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Even Marmoset Monkeys Are Getting Fat: Clues About Chemicals Linked To What Is Causing Myeloma

A recent article by David Berreby in Aeon magazine dubs this "the obesity era" in America. As we are all aware, a high percentage of US citizens are overweight. This is an especially important topic for myeloma patients because several studies have linked excess body weight or high BMI (body mass index greater than 25 kg/m2 body surface area) to an increased risk of myeloma.  

Interestingly, not only are people getting fatter, but so are animals in the wild, laboratory animals, and even pets. A study by David Allison and colleagues (from the University of Alabama and other research centers) notes a particular weight increase among research colonies of primates, including the very cute marmoset monkeys!  So why is that?  The laboratory conditions are tightly controlled, especially with regard to calorie intake.  The answer is not the calories which are unchanged, but "global hidden factors."  Hidden factors are things that can alter or trick the body's fat metabolism toward weight gain.  

Top of the list of possible factors are chemicals, leading to the new concept that "all calories are not equal."  I have discussed suspect obesogenic chemicals before, including compounds such as BPA (bisphenol-A) present in many household plastics--"in everything from children's sippy cups to the aluminum in fizzy drink cans," Berreby writes. Marmosets can pick up chemicals from their food and drink containers as well as their environment.  Persistent environmental organic pollutants are  being linked to obesity, diabetes, plus multiple myeloma as well as other hematologic cancers, such as lymphoma.  

Other ideas about possible hidden factors include a lipid-triggering virus called Adenovirus-36 (linked to higher body mass); a hormone called leptin, linked to stress and sleep; plus a whole range of other chemicals, such as artificial sweeteners.  Researchers at Cedars Sinai right here in Los Angeles have noted increased numbers of gut microorganisms called methanobrevibacter smithii (!) pointing to yet another type of factor in our complex modern environment.

So how can we connect the dots here?  Clearly, we need to learn more.  The recurring theme, however, is to protect yourself against chemicals as best as possible, and stay tuned to see how research proceeds to further clarify "hidden factors" contributing to both obesity and cancer.

Dr. Durie sincerely appreciates and reads all comments left here. However, he cannot answer specific medical questions and encourages readers to contact the trained IMF Hotline staff instead. Questions are answered with input from Dr. Durie and/or other scientific advisors and IMWG members as appropriate. To contact the IMF Hotline, call  800-452-CURE, toll-free in the US and Canada, or send an email to hotline@myeloma.org. Hotline hours are 9 am to 4 pm PST. Friday summer hours are 9 am to 3 pm PDT. Thank  you.


I am a little overweight, am 74, post menopause (both by age and partial hysterectomy at age 32). Diagnosed in Feb.2008 and in remission since Nov. 2011. My oncologist is opposed to my losing much weight as he is afraid if the MM comes back strongly, I will need the weight to help fight it. Any comments?

This whole thing with diet and exercise leaves me confused. I was diagnosed at Mayo Roch(Dr. Rajkumar my dr.) in July 2008. At the time, I thought was never healthier, lost 60 lbs (via weight watchers), was eating a very balanced diet, drinking 8 glasses of water a day and walking 1 1/3 miles every other day. I had an increase of proteins in my blood 10years earlier, but without any symptoms nothing was pursued. So did the weight loss bring on the myeloma? Were these fat cells hanging onto something that in turn switched on the myeloma factory? Have there been studies on this? It's something I plan to ask my Dr. at my next appt and thought I would share my thoughts here.

I would like to comment about this too. I had had chronic fatigue syndrome for over 18 years so could not exercise. I finally went to Contours and started to exercise gently and lost heaps of weight (a few stone and was relatively thin). I felt the best I had ever felt in my life. I was jumping out of my skin. I could not believe that within a few months I would be experiencing the first signs of myeloma. I wondered how could this be after feeling just so good. Three years before I had a blood test and this was perfect.

My mother worked with a woman who was overweight and planning on going to England. She went on a diet,lost many stone in weight, looked great, and the day before she was due to leave she was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

I also wonder whether losing fat cells releases chemicals that trigger cancer.

I certainly was not overweight when I was diagnosed almost 7 years ago and I still am not overweight. I think that the fact that I grew up in a petrochemical area on the gulf coast of Texas contributed greatly to my diagnosis. I am not discounting what you are saying, and I think it makes sense in light of all the chemicals that we are exposed to on a daily basis whether one lives near petrochemical plants or not. It is frustrating to try to limit exposure. I buy organic as much as possible, limit "processed" foods, yet the air we breathe other uncontrollable factors come into play. I just have to realize I am doing the best I can. I also am hopeful that the Black Swan initiative will find a cure! Thank you for your information.

This is an interesting point, Jan. Not all chemicals are obesogenic. Their effects can be hidden, which makes them all the more dangerous. I will revisit this topic in a future blog.

My husband was diagnosed and died from mm in May 2011 at Mass General Hospital. He did develop the secondary amyloid of the digestive system which advanced his struggle.

In 2010, during a visit with Dr Chee, cardiologist at MGH, she stopped, sat him down, and sternly explained that he was obese and unless he drastically lost weight, that by his next visit, his chances of facing life threatening diseases would greatly increase. None of his other physicians had seriously brought him to tears as she had. Are doctors afraid of hurting their patients feeling or just don't have/take time to deal with obesity?

Steve was 64 and was seeing Dr. Mahendra at MGH for his MM. He had not finished his first round of treatment when he was admitted to MGH and diagnosed with amyloid. There are few articles that address this deadly secondary disease.

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