and regulations and a statute. So hey, this is serious stuff. 

I usually get together with three close girlfriends to play burraco, which is best played with two couples. As with any other game, it’s fun if you play with people who are NOT set on winning and get upset when they lose. Otherwise, forget it. Playing with competitive folks is NO fun! Although, okay, I admit that I do like winning…

Last but not least, in case I don’t manage to finish the research today for a post I am writing, I wanted to take this opportunity to wish everyone a VERY VERY VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Curcumin and Angiogenesis

Again, happy holidays to everyone! I have been busy busy busy, not with research but with family and holiday-related engagements. But I did have time this morning to take a quick look at a study dealing with curcumin and angiogenesis, and will attempt to present some of its findings. Quickly, since I have some folks downstairs waiting for me to join them for a card game, hehe!

A blog reader (thank you!) recently sent me the link to an article (see: http://tinyurl.com/36aaem) about a study (see abstract: http://tinyurl.com/ysyq4y)  published in the October 24 2007 issue of the “Journal of Cellular Physiology.” The study is titled “Opposing effects of curcuminoids on serum stimulated and unstimulated angiogenic response.” In a nutshell, a group of researchers from the University of Kerala, India, discovered that curcumin promotes the formation of blood vessels in HEALTHY cells. This may not sound so amazing, but it really IS, when you think about it, because their finding confirms the fact that curcumin has the ability to distinguish between healthy and cancerous cells. Curcumin provides a supply of blood to normal cells whenever they need it but cuts off that same supply to nasty cancer cells. This may appear to be contradictory, but the Kerala researchers, as we will see, may have found an explanation. And their finding may be important not only for the treatment of cancer but also of ischemic conditions where there is a shortage in blood supply and, consequently, of oxygen.

The Kerala study (the full text was sent to me by another blog reader, thanks!) begins with an explanation of angiogenesis, which “is the formation of new blood vessels from preexisting vessels. […] Physiologically, it plays an important role in wound healing and ovulation. Nevertheless, uncontrolled angiogenesis results in many pathological conditions.” Indeed!

Curcumin applied to wounds caused by radiation has strong healing properties. An interesting aside: while I was doing research for this part of the post, I came upon a 2007 study (http://tinyurl.com/2ahqmg)  showing that curcumin has both radioprotective AND radiosensitizing properties. How about THAT? So curcumin will protect our healthy cells from the harmful effects of radiation while enhancing the murderous effects of radiation on cancer cells. At the exact same time! Extraordinary. That is why it might be very useful in the radiotherapy treatment of cancer, the study suggests. Well, I already knew about the radioprotective effects of curcumin, and now in fact I am not at all nervous about having my annual skeletal exam, but not the radiosensitizing effects. Curcumin never ceases to amaze me!

A 1999 study (see abstract: http://tinyurl.com/2fs5bw) showed that curcumin both when taken orally and applied topically improved wound healing in diabetic rats and mice.

The above-mentioned Kerala researchers point out that it seemed contradictory for curcumin to have wound healing properties when it is also has these anti-angiogenic properties. So they focused on the cellular microenvironment to see if it had “any effect on the angiogenic potential of curcuminoids.” Well, it does. This was a difficult, very technical study for me to read (the abstract will give you an idea…), but the following is more or less clear: curcuminoids stimulated the expression of proangiogenic factors when there was no extracellular stimulation (of an angiogenic response) by serum or proangiogenic growth factors, whereas, in the presence of those stimuli, curcuminoids appeared to be anti-angiogenic. Okay, perhaps this is not clear at all, now that I reread it! Well, basically, depending on the presence or absence of serum or certain growth factors, curcuminoids help normal cells live happily ever after, but they can also kill cancer cells by cutting off their blood supply.

This study gives us another example of the wonderful dual nature of curcumin, able to distinguish between the good and the bad guys. Yeah!

