As you may have noticed, I have always been fascinated by word origins, so please bear with me. The word artichoke originated from the 16th century Northern Italian dialect word articiocco, a variant of the Old Italian arciciocco, which in turn derived from the Arabic al-kharshof. The modern Italian word is carciofo. If you think the word artichoke is a strange one, have a look at some of the old English variants: “archecokk, hortichock, artychough, hartichoake”! May I offer you an arty-cough? How about a hearty-choke? 🙂

Having found this Italian connection by pure chance, I decided to post a recipe that I read in today’s AICR Weekly Health-e-Recipe e-mail, and add a couple of my own suggestions. My variation on the AICR recipe would be to cook your own (organic) artichokes instead of opening a can or jar. This is what I do: peel off the tough outer leaves, cut off the sharp tops, peel down the stems, dig out the choke, then wash and cut the artichoke into 4 or 8 pieces. I cut off, trim down a bit, and use the stems, too. You can then soak them in water with some lemon juice so they won’t discolour. Cook them in (just a little) boiling water together with cloves of garlic and parsley, as much as you want (don’t forget to eat the garlic and breathe on someone afterwards). I sometimes add a bit of lemon juice to the boiling water. Add salt and pepper, and, if you feel adventurous, a dash of red pepper (capsaicin, the MM-killer!), too. You can eat the artichoke pieces with a bit of extra virgin olive oil as condiment, or put them into a food processor with some freshly ground flaxseeds, the cooked garlic and parsley, and make a spread or a sort of pesto sauce to be used on pasta. (By the way, you can freeze the artichoke pesto to be used when this vegetable is no longer in season.) Or you can use the cooked artichokes as the basis for the more elaborate AICR recipe (see below). I would skip the mayonnaise, though!

Another simple idea: Italians eat artichokes in pinzimonio, meaning you eat them raw, dipping the leaves and heart into a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Easy!

AICR Artichoke-Scallion Dip with Herbs: 1 can (14 oz.) artichoke hearts, packed in water, drained; 2 scallions, thinly sliced; Lemon juice, optional; 1/2 tsp. dried thyme; 1/2 tsp. dried basil; 2 Tbsp. low fat mayonnaise or sour cream; 2 Tbsp. nonfat plain yogurt; 1-2 tsp. spicy mustard; Salt, to taste; 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, garnish. In a food processor or blender, purée all of the ingredients until smooth and creamy. Spoon the mixture into a serving dish. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving. Garnish it with parsley. The dip can be made 1 day in advance. Makes 1 cup. Per 2-tablespoon serving: 32 calories, <1 g. total fat (0 g. saturated fat), 6 g. carbohydrate, 2 g. protein, 2 g. dietary fiber, 302 mg. sodium.

Myeloma Eyes

Myeloma cell (abnormal plasma cell) making M proteins.
Myeloma cell (abnormal plasma cell) making M proteins.

I was looking up material for an upcoming post on germs and came across this fantastic sketch on the National Cancer Institute website: . As soon as I saw it, I thought “hey, those look exactly like little EYES. And they are looking straight at me.” This image is really going to help improve my visualizations. Instead of being amorphous hairy blobs scampering away from me and my unsheathed sword, my MM cells are going to have eyes now. Shapeless purple eyes. By the way, this NCI page has an excellent explanation of how MM cells form, and what happens when you have MM. A note of criticism: the NCI should really update its complementary and alternative and nutrition pages. Other than that, well done.

Radiation, Pesticides, DDT, Dioxin, Weed-killers and Pet Food…

On Thursday I am scheduled to have a skeletal survey (my last one was in January 2006, no bone lesions). I remember my first one, done in 2003, when I still had MGUS. The X-ray technician looked over my GP’s request, and asked Is this really necessary? You are still young, I mean, don’t you want to have children? Still young? Children? At the time, I was puzzled, but I told him to go ahead with the X-rays. I have since been reminded that X-rays are very bad for you (radiation! Of course! What was I thinking?!). When exposed to X-rays, fruit flies mutate. Ok, so I am not a fruit fly (mental note: don’t get reborn as a fruit fly or a lab mouse). Still.I am not happy about having a full skeletal exam. Except guess what? It turns out that curcumin can protect our bodies from the harmful effects of radiation. It can even repair DNA damaged by radiation. So I will go have my skeletal exam on Thursday knowing that my body is protected now. One less thing to worry about.

