31 Oct 2011

Strenuous Exercise and "Muffin Tops"

What do strenuous exercise and muffin tops have in common?

Well?  A logical response to the question for this blog would be that they must have something to do with ovarian cancer.  Right.  For some reason or other, the Breast Cancer Awareness website decided to re-print a 2007 study presented by Australian researchers suggesting that exercise may actually increase women's risk for developing ovarian cancer.  What next?  Well, their theories are based on three premises:
  1. excessive physical activity causes decreased levels of estrogen in women
  2. consequently causing the pituitary gland to release more gonadotropin
  3. gonadotropin hormones are thought to stimulate an estrogen which causes excessive proliferation of ovarian cells.
In addition, they stated that strenuous exercise caused an increase in androgen levels which could play a role in ovarian cancer.  Their study followed 13,000 women from the ages of 27-75 over a period of 13 years.

Interestingly, the Nature Medicine research in the UK released news this week that they have discovered a protein that sends signals to ovarian cancer cells from fatty tissue known as the omentum.  For those of who need a more colloquial description of where this fatty tissue resides - think "muffin top".  Similarly, a University of Chicago team experimented by injecting healthy mice with ovarian cancer cells and found that the cells reached the omentum in less than 20 minutes.  Once there, the cells were found to change so that they could eat off this fatty tissue.  Dr. Kat Arney of Cancer Research UK said,  "These are important results because they suggest that fat cells in the stomach can fuel the spread of ovarian cancer, and point towards potential targets for the development of new treatments for the disease."

Ovarian cancer spread to the omentum means the difference between the disease stage being a Stage 1 or Stage 3.  Stage 1 means that the cancer cells have not spread beyond the ovary and has a very high cure rate. At Stage 3, disease has reached the omentum and possibly elsewhere and carries statistically grim five-year survival rates of less than 40%.
You can see where I'm heading with this... into the land of "damned if you do and damned if you don't".  I suppose the answer is moderation.

If all of this gives you a headache,  a recent review in the British Journal of Cancer (British Journal of Cancer (2011) 105, 1107 – 1113) suggests that two 325mg pills of Aspirin a day may be of use in the adjuvant setting to treat cancer.  I agree.

13 Oct 2011

Counting Turkeys instead of Sheep!

Yesterday I visited my GP armed with a whole new list of issues - some major, some minor and some downright annoying.  In the downright annoying department is my ongoing incapacity to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. 

As some of you remember, in my blog - Creating Your Own Clinical Trials (July 2011) - I am taking LDN - 3mg per night.  The drug carries a warning that sleeplessness could occur for the first few weeks but now we're talking three months.  I contacted the study doctor at the University of Pennsylvania and was advised that reducing the dosage would limit its effectiveness and of course, increasing it would turn me into a zombie!

As treatment for the insomnia, I have taken Imovane (half pill 3.5mg) also known as Zopiclone (how's that for funny!) or Zimovane in the UK, and it works.  But, it's a prescription drug.

I've also tried melatonin... it works sometimes.  I've tried lavender in the pillow and smells nice, induces relaxation and makes you smile but that's about all.  I've tried Costco's own brand Kirkland Sleep Aid and it too works occasionally, but you wake up with a very dry mouth and feeling a bit fuzzy.  There are dozens and dozens of other prescriptions, teas, tisanes and herbs (many of which I've tried) but my GP has given me a new substance to try and it's all about turkey!

Yes, turkey. It contains a great deal of tryptophan. Other than overeating, it is this amino acid contained in turkey which causes you to feel so sleepy after the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner!  Who knew?

Tryptophan is one of our 20 standard amino acids as well as an essential amino acid.  Essential amino acids are just that - essential to life - the ability to help break down protein into digestible matter.  Absence of essential amino acids leads to nervousness, exhaustion and dizziness.

The University of Maryland reports on research that found that taking 1 gram of supplement L-Tryptophan can induce sleep and delay waking times.  Other studies suggest that taking 5-Hydroxytryptophan, also called 5-HTP which is made from tryptophan, is helpful in treating insomnia arising from depression.