Ma di quel, che sì puretto/si vendemmia in Artimino/vo’ trincarne più d’un tino…

The title of my post today refers to part of a dithyrambic ode to wine known as "Bacchus in Tuscany" and written by the famous 17th century scientist and poet Francesco Redi. The ode celebrates the wine of Artimino, among others, and a translation of the verses I quoted is more or less: "but of that wine so pure/ that they harvest in Artimino/I want to guzzle more than a vat." Hehe. I couldn’t resist quoting these verses today, even though my post is mainly about a wedding reception that we attended…at Villa Artimino. This will all make sense in a second.

Yep, I know, a wedding the day after Xmas. It sounds rather odd. But it turned out to be lovely. The reception hall was decked out with cheerful Xmas lights, and the wedding photos were taken in front of a huge sparkling Xmas tree. I thought it was brilliant! This photo, by the way, shows the detail of a frescoed ceiling. I liked this depiction of "Diligence."

But the most important part about today, for Stefano and yours truly!, is that the wedding reception was held in the EXACT same place, i.e., a four-story Medici villa built in the 16th century, where we had our own reception almost nine years ago. Ahhh yes. So Stefano and I took a little trip back in time, remembering our own wedding and so on. And the food, service and wine were just as good as we recalled.

This elegant Renaissance villa is also known as Villa “La Ferdinanda.” It was originally designed as a hunting lodge for the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinand I de’ Medici, and is now part convention center, part archaeological museum.

Another name (!) of Villa “La Ferdinanda” is the "villa with one hundred chimneys" (villa dai cento camini), even though there are only actually 40 of these differently-shaped and sized chimneys. This photo shows a few.

The view from the back terrace/lawn over the Tuscan hills covered with vineyards and olive groves is absolutely magnificent. In the background you can make out the small fortified Medieval village of Artimino.

Well, I can’t say that I enjoy attending weddings. I am a casual dresser and like comfortable clothes, so getting all dressed up and wearing heels is not my cup of tea. Not at all! But I did enjoy being out and about with my dashing Stefano on such a beautiful sunny winter day.

Buon Natale! Merry Xmas! Feliz Navidad!

Stefano and I gave each other and received (from others) some great presents, but our cats got THE BEST STUFF, including a brand new crinkly cat tunnel (see Piccolo), squeaky toy mice, toy balls galore and a learn-how-to-fly toy (see Peekaboo leaping), which is a sort of dangling wand gadget that you can stick to a piece of furniture etc. Too funny!

Have a great Xmas day, everybody!

Buon Natale da Margaret, Stefano, Puzzola, Piccolo, Priscilla and Peekaboo!


Marvellous Pharmacy In Calenzano

This post is mainly for my Italian readers so I will (more or less) translate the relevant info into Italian for those who aren’t very familiar with English. First, in English. Thanks to a tip from a curcumin-taking doctor friend, I recently discovered a pharmacist in Calenzano (a small town near Florence) who orders curcumin C3 Complex powder directly from the Italian Sabinsa distributor in Milan. He then makes curcumin capsules (as well as other herbal preparations) in his own little Galenic laboratory. Brilliant! By the way, I asked Dr. Balducci if I could post about his pharmacy because I felt it would be helpful to let others know about this amazing resource. He agreed immediately. I would like to add that he is a very friendly and helpful doctor, ready and willing to answer any questions.

Upon request, Dr. Balducci will mail supplements to any location in Italy. If you are live in Tuscany, within a certain range (Florence and Siena, e.g.), he will even have your order delivered right to your doorstep. How about that for service! The pharmacy’s phone number is (055) 882 4687, by the way.

Ok, now for my "shocker" of the day. I just ordered and picked up (yesterday!) a huge bottle of BioCurcumax capsules. Dr. Balducci ordered the raw material directly from Arjuna in India, and made the one-gram capsules that I had requested. He has had so many requests for BioCurcumax that he has finished his current supply, but he has reordered it and should have it in stock again by mid January.

You see, my friend Sherlock and I are going to start testing BioCurcumax in January. After having blood tests done in early January, we will begin taking these capsules, the exact same amount etc. After two months, we will go have our second set of blood tests. We have planned to do this together. Our own teeny tiny “clinical test”! I will have more details as we get closer to January.