Estrogen mimickers and curcumin. There seems to be no end to the amazing properties of curcumin. Some time ago, I read that it can block toxic chemicals from getting inside cells. It also interferes with estrogen mimickers, including DDT and dioxin, which, as we know, are VERY toxic. I read somewhere that a few ounces of dioxin could wipe out the entire population of New York City. That freaky fact really stuck in my mind. Dioxin has been linked to hormone-related cancers, and also suppresses the immune system. It is perhaps the most toxic chemical in existence. The EPA set guidelines for dioxin: the allowable daily amount is.006 trillionths of a gram per kilogram of body weight. That would be more or less like slicing a grain of sand a billion times, which is something I do on a daily basis, of course. The World Health Organization set the limit even higher, at 10 trillionths of a gram. Trillionths of grams? Mind-boggling. These chemicals are in our water and food supplies. They are in ice cream, cheese, meat and fish. They are simply everywhere. And I haven’t even seen Al Gore’s documentary, yet. Scared? We should be. But never fear, Supercurcumin comes to the rescue!

Supercurcumin. How does curcumin protect us from all of these hazards? Some of the studies I looked at were beyond my limited understanding of scientific terminology. However, I did gather that curcumin blocks a cellular doorway, called the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), thus guarding the cell from the estrogen-mimicking invaders. Apparently it can’t block the cell doorway completely, but it can counteract some of the cancer-causing effects of these toxins. Without curcumin, dioxin could bind to the AhR and damage the cell’s DNA. There is only one other phytochemical, known as indole-3-carbinol (I3C) that can block dioxin as effectively. It is contained in cruciferous vegetables. As for DDT, in a breast cancer cell study (, curcumin reversed the growth caused by this estrogen mimicker by 75 %. Curcumin can also inhibit the effect of paraquat (weed killer), nitrosamines (contained in preserved meats and cheese, and in tobacco), benzopyrene (found in charcoal-broiled meat) and carbon tetrachloride (varnish solvent). I will soon be adding a more detailed toxic page (on the right-hand of your screen), including links to a few studies, for those who would like to read more about this topic.

Pet food. And while I am on the topic of food hazards, WHAT IS GOING ON WITH PET FOOD these days? My parents called me a few days ago to warn me that U.S. pets have been getting sick or have died after eating tainted canned food. Yesterday Hill’s voluntarily took its M/D dry cat food off the U.S. market. My three cats eat the best (?) cat food I can buy (Hill’s Science Diet), and according to Hill’s Italian branch there is no danger to pets over here. However, please check the recalled list before giving your U.S. pets any food. See:


Spice it up! Capsaicin and MM

As you can tell by a previous post of mine, I am fascinated (obsessed? 🙂 ) by spices. After all, curcumin is the active ingredient of an Indian spice, turmeric. A 2004 study done at the MD Anderson Cancer Research Center, University of Texas, shows that many phytochemicals, including curcumin, capsaicin, gingerol, and ellagic acid, can block the infamous NF-κB transcription factor. The full list can be seen at:

Today I focus on capsaicin, the odorless, tasteless compound that sets your mouth and throat on fire after you eat a hot chili dish. I read that pure capsaicin can blister your skin! Indeed, researchers handling pure capsaicin have to wear gloves and protective clothing, and must work in a room with an air-filtering system. This stuff is HOT.