The Livestrong website reports that tryptophan produces serotonin in the body - a natural sleep aid.  They also state that caution should be advised before taking this supplement along with prescription antidepressants.

Well, gobble-gobble...here I go! Pass the gravy, please!

10 Oct 2011

Canadian Thanksgiving Gratitude

Unlike our neighbours south of the border, Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October every year.  I guess it's simply a question of latitude and the harvest coming in a month sooner or maybe it's the snow arriving earlier!

Thanksgiving here is very much like the US celebration complete with turkey and all the fixings.  Today though, we feel closer to Florida than the Arctic as the temperatures soar to a balmy 80+ degrees - highly unusual for October.

Thanksgiving is very much a time for reflection.  Those of us on "the path"  have so much to be thankful for - our families, our friends, our support network, our doctors and nurses, people whose prayers you feel but remain anonymous.

I remember a funny adage that goes "if you're still breathing, there's more right with you than wrong".  Well, I'm still breathing and four years later, consider myself to be extremely lucky to be able to say so.
I'm grateful for the time to be able to share my thoughts, research and collective wisdom with you.  I'm grateful that there are readers out there that have said that it matters.  I'm extremely grateful to my real sister who makes all of this possible - linking us together in cyberspace.  I'm grateful to all the angels who through simple suggestions of "read this" or "try that" - continually keep me evolving.
Lastly and most importantly, what is Thanksgiving without giving thanks to the most important man in my life - the steadying force behind my strength, the constant in my journey of extreme ups and downs, the quiet love and a true present moment person - my love, my husband.

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving to All!

Back To Our Roots Part 2: Ginger

Ginger is one of the most heavily consumed dietary substances in the world.  Medicinal references to ginger are found in the Sanskrit and Chinese texts as far back as 2000 years ago.  Dietary prevalence for foods such as ginger, curcumin, garlic, soy and green tea are thought to be responsible for the decreased incidence of many cancers in Asia.  Ginger is widely used in Western naturopathic medicine for digestive disorders including nausea, colic, vomiting etc.

Scientists at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Care have demonstrated the preventative and inhibitory effects of ginger against ovarian cancer in the lab.  Dr. Rebecca Lui, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, states that ginger selectively targets cancer cells that do not respond to standard chemotherapy. According to Dr. Richard Beliveau, one of the principal molecules present in this root is gingerol - a powerful potential anti-cancer agent and anti-inflammatory. In a 2007 study published in the journal "Food and Chemical Toxicology", ginger inhibits tumour initiation but how it does this is unknown.

So how much ginger does one take on a daily basis?  I was told by a naturopathic doctor to put a 1" piece of ginger sliced up into my pot of green tea.  Three cups of green tea infused with ginger is recommended daily.  Ayurvedic practice calls for a cup of hot water infused with 1 teaspoon of grated ginger before all meals.

There are a couple of contraindications with ginger - ginger is a blood thinner so caution should be exercised if you are taking drugs such as heparin or Warfarin .  As well, ginger is spicy so large doses may cause stomach or intestinal irritation.

Back To Our Roots Part 1: Curcumin

We "sisters" are desperately interested in things we can do for ourselves outside of chemotherapy.  There are lots of suggestions but few of them stand up to scientific scrutiny.  Two natural ingredients which have had extensive research and many studies done are curcumin and ginger.  Both of these root ingredients have anti-cancer benefits for those with ovarian cancer.