In italiano: ho scoperto un meraviglioso farmacista a Calenzano, il Dr. Balducci. Nella sua farmacia ha un laboratorio galenico dove realizza ogni sorta di preparato. Ad esempio, è possibile trovare la curcumina C3 Complex che arriva direttamente dal distributore italiano della Sabinsa. Su richiesta, il Dr. Balducci spedisce in tutta Italia. Quelli che abitano in Toscana (tipo, a Firenze o a Siena) hanno inoltre la possibilità di farsi recapitare la “spesa” direttamente a casa.

Ma la notizia forse più sensazionale è che il Dr. Balducci ha ordinato la BioCurcumax direttamente dalla ditta produttrice, la Arjuna, in India. Io e Sherlock abbiamo deciso di fare un nostro piccolissimo test “clinico,” nel senso che prenderemo insieme le capsule di BioCurcumax a partire da gennaio. Faremo insieme le analisi del sangue, sia prima sia dopo. Ovviamente prenderemo la stessa quantità di BioCurcumax che, a proposito, dovrebbe essere sette volte più assorbibile della curcumina “normale.” Beh, vedremo cosa succederà!

Per ordinare la C3 Complex o la BioCurcumax (o altro), telefonate direttamente al Dr. Balducci: (055) 882 4687. In bocca al lupo!

My Cocoa Mass And Curcumin Recipe In English And Italian

Yesterday I went to see my family doctor, who was absolutely thrilled to see my most recent test results. Almost as thrilled as he was to get a big bag of my Xmas cookies, hehe. And some Slitti chocolate. Oh, I just have to fly my own kite for a second: he told me that MY cookies are the best he has EVER had. Ever!  Anyway, he wrote down my chococumin recipe and also asked if I had posted about it on my blog. Since I couldn’t remember the exact date and am too lazy to look it up, I decided to post the recipe again. It’s not even a real recipe, since I don’t measure anything!

Anyway, here goes (I will translate this into Italian, too, see following paragraph): I use one and a half or two small squares of cocoa mass, or 100% chocolate (not cocoa powder, mind you). Cocoa mass looks like a regular chocolate bar, and you don’t need but a small bit. I melt it over very low heat, but you could use a double boiler, if you prefer. I add a couple of heaping teaspoonfuls of dark organic honey, otherwise it’s too bitter to swallow, in my opinion. As soon as these two ingredients have melted (be careful not to burn the mixture, as I have done a couple of times in the past!), I take the pan off the stove and add two grams of quercetin powder and my eight grams of C3 Complex curcumin powder. Stir quickly and eat the mixture even more quickly since it has a tendency to harden. Important note: I put small blobs of it under my tongue, where there are a TON of blood vessels. My idea is to get the dissolved curcumin into the bloodstream without much ado. It would seem that this approach works, which is why I am SO curious to see my next test results.

Ricetta in italiano: prendere un quadratino e mezzo oppure due (dipende dalla grandezza; ad esempio, se è pasta di cacao Slitti ne basta uno e mezzo; se è Domori ce ne vogliono due) di pasta di cacao. Mi raccomando, che non sia cacao in polvere (non so perché, ma mi dà l’idea che funzionerebbe peggio), ma pasta di cacao, che assomiglia alle tavolette di cioccolato normali. Praticamente si tratta di cioccolato al 100%, senza zucchero insomma. Aggiungere due cucchiaini da té stracolmi di miele biologico, il più scuro possibile (tipo, castagno). Scioglierlo a fuoco bassissimo oppure a bagnomaria. Attenzione a non bruciarlo sennò fa veramente schifo (lo so per esperienza, eheh!). Aggiungere due grammi di quercetina in polvere e otto grammi di curcumina, sempre in polvere. Io uso la curcumina C3 Complex. Una volta sciolto e mescolato il tutto, ne metto un po’ sotto la lingua e lo faccio sciogliere piano piano. L’idea è che da lì entra velocemente in circolo nel sangue senza passare per lo stomaco e l’intestino dove viene aggredito in malo modo da diversi enzimi. Ultima cosa: siccome questa specie di pastone cioccolatoso si indurisce rapidamente, bisogna mangiarlo velocemente e, soprattutto, mentre è caldo.

