May 31, 2012

"KARMA": A Poem about Cancer by Loene Trubkin

I asked my pal Hugh Yarrington to write the following introduction to Loene's poem. Waging his own battle against cancer, Hugh wrote this intro from his hospital room after a week of chemo treatment. Hugh and Loene have exchanged many messages of support and encouragement. I cry when I read both Hugh's intro and Loene's poem. I love and admire them both. From Hugh:
If you know Loene Trubkin and suffer a bit yourself, you will cry when you read her poem - for her, for yourself, for every one who has felt -- but been unable to express so precisely -- these awful feelings.  
Loene has comforted and inspired many with her courage and -- heretofore -- calm, quiet dignity. For all those who respect her, depend on her, and love her -- as I do -- this poem is a happy shock. Her deepest feelings are here so openly exposed and so like our own.

For those who don't know Loene, it is important to say that her poem is a good cry, a rant, an emphatic piece of pure rage in the face of the utter unfairness of all that comes with decades of incurable disease. Still, today, and every day, I know that she will wake up and look for as much happiness as she can find in it. In the hardest of times, she will always say, "Just hang on. Better days are coming." And, happily, better days are here for her now - in a nice remission with six months before her next PET scan.
Here's the poem Hugh so beautifully described. Loene gave me permission to share it.

May 30, 2012

Middle-of-the-Night Mindfulness Meditation: Better Than Any of My Pills

One of my best times of the day occurs in the middle of the night. I almost always need to get out of bed for a bathroom visit sometime between 3 and 5am. As I've done for about a year, I then sit in a straight-backed chair I keep in the bedroom, put a pillow on my lap, join my hands in the "secret handshake" I learned a few years ago, and... just sit there. Usually I sit for at least 30 minutes. Often it's an hour. I've even gone 90 minutes.

Mindfulness Meditation -- Background 
I've been interested in meditation for years, dating back 15 or more years to my reading -- and re-reading -- the book, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zin. The book became my bible for a while, and I've followed Kabat-Zin's work ever since. Here's how Wikipedia summarizes his career:
Kabat-Zinn is the founder and former Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He is also the founder (1979) and former director of its renowned Stress Reduction Clinic and Professor of Medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. 
Kabat-Zinn began teaching the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the Stress Reduction Clinic in 1979. MBSR is an eight week course which combines meditation and Hatha yoga to help patients cope with stress, pain, and illness by using moment-to-moment awareness. Kabat-Zinn and colleagues have studied the effects of practising moment-to-moment awareness on the brain, and how it processes emotions, particularly under stress, and on the immune system. Over 200 medical centers and clinics in the US and elsewhere now use the MBSR model. 
In 1993, Kabat-Zinn’s work in the Stress Reduction Clinic was featured in Bill Moyers's PBS special Healing and the Mind and in the book by Moyers of the same title . . .
Kabat-Zinn conducts annual mindfulness retreats for business leaders and innovators, and with his colleagues at the Center For Mindfulness, conducts training retreats for health professionals in MBSR.
As you can see, Kabat-Zin is not just another "New Age" nut.

May 29, 2012

Heart Attack: Three Key Survival Strategies

I had my annual physical checkup two weeks ago, and my internist gave me a lecture: "What To Do If You Think You're Having a Heart Attack." To reinforce the important advice, he gave me a copy of a Wall Street Journal article that explains what needs to happen... and why. It was pretty clear he was sharing this advice with all his senior patients.

Minutes Matter, Yet Many People Delay Acting
Every year, heart attacks claim about 133,000 Americans, while another 300,000 die from sudden cardiac arrest... mainly because they didn't get help in time. Of all the efforts to reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease in the U.S., "this is our Achilles' heel, and it's the area where we've made the least progress," says Ralph Brindis, a past president of the American College of Cardiology.

Heart attack sufferers fare best when they get to the hospital within one hour after symptoms appear. But on average, it takes two to four hours for patients to arrive. Some wait days before seeking medical care.