Capsaicin and MM. What does capsaicin have to do with MM? Apparently, quite a lot. A 2006 study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found that capsaicin induces the apoptosis of MM cells. So, capsaicin kills MM cells. Perfect. Another interesting and possibly useful bit of information: these researchers found that low-dose capsaicin combined with Thalidomide and Bortezomib triggered synergistic cytotoxicity. The conclusions (my favourite part of a medical/scientific study): “These findings suggest that the antitumor activity of Capsaicin is at least partially due to inhibition of STAT3 pathway and provide a basis for potential application of Capsaicin for treatment of relapsed and refractory MM.” The abstract can be read at:

Other cancers. A study published in Cancer Research in 2004 examined the effect of capsaicin on leukemic cells, in vitro and in vivo (mice). The same killing effect was observed. See: Using lung and pancreatic cancer cells, a team of researchers from the
United Kingdom, led by Dr. Timothy Bates, found that capsaicin disrupts the major energy source of a cancer cell: the mitochondria. The cancer cells died, but no harm was done to the surrounding healthy cells. Now, doesn’t that sound familiar? Why yes, curcumin has the same effect! You can read the recent BBC news report on these findings at: In Dr Timothy Bates’ words: “As these compounds attack the very heart of the tumour cells, we believe that we have in effect discovered a fundamental ‘Achilles heel’ for all cancers.”

Description of capsaicin. I subscribe to the American Institute for Cancer Research newsletter. Its February issue focuses on capsaicin, which, by the way, has been used for its medicinal properties for centuries. Here is a general description: The only plants containing capsaicin are in the genus Capsicum, but this genus contains a lot of familiar names, including jalapenos, paprika, Tabasco, bell, and habanero. In general, the hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin it contains. Bell peppers contain little to no capsaicin, while some varieties of habanero contain so much it would cause your skin to blister. Along with capsaicin, chile peppers are a good source of vitamin C, beta-carotene, and potassium. Many also contain carotenoids, the red, orange pigments in plants which are associated with having cancer-protection and other health benefits. The AICR newsletter provides us with a list of peppers rated according to their degree of “hotness.” The list and other useful information can be found here:

Word of caution. The AICR report also states that research in capsaicin and cancer is still preliminary and in the laboratory stage. So before rushing to the supermarket to stock up on spicy peppers, be aware that large amounts may not be so good for you. However, one of my husband’s uncles, who never gets sick, sprinkles so much red pepper over his food that it’s a big joke in the family. Would you like some pasta to go with your hot pepper? we tease him. Well, perhaps he has had it right all along.

Photo of the Ponte Vecchio

This morning we went for a walk downtown, and I took my camera with me. I felt a bit ashamed after writing my Living in Florence post and realizing that I didn’t have any digital photos of the city, whereas I have about 100 photos of a beaver we saw swimming in a pond last summer in the National Park of Acadia, Vermont. I took many photos this morning, and they are all quite nice. This is one of my favorite shots of the Ponte Vecchio. This is for you, Don and Sweetie!

Healthful Internet

I just read an article titled Internet Changes the Way People Manage Health Care, posted by the Medical Editor of Healthblogs, which inspired me to write this post. If you want to read the study, click on: The study states that nearly one in four of Americans have reported being healthier today because of the Internet. I couldn’t agree more. When I was first diagnosed with MM (December 2005), I spent a lot of time on the Internet doing research on both conventional and alternative treatments. In fact, after reading the test result MM diagnosis and getting over the shockwave that had hit me for a few minutes, I got right on my computer. Some of my husband’s family members told me to stay away from Internet, that I was only going to scare myself and get depressed. I didn’t heed those warnings, and am glad to report that their predictions never came to pass. Yes, it’s true, perhaps you can find TOO much information on Internet. I read all the dire statistics on MM, I read all about the side effects of chemotherapy, and I also read about fishy alternative remedies. Some of what I read, in both fields, was discouraging, to say the least. But I persevered. I think Internet can be a scary place. As I said, you can obtain much more information than you need on any subject. It is important to ignore websites advertising a cure for your cancer. Sad to say, there are a lot of snake oil merchants out there. Also, if a website asks for any personal information before you are able to access their data, move on. Don’t leave your name anywhere. Just my advice!However, Internet can also be a fantastic tool. My online research drastically changed the direction of my treatment. I found the curcumin clinical trial/studies and began taking curcumin. I will keep doing my research, and will never look back.