Back to English. I am busily finishing research for a post and have other errands to run. Busy days, these! I apologize to those who have sent me messages and who are not receiving a reply. I do read every single message, but I probably won’t get to answering any of ’em until Sunday or so. Ok, off I go! Poof!

Drinking Water

   After dinner last night, Stefano and I were sitting at the table, chatting, when Peekaboo decided she had to check out the contents of my glass (water, what else?). I dashed to get my camera.

This sequence gives a good idea of what happened (over and over…). Dipping her paw into my glass and shaking water all over the table wasn’t enough. She finally stuffed her silly little head into the glass. The third photo shows how much she appreciated my letting her have a drink (I should mention that our cats always have plenty of drinking water, the same water that we humans drink…). Needless to say, I got myself a new glass …We have never had such a mischievous kitten. Every year I decorate a small (fake but cute) Xmas tree. But now that we have Peekaboo, even having such a small tree has become a bit of a chore. In spite of my efforts to camouflage it, she has managed to knock it over several times by now, and I seriously doubt the ornaments will make it to next week. No matter, though, we don’t mind: Peekaboo is THE cutest!

Another Celiac Disease Case Study

Just a quick post today. These days I have heaps of things to do that are keeping me away from my computer and my research. Errands, work, cookie baking and whatnot. ‘Tis the Xmas season! Speaking of work, one of my students this morning wanted to say “I’m really sorry,” but what came out of her funny mouth was “Sorry davvero” (davvero means “really” in Italian). Yes, this was another merry teaching day. Oh dear, I just noticed that parts of my keyboard have turned yellow. Will I ever get the curcumin stains out? Hmmm.
Anyway, back to serious stuff. A friend (thank you!) sent me a case study published in 1980 and titled “Multiple myeloma and adult celiac disease.” It discusses the case of a 75-year-old woman with multiple myeloma (a bone marrow biopsy or BMB revealed 80% malignancy), a resident of Wisconsin, who “was admitted to the hospital because of diarrhea and abdominal pain.” She had had this kind of trouble for “25 years prior to admission.” So had a few close relatives. Her intestinal woes vanished after she began a gluten-free diet.
Keeping in mind that this study was written 27 years ago (!), let’s read the following: “The appearance of malignity in patients with celiac disease has been well described and several theories have been offered in explanation. An abnormal immune surveillance allowing for the development of a malignant clone of cells is most popular. Proponents of this theory cite the various studies demonstrating a defect in the immune apparatus, such as a reduction in the number of ‘T’ cells or immunoglobulins, or demonstrating a defect in immune function, such as impaired response to mitogens or reduced cytotoxicity. Other explanations include inherent genetic predisposition (celiac patients with malignancy have a higher frequency of having the histocompatibility antigens HLA-A1, HLA-B8, and HLA-B12), and the accumulation of dietary carcinogens because of the lack of detoxifying enzymes and appropriate cell turnover in the small bowel mucosa.” Hmmm. Detoxifying enzymes, eh? I must look into this when I have more time (hah!).
Further on, “Multiple myeloma, a malignant conversion of an immune functioning cell, had not been reported in association with celiac disease. It is tempting to speculate that chronic antigenic stimulation in a patient with abnormal immune response resulted in the plasma cell dycrasia. In patients with multiple myeloma who have persistent, unexplained diarrhea or steatorrhea, endoscopy and biopsy are indicated to rule out amyloid or celiac disease.”
Plasma cell dyscrasia, by the way, is a group of diseases characterized by the proliferation of a single clone of plasma cells. This clone produces a huge amount of a single antibody, or monoclonal antibody, known as M-protein. Multiple myeloma is part of this group and so are other plasma cell malignancies, such as Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia. And MGUS. I think it’s always good to review this stuff (sometimes I forget specifics, too!).
I don’t know if I have gluten intolerance. I certainly don’t have any of the harsh symptoms that I have seen described here (and there). But I want to take the antigliadin antibody test just to rule it out. Like Web Admin, I had a terrible diet for years, especially in college and grad school, when I couldn’t be bothered with cooking. I ate a lot of pasta and chemical-ridden sweets. Tons of gluten, in other words. At any rate, if it turns out that I have the slightest intolerance to gluten, I don’t think it would hurt for me to send it into exile forever. Even if my myeloma markers don’t decrease. Okay, I have more errands to run, so off I go! Ciao a tutti!