The more time it takes to get help, the more heart muscle dies. Even if the initial heart attack isn't fatal, damaged heart muscle can lead to congestive heart failure later -- one of the reasons why 19% of men and 26% of women over age 45 die within one year of their first heart attack, according to the American Heart Association.

May 25, 2012

A Nepali Wedding Celebration in Bethesda, MD

When my wife and I were married in January, 1957 (the weekend of President Eisenhower's second inauguration), the ceremony was attended by the Unitarian minister and three friends. That's it. After a multiple-martini lunch with our "crowd," my bride and I took the train to NYC for our three-day honeymoon.

In contrast, I was totally wowed by the wedding celebrations of my Nepali housemates Nimesh and Bhawana. Those festivities began with a week full of events in Kathmandu where the wedding took place (extensively covered here). The fun continued last Saturday night with a lovely reception for friends here in the Washington, DC area.

Behold beautiful Bhawana in her gorgeous sari as we got ready to leave the house:

May 24, 2012

Michael J. Fox and Parkinson's: Stem Cells, Biomarkers, Clinical Trials

In his recent interview with ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer, Michael J. Fox said that stem cell research may not yield solutions for people with Parkinson’s disease as soon as other potential therapies.

Appearing with Debi Brooks, his foundation’s co-founder, Fox said that there’s a lot of good work being done on stem cell research, and that it should continue. But he now acknowledges that there have been “problems along the way,” and believes that new drug therapies, experimental surgeries, or earlier diagnoses are more likely than stem cells to provide effective treatment – even a cure -- for Parkinson’s.

In the interview, Brooks explained that scientists have had good results developing new dopamine-producing neurons – healthy brain cells – from undifferentiated stem cells. Treatment with stem cells has made great sense, in theory. The trouble, she added, was in the applied biology – how to get those news cells into a PD brain… and getting the deteriorating brain to accept those new, implanted neurons.

Brooks added that treating PD may very well involve more than simply putting fresh, dopamine-producing neurons into a patient’s brain. She said that looking at “other therapeutics” could yield broad benefits for people with Parkinson’s.

May 23, 2012

Curcumin and Me and Arthritis and Parkinson's and Alzheimer's and Whatever: The Verdict Is In.

Earlier this month, I posted a report on the promising research on curcumin -- the active ingredient in the spice turmeric -- in fighting Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, MS, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis. I noted that researchers have found that turmeric / curcumin is not readily absorbed by the body. Happily, this obstacle can be overcome by adding piperine, a derivative of black pepper, which studies show greatly enhanced the body's ability to absorb curcumin. Other enhancers also are being tried.

We've talked a lot on this blog recently about how Americans spend billions of dollars on dietary supplements that -- according to the studies -- do not deliver the promised benefits and, in many cases, even cause harm. Persuaded by my own research, I stopped taking a multivitamin and several other supplements, determined to rely on a good diet instead.

But the curcumin research gave me cause for thought, since I'm currently dealing with Parkinson's, prostate cancer, and an arthritic back... not to mention my huge fear of Alzheimer's. My internal debate -- to take or not to take curcumin / piperine -- was described in another post. I started taking the supplement on April 6.

May 22, 2012

Birdsong: New Hope for People with Parkinson’s?

I’m sitting in my comfy chair on the porch, slurping my first cup of morning coffee, looking up at the trees, and listening to the birds in a brand new way.

As I learned yesterday, male songbirds apparently use a “smart” part of their brains – called basal ganglia – to learn and adjust their tunes in order for those songs to have the best possible effect on female songbirds lurking in the neighborhood.

These basal ganglia do not by themselves exercise control over the birds’ singing; rather, they act as a kind of information hub -- collecting, interpreting, and transmitting key tidbits of information.

The online journal Nature published this finding on May 20, 2012. Conducted by researchers at the University of California / San Francisco (UCSF), the study has intriguing implications for treating neurological disorders that impair movement, like Parkinson’s disease and Huntington disease.