I just got back from the supermarket where I bought a miraculous product. A carpet cat scratcher, designed to save all carpets, couches and similar surfaces from your cat’s claws. Well, I thought, great, this should work. I brought it home and unwrapped it first thing. I put it down carefully on a Sardinian bridal rug, a rather unique piece that I have had for many years and that is being scratched to bits, I am afraid. Two of my three cats, the main scratchers, gathered around it, sniffing it suspiciously. My male cat paused a couple of times to look up at me in bewilderment. What IS this thing?!, he seemed to be asking. Well, of course, since he is Italian, he really would have asked: “Ma che caspita è ‘sto aggeggio?” My youngest cat, Priscilla, who has torn up at least half of our possessions, started rubbing her chin all over it. Good sign, Margaret thought. Two minutes later, they both began batting the carpet-saver around the room, playing a cat game of soccer. Then Priscilla started gnawing on it. This phenomenal invention lasted about two minutes. It now lies half-destroyed on my rug, ignored by all. And did they sharpen their claws on it? Not once.

I love my cats! 🙂 My three kitties

Living in Florence, Italy

Many MM friends have written to me about living in Florence. Oh, you are so lucky! You live in such a beautiful city! Ah, to be surrounded by so much art! All very true. What my friends don’t know is that I grew up here. My family moved here when I was a child. I think that anybody who lives in a beautiful city takes its beauty for granted. It becomes part of everyday life. And if truth be told, I rarely go into the city anymore (I live on the outskirts). I’m too busy. Especially now that I have a blog. 😉 Even when I am in town on an errand, I don’t bother looking up to admire the Church of Santa Croce or Palazzo Vecchio. I can barely recall the last time I went to a museum in Florence. Don’t get me wrong. I love my city. I grew up here, it’s home. And when friends visit me, I try to see the city and its art through their eyes, learning to appreciate it anew.

It is quite a different matter when my husband and I go to visit another Italian city. Last year we went to Rome and Ferrara. Very different cities. Rome is huge, of course, compared to Florence and Ferrara where you can walk everywhere (almost). We managed to peek into St. Peter’s, but it was so crowded that we didn’t stay long. We didn’t make it to the Vatican Museums: the line was about 5 miles long, and we had not made reservations on Internet. We still had a lovely time. If you go to Rome, don’t miss strolling around Trastevere. That may well have been my favourite part of our visit. Also, from the Palatine Hill you can admire great views of the Roman Forum and the city. Walk to the other side of the hill, and you will see the archaeological remains of dwellings dating to the 10th century.

Chances are you won’t go to Ferrara, off the regular tourist route, but if you do, drop me a note. I have a few pointers. Ferrara is well worth the visit, it’s a little jewel. We walked everywhere. The best part for me was our visit to Casa Romei, a well-preserved Renaissance building with spectacular frescoes. We attended a Mozart concert there, beautiful music in a magnificent setting.

I have a million photos of Rome and Ferrara. Any recent ones of Florence? Not one.

Pizza = Health Food. What’s Next? Chocolate?

I frequently daydream that an authoritative study published in Blood will tell me that chocolate is good for me. Well, perhaps that day is just around the corner. Yesterday I read a Yahoo News article about pizza, which turns not to be as junky as we might think (you can read snippets of this article below, or read the entire article by clicking on this link: As a pizza-maker and -lover, I was absolutely thrilled! I usually let my dough rise for two hours or so. Researcher Jeffrey Moore states that it has to rise for 18 hours. 18 hours? I can just see Dough Rex taking over the kitchen and terrorizing my cats! Take note: we’ll have to move into a bigger house to make pizza. The one food item my hubby and I agree on is pizza. I married a carnivore who dislikes pasta (I know, an Italian who dislikes pasta, say no more), whereas I am more vegetable-inclined. So, even though I read somewhere that fresh yeast is not good for cancer patients, I still make pizza about once a week. I try to compensate by adding healthful things to it, like garlic, onions and so on. I even tried making turmeric pizza once. Ok, that tasted terrible, but looked lovely (nice and orange)! In sum, my hubby and I love pizza. But it’s still junk food. it? Read on…

Pizza as health food? Food chemists say yes.