Curcumin is a component of turmeric.  It is not the same thing nor interchangeable with turmeric or curry powder - as turmeric contains only 3% curcumin and curry powder much less.  Curcumin has been used since 3000BC for medicinal purposes.  It is anti-inflammatory (inflammation has long been associated with the development of cancer cells), it inhibits tumoral cell growth, it induces tumoral cell death, it interferes with angiogenesis (discussed in the Green Tea blog)  and it has a positive impact on the immune system.  Unlike other anti-inflammatory drugs, curcumin is not toxic to humans in concentrations of up to 12,000 grams/day.  Therapeutic benefit is received from doses as low as 2,000 grams per day.
There is one drawback however and that is the bioavailability of curcumin - the extent to which it can be absorbed into the bloodstream.  In order to make it more bioavailable - curcumin has to be coupled with piperine (an extract of pepper).  Dr. Richard Beliveau is quoted in his book "Foods that Fight Cancer" as saying "Piperine increases the amount of curcumin absorbed by a factor of 1,000".  It has been further understood that curcumin is not soluble in water and so needs an oil to "carry it" through the digestive process.  Combining it with a flaxseed oil capsule or dissolving it in a fatty liquid like coconut milk or real cream increases its effectiveness.

Recent developments include in vivo, in vitro and xenograph studies using an analog (synthetic) of curcumin on cisplatin resistant ovarian cancer cells.  The treatment combined cisplatin and the curcumin analog and resulted in significantly inhibiting the growth of resistant tumours without toxicity to healthy tissues.

Reproductive Sciences journal reports a study of another curcumin analog - EF24 - has shown a 10 to 20 times increase in cytotocity (cancer cell death).  Unfortunately, these analogs are not yet available commercially and human clinical trials are warranted.  In the meantime... we have good old curcumin - be sure it is standardized to greater than or equal to 95% curcuminoids and includes piperine. 

A very interesting blog with lots of curcumin chatter on it is Margaret's health blog.

Next topic: Ginger.

6 Oct 2011

Green Tea

Last week, I dropped into my favourite out-of-town tea merchant after not having been there for over a year.  A lot happens in a year - especially in my world of ovarian cancer information research.  So, when I started to ask the shopkeeper detailed questions about the various teas and when it was evident that there were no detailed answers forthcoming, I decided to pass on buying any serious tea there that day, and resolved to return to the green tea website that helped provide my tea education and the finest tea I've ever consumed.

Tea is a complex beverage containing hundreds of chemical compounds.  About 1/3 of the weight of a tea leaf is composed of polyphenols more commonly known as catechinsCatechins are responsible for the anti-cancer activity of green tea.  Green tea contains several catechins but the one with the highest anti-cancer activity is known as EGCG.  The EGCG content of green tea will vary with the area of cultivation, the diversity of plants, the harvest season and importantly, the processing technique.  In other words, all green tea is not created equal.

Brewing time is an important factor in releasing catechins... steeping less than five minutes only allows the extraction of 20% of the catechins that 8-10 minutes would release.  Dr. Richard Beliveau's book Foods that Fight Cancer, has an excellent chapter on green tea, the different types of green tea, where they come from and their EGCG content.  He states - "Of all the molecules naturally occurring in foods that have been identified up until now, our studies show that EGCG is the most powerful in blocking VEGF receptor activity, a key feature in the initiation of angiogenesis." *

Along with the information contained in Dr. Beliveau's book, click on the Green Tea Lovers' website to further your education and tea experience.  Green Tea Lovers has a vast selection of rated teas from around the world in all price ranges and tastes.  They supply the background information on each offering as well as the antioxidant percentages.  The people that own Green Tea Lovers actually visit every farm where they buy tea and so when they say it's organic - you can trust that it is organic.  Their "white" tea selection - a hand-picked leaf - specially processed and the "queen of all teas", is sublime. 
Another consideration when buying high quality tea leaves is that they can be re-infused many times without losing their taste or catechin value.

If you are drinking green tea for pleasure or medicinal value, you can improve the quality of the effect by improving the quality of your ingredients.

Green Tea Lovers has generously offered our readers a 10% discount when you use the code OVCGTL in the coupon code box at checkout. Links to their website are also found on the SunflowerSisters Books and Gift Store page.

*Cancer cells need to obtain their own supply of food and oxygen in order to grow.  These cells trigger a protein called VEGF (vascular endothilial growth factor), which in turn attracts the cells of nearby blood vessels.   The tumour then creates it's own blood vessel network and continues to grow and multiply.  This process is called angiogenesis.  Therefore, EGCG is a powerful VEGF inhibitor.