May 21, 2012

Sage Comments from a Liberal Pundit and a Republican Senator

At the time of the Watergate scandal, The Washington Post -- led by the legendary Ben Bradlee -- was poised to challenge The New York Times as America's best newspaper. No more. Today, every section of the Post is embarrassingly second-rate compared to the Times. There's one exception: the Post's Business section often outshines the Times in analytical reporting.

Yesterday's Sunday Post ran two excellent reports that describe what's gone wrong with our economy -- on Wall Street and in Washington.

Pearlstein on Wall Street
My favorite columnist these days is Steven Pearlstein, the Post's business columnist. In yesterday's column, he again got to the heart of the matter... this time analyzing the JPMorgan Chase multi-billion dollar loss.

I'll admit I didn't fully understand Pearlstein's description of what went wrong with JPMorgan's speculation in credit derivatives. But that's OK since JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Diamond didn't understand what was going on either.

Midway through his column, however, Pearlstein got my full attention when he asked the key question -- What useful social or economic purpose does Wall Street's speculation in the credit derivative markets serve?

May 18, 2012

A Magical Mother's Day Musicale in DC's Palisades

These days, we often read about the loss of a sense of belonging to a community... about people living lonely, isolated lives.  You can find this sad theme recurring in publications ranging from Robert Putnam's 2000 book Bowling Alone to this month's Atlantic cover story "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?"

But last Sunday, I was reminded it's still possible to enjoy a supportive sense of community -- even in the middle of the big city -- if you have neighbors like mine. Our "hood" consists of a dozen homes on a cul-de-sac in the Palisades section of Washington, DC. I've lived here since the early 1960s, and there's more sense of community today than ever before.

May 16, 2012

I Get To See Grandson Colin Graduate from MICA!

My grandson Colin graduated on Monday from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore. The ceremony was an occasion for joy and pride, but it took on a special symbolic aura for me. Colin is the youngest of the adult members of the family which includes my son Todd, my daughter Ann, and Todd's three children -- Jessie, Emily and Colin.

Each of them -- children and grandchildren -- had to work through some extraordinary traumas and challenges in their formative years. But today -- though they are all different and unique individuals -- each one of these well-adjusted adults shares a desire to help other people who are suffering or struggling.  

For me, Colin's graduation was the capstone to this success story... with much of the credit going to son Todd for his exemplary dedication to his kids, and for his superb parenting skills.

The MICA Graduation Ceremony
MICA is one of the nation's oldest and best art schools. It usually appears in the top two or three of U.S. News and World Report's ranking of art schools. The ceremony was held in Baltimore's Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Here's the faculty assembled on stage. Look closely... you can tell it's an art school faculty. Not everyone is decked out in cap and gown:

I tried to take a shot of Colin's accepting his diploma on stage, but I demonstrated yet again my complete lack of photography skills. So we'll have to settle on this post-event photo:

May 14, 2012

Curcumin BCM-95: Here I Come!

Two items from the online journal Wellness Times – an interview and an article -- really caught my attention this morning. Both concern curcumin, and together they make a compelling case for the efficacy of this botanical supplement.

I've written recent posts about my own research on curcumin as a potential for treatment for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, MS, cancer, diabetes, arthritis -- you name it; curcumin might treat it. I've been experimenting with it myself (and will share my reactions). So, it's reassuring to have well-qualified, respected medical authorities also touting curcumin's potential. It's especially helpful to get advice on what specific form of curcumin is most effective.

The Interview
Wellness Times publisher Karolyn A. Gazella interviews Ajay Goel, PhD. He’s director of epigenetics and cancer prevention at the Gastrointestinal Cancer Research Lab at Baylor Univeristy Medical Center in Dallas. His experience and bona fides are impressive (see link below).

For more than 15 years, Goel has studied the power of curcumin in preventing and fighting cancer, especially gastrointestinal cancers. He’s been intrigued that the rate of colon cancer in the United States is thirty times higher than in his native India. Diet plays a major role in this type of cancer, and one key dietary difference is the heavy use of turmeric – from which curcumin is derived – in South Asia.

May 11, 2012

Nine Ways to Support Someone with Depression

Like so many others, I’ve experienced something of depression in my life, but never anything that lingered or caused me to think about suicide. However, my sister and one of my dearest friends did choose that way out.