Myeloma and Diet: A Possible Connection

I spent most of this past weekend baking butter-ridden, U.S.-style Xmas cookies and (of course!) tasting them since every year I try new recipes that have to pass my own personal and very strict “quality control” tests.  Most of these cookies are full of stuff that’s no good at all for us (oh yes even white sugar and flour), with the possible exception of my oatmeal spice ones, which contain turmeric as well as other spices. So of course today I am posting about a study that makes a possible connection between what we eat and the risk of developing myeloma. Cookies don’t seem to be on the list of foods that prevent myeloma (although I may work on changing that). Hmmm, I wonder why… 

The full study, published in the December 2007 issue of "Cancer Causes Control," is available online, see: http://tinyurl.com/ypswov). It was conducted in Connecticut on 179 women between the ages of 21 and 84, diagnosed with myeloma between 1996 and 2000. Since you can read it on your own, I won’t go into too much detail. I would like, however, to highlight a few of the most significant points:

  1. “Only a handful of studies have evaluated the association between diet and multiple myeloma, and results have been inconclusive.” Previous studies, of course.
  2.  “Intakes of protein, fat, and dietary fiber were not associated with multiple myeloma risk.”
  3. “Intake of vitamin A was associated with a statistically significantly decreased risk of multiple myeloma.”
  4. “There were no clear associations between consumption of various fruits and multiple myeloma risk.”
  5. “There was a suggestion of an elevated risk among individuals within the highest quartile of hard candy, jam, jelly, honey, and syrup […] consumption.” HONEY? Oh, bother!
  6. “alcohol intake was inversely associated with multiple myeloma.” Coffee and tea made no difference.
  7. The study gives us another reason to take omega-3, since these “essential fatty acids found in fish, have been shown to limit mouse myeloma cell growth in an experimental study.” Interestingly, omega-3 was a crucial supplement in the Washington Post story that I referred to in yesterday’s post. The cancer world appears to be a small world after all…

The study found that some dairy foods were associated with risk of developing myeloma: ice cream (drat!), custards and cream soups. Vice versa, higher intakes of fish, tomatoes, fruit, vegetables and alcohol were associated with a lower risk.

And read this: “In laboratory studies, vitamin D has been shown to inhibit growth of myeloma cells by inducing cell cycle arrest, down-regulating the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 protein, and increasing the activity to caspase 3 protease, a regulator of apoptosis…” Okay, I admit, I have been collecting heaps of material on vitamin D, and I also have begun taking vitamin D3 once a week (thanks to my vitamin-D-obsessed-with-good-reason friend Sherlock), but I haven’t gotten around to dealing with this topic mainly because it’s so incredibly HUGE. I will figure out something over the holidays.

The study’s finding about tomatoes is interesting. One usually associates lycopene with prostate cancer prevention, but here it is suggested as being important in the prevention of myeloma, too. Oh, and the business about alcohol intake doesn’t mean we should all become heavy drinkers. It simply means, according to the study, that the flavonoids in beer and the resveratrol in wine may have a preventive effect. These researchers have the humility (I like that!) to point out that their sample size was very small and specific, that they had a low response rate and so on. More and better research is needed, clearly. Nonetheless, it was an interesting read.

Final point: I wonder if I have enough time before Xmas to come up with a luscious turmeric tomato broccoli codfish cookie? Hmmm.

Thinking Outside The Box…

A myeloma list member posted the link to an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday (I read it this morning) about a father’s struggle to save his seven-year-old son diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancer that forms in the nerve tissue. To read this story, go to http://tinyurl.com/2z8k5o

The story’s message is a good one: think outside the box and never ever give up. No matter what the odds.