It’s the junk food junkie’s wildest dream come true — pizza as health food. University of Maryland food chemists said on Monday they had found ways to enhance the antioxidant content of whole-grain wheat pizza dough by baking it longer at higher temperatures and giving the dough lots of time to rise. [ ] But Moore had a slice of advice for pizza aficionados who might want to cover their crust with mounds of fatty toppings like extra cheese, pepperoni, sausage and ground beef. “If you’re adding back all these other things that have potential negative health consequences, then you’re negating anything that you’re adding in terms of (health) value,” Moore said. [ ] The researchers experimented with baking temperatures, baking time and fermentation time — the time the pizza dough is given to rise. [ ] Antioxidant levels rose by up to 60 percent with longer baking times and up to 82 percent with higher baking temperatures [ ]. Baking time and temperature can be increased together without burning the pizza when done carefully, the researchers said. They used oven temperatures from 400 to 550 degrees Fahrenheit (204 to 287 degrees Celsius), and baking times from 7 to 14 minutes. They looked at fermentation times up to two full days, and found that longer periods in some cases doubled the dough’s antioxidant levels. This probably stemmed from chemical reactions caused by yeasts in the dough that had more time to release the antioxidant components, Moore said. A common fermentation time is about 18 hours, Moore said. [ ] (Yahoo News, Will Dunham, March 26, 2007)

Curcumin, a Panacea?

For more than a year, now, I have been reading about and doing research on this polyphenol (i.e., chemical substance found in plants), and this morning I did a search for curcumin in the news.” I found thousands of references. It’s mind-boggling! There is not much curcumin literature in Italian, unfortunately. However, I was still able to add a few links to my blogroll, both in English and Italian; please check them out.

What is curcumin? It’s the main biologically active curcuminoid of Curcuma longa, which is part of the ginger family of herbs, native to southern and south-eastern Asia. This plant’s root and rhizome are crushed and powdered into the spice commonly known as turmeric, which contains about 5 to 8 % curcumin. The use of turmeric as a medicine and condiment is recorded as far back as 600 BC. In the 13th century, Marco Polo wrote a description of turmeric, which he saw and tasted while travelling in China. As I read in one of Prof. Aggarwal’s presentations, traditional Indian medicine uses turmeric for biliary disorders, anorexia, coughs, diabetic wounds, hepatic disorders, rheumatism, and sinusitis. Turmeric powder mixed with slaked lime is a folk remedy for sprains and swelling. In the U.S., curcumin (labelled as E100) is used to colour cheeses, spices, mustard, cereals, pickles, ice-cream and other foods.

There seems to be no end to the powers of curcumin. It has antitumour, antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-amyloid and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as beneficial effects on arthritis, allergy, asthma, atherosclerosis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and cancer. Curcumin is effective against a variety of cancers, so, if you have cancer, check to see if there are any studies on this polyphenol and your particular type of cancer. A few months ago, someone wrote me an e-mail, asking if curcumin had any effect on head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. To my surprise, I found a 2005 study on HNSCC growth in Clinical Cancer Research. The beauty of curcumin is that it attacks only malignant cells, leaving healthy ones alone; it also has no toxic side effects. Note of caution: always consult your oncologist before trying anything.

If you cut yourself, dab some curcumin on the wound, and it will heal faster (you might turn a bit orange–I have experienced that in person!–so be careful not to dab it on your face; don’t forget that turmeric is used as a commercial dye in Indian textile industries!). Got a sore throat? Drink some turmeric tea. High cholesterol, memory loss, blood-clotting problems, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, constipation, high blood pressure, etc. etc. etc.?

The remedy is simple: curcumin.