I’ve had friends who have struggled – and still struggle – with depression and remain remarkable, active people with happy lives and fulfilling jobs. Many take regular antidepressant meds. Some of them even say that their experience with depression has made them “better” people – more understanding, more patient with others, less judgmental.

Although I hope I’ve learned from experience how to be a more supportive friend to my pals with depression, I'm still not always sure I'm doing  – or saying -- the most helpful thing. When I saw this article today in the online journal PsychCentral, I thought it had some helpful advice and decided to share it here.

9 Best Ways to Support Someone with Depression
By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
Associate Editor

If your loved one is struggling with depression, you may feel confused, frustrated and distraught yourself. Maybe you feel like you’re walking on eggshells because you’re afraid of upsetting them even more. Maybe you’re at such a loss that you’ve adopted the silent approach. Or maybe you keep giving your loved one advice, which they just aren’t taking.

Depression is an insidious, isolating disorder, which can sabotage relationships. And this can make not knowing how to help all the more confusing.

But your support is significant. And you can learn the various ways to best support your loved one. Below, Deborah Serani PsyD, a psychologist who’s struggled with depression herself, shares nine valuable strategies.

1. Be there.
According to Serani, the best thing you can do for someone with depression is to be there. “When I was struggling with my own depression, the most healing moments came when someone I loved simply sat with me while I cried, or wordlessly held my hand, or spoke warmly to me with statements like ‘You’re so important to me.’ ‘Tell me what I can do to help you.’ ‘We’re going to find a way to help you to feel better.’” 

May 10, 2012

Curcumin: A Cure All?

Lately, I've been researching and writing about dietary supplements frequently. My research has convinced me that we're wasting billions of dollars on vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements, since there is so little scientific evidence to support their efficacy.

I'm now surprised to find myself writing about the promise of curcumin (the active ingredient in the "spice of life" turmeric) as a remedy for a variety of ailments. I reported last week on curcumin's potential for treating:
  • Alzheimer's, MS, Parkinson's and other neurodegenerative diseases
  • Cancer
  • Arthritis
  • Type 2 diabetes
As I noted, most of the studies on curcumin's potential involved mice, not people. But natural curcumin, it turns out, is poorly absorbed in the human body. Efforts are underway to combine curcumin with other compounds to increase its "bioavailability" -- the scientific term for the rate at which our bodies absorb substances. Piperine, derived from black pepper, is particularly promising. Some studies suggest it can enhance curcumin's bioavailability by as much as 2000%.

New Reports on Curcumin's Potential
Now, there are new curcumin studies. Here are the latest:

May 9, 2012

An Inconvenient Truth: Of Dinosaur Farts and Bovine Excretions

During a recent bridge game, a friend asked if we thought that human activity on earth has played a role in climate change. With varying degrees of certainty, we all agreed: “People are the culprits.”

As a result of my morning scan of intriguing online articles, I may have to adjust my position, and advise my bridge partners when next we meet.

An Ill Wind… From Dinosaurs?
In a May 7, 2012 article in Britain’s The Telegraph, scientists speculate that the giant dinosaurs might have caused climate change simply by passing enormous quantities of methane gas. Yes, dino-farts with an earth-shattering effect.

According to study leader Dr. David Wilkinson from Liverpool John Moores University:
A simple mathematical model suggests that the microbes living in sauropod dinosaurs may have produced enough methane to have an important effect on the Mesozoic climate. Indeed, our calculations suggest that these dinosaurs could have produced more methane than all modern sources - both natural and man-made - put together.

And Now… Cow Dung?

May 8, 2012

New Procedure Extends Life Slightly for Mice with Degenerative Brain Disorders

The internet buzzes quietly with new information about a rodent study that may have implications – way down the road – for people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. As is most often the case, findings are preliminary, and based only on studies with mice.

Published on May 6, 2012 in the online journal Nature, the study describes a new and apparently successful protein therapy for mice with prion disease. Prions are transmissible pathogens that cause neuro-degenerative diseases in animals… and humans.

Here’s what happens to affected mice: proteins begin building up in the brain – like plaques – in unnatural, “folded” ways. As the faulty proteins accumulated – endangering the healthy operation of the brain – the rodents’ defense systems triggered a response to shut off the creation of new proteins. This action halted the accretion of new, misshapen proteins – a good thing -- but it also shut off the creation of proteins generally, which the mice brains needed to function normally. As a result, the rodents experienced neuro-degeneration: the irreversible death of brain cells – ultimately a fatal condition.

May 7, 2012

What Do You Think of These Recent Findings by Social Scientists?

I subscribe to several online sites that send reports on the latest scientific research. Several of  last week's  stories were particularly interesting. I'll just summarize them below without adding my comments, since I'm more interested in getting yours.

Highly Religious People Are Less Motivated by Compassion Than Are Non-Believers
In three large, systematic experiments, researchers from the University of California / Berkeley found that compassion drove less religious people to be more generous.  For highly religious people, however, compassion was largely unrelated to how generous they were.

"Overall, we find that for less religious people, the strength of their emotional connection to another person is critical to whether they will help that person or not," the research report says. "The more religious, on the other hand, may ground their generosity less in emotion, and more in other factors, such as doctrine, a command  identity, or reputational concerns."

May 4, 2012

Yet Another Report Questioning Claims for Coconut Oil as a Treatment for Alzheimer's

Hopes raised by reports (including one of mine) that coconut oil might help treat -- and possibly even cure -- Alzheimer's are being deflated as more medical authorities take a look at the evidence... or lack thereof. I wrote last week about a critical analysis by neuropsychologist and blogger Dr.Dominic Carone that found little substantiating evidence.

UC/Berkeley Newsletter
Today I received my June issue of The Wellness Letter, published by the School of Public Health at the University of California at Berkeley. The lead article is titled: "Can coconut oil treat Alzheimer's?" The subtitle reads: "A new book raises hopes -- here's the truth behind the claims." The report concludes:
We wish we could tell you that the book makes a convincing case for coconut oil, but we can't. 

May 3, 2012

Facing a Terminal Illness, Would You Choose to Maximize the Time Left... or the Quality of that Time?

I know my answer. The quality of my final days is more important to me than the number of days remaining. And I've emphasized that point in conversations with my primary care providers -- my internist, my urologist who treats my prostate cancer, and my neurologist who deals with my Parkinson's.

Fortunately, my cancer and Parkinson's are not life-threatening at this stage, so I'm not faced with the specifics of making this choice. I wonder how it might actually play out.

One Woman's Story of Dealing with Terminal Cancer
This week's "Health & Science" section of The Washington Post features the well-written, moving account by a young woman, Amy Berman, of her fight for quality of life since being diagnosed with a rare and terminal form of breast cancer 18 months ago. Although the five-year survival rate for those diagnosed with breast cancer is approaching 90 percent, only 40 percent of those diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer (Berman's diagnosis) live for five years.

May 2, 2012

Remembering When (and Why) I Had Great Hope for Our Nation's Future

A week or two ago, I saw a new documentary, Brothers on Line, the story of the Reuther brothers and the 40-year chronology of their establishing the United Auto Workers (UAW) in the 1930s. Together, they created one of the most influential unions ever, winning unprecedented quality-of-life enhancements in the 1950s and '60s, and assuming an active role in the burgeoning civil rights movement.

Walter Reuther, president of the UAW for nearly three decades, was a visionary negotiator and statesman. His brothers Roy and Victor advised him on community, political and international affairs.

The Reuthers, the Labor Movement, and Me
The history depicted in the film was also a big part of my history. I graduated in 1952 from Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations. My first three college semesters were spent in Cornell's liberal arts college, but I ran out of money to pay the tuition there. Fortunately Cornell, though primarily a privately endowed (i.e. high tuition) university, also has several colleges subsidized by the state of New York. When I considered transferring into one of these tuition-free schools, my curiculum choices were agriculture, home economics, veterinary medicine, and labor relations. The choice was easy.