Skip to main content
U.S. Edition


Return to Transcripts main page


Longevity Hot Spots; Surcharge on Candy; Supplements: Should You Really Take Them?

Aired April 14, 2007 - 08:30   ET


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, ever hit the gas when you meant to -- ooh -- hit the brake?
T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: No. This driver did, though. Wound up in a store in Louisville, Ohio. Police say the driver was leaving a parking lot across the street. She collided with another car, then a little fancy footwork, and then bam! Right into the T & T store, and that stands for TV and Tanning.

NGUYEN: Yes, we still don't get it.

HOLMES: Police say nobody was hurt in this accident, but she did get a heck of a bronze tan.

NGUYEN: Ooh. Speaking of fancy footwork, check this out. Here you go. Nope, that was no accident. This is in Chickasaw, Alabama, Easter Sunday of all days.

HOLMES: Where's the footwork? It's coming.

NGUYEN: You'll see it. There. There's one piece of it. The car travels 50 feet inside a pharmacy. Police say it was a smash-and- grab attempt. Two men planning to steal narcotics, but the drugs were secured. Hello, you should have checked that out first. The pharmacy owner is installing steel pipes out front to discourage another attempt like that one.

HOLMES: All right. Stick around here, folks. We've got Dr. Sanjay Gupta coming up.

NGUYEN: But first, how to live longer.

SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Thanks, guys. This is HOUSECALL. We've got a special show for you today. We're showing you what you can do right now to extend your life. Who doesn't want to do that?

First up, longevity hot spots, where people live longer and healthier lives. We're going to show you what you can discover from learning from them. Then I go under the microscope to learn whether I'll live to be 100.

Also, a surcharge on your candy bar. A new move to get you healthy or have you pay the price.

Finally, we look at supplements. Should you really be taking them? We start, though, with those longevity hot spots. They're known as blue zones. Researchers are trying to learn from the lifestyles of those living in these areas and come up with a formula for a very long life.


SANJAY GUPTA, HOST (voice-over): On the Niqua (ph) peninsula in Costa Rica, families are close, hard work is the norm, and there's no such thing as retirement. Take this man, Avincio. He's 80 and still wakes at 4:30 every morning to work on this ranch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This 80-year-old has the vigor of a 40-year- old.

GUPTA: Dan Buettner and his research team have found Avincio and other men here 60 and older are four times as likely to reach 100, as compared to their counterparts in the United States or Europe. Buettner travels to longevity hot spots around the globe. He calls them blue zones.

DAN BUETTNER, FOUNDER, QUEST NETWORK: Because most of longevity is dictated by our lifestyle as opposed to our genes, we believe that by going to these blue zones and methodically looking at what these people do, we could distill out a de facto formula for longevity.

GUPTA: Costa Ricans on the Niqua (ph) peninsula eat a healthy diet, plenty of vegetables and fruits like papaya and citrus fruits. The tortillas they eat are made by using a special process that takes the husk off the corn and puts more calcium into it, helping to keep bones strong into old age.

Buettner's team has also studied why people live so long in Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; and Loma Linda, California. Buettner say the blue zones offer a recipe for healthy living that could add eight good years to your life. And he offers this advice.

BUETTNER: Eat a plant-based diet, mostly plants. Number two, regular, low-intensity exercise. And then number three, invest in family and friends.

GUPTA: Buettner hopes the blue zones will ultimately teach people how to extend their golden years.


GUPTA: Now one thing that really struck me as I was researching my book "Chasing Life" and this weekend's special was the people who live in these blue zones do not necessarily have easy lives. They actually work hard and often, more often than not, they don't retire. Some of the languages don't even have a word for retirement.

Here to give us some details on healthy living to 100 is Dr. Thomas Perls. He's the co-author of "Living to 100: Lessons in Living to Your Maximum Potential at Any Age." He also specializes in geriatrics at the Boston University Medical Center. Doctor, welcome. How are you doing?

THOMAS PERLS, DR., BOSTON UNIVERSITY: Thanks a lot, Sanjay. I'm good, how are you?

GUPTA: Welcome -- it's been amazing. You know, you and I obviously spent time together researching the documentary and with the book and everything.


GUPTA: Lots of e-mails coming in right away as soon as we put this topic up on the Net. Let me get to a couple of them with you right away.


GUPTA: This is from Beata in Illinois who asks this. "Those who have lived long lives, what is the common thread in their lives? What is the one thing I can do today that can make me live longer?"

Lots of people all over the world doing better than we are here, Dr. Perls. Something that you found in common?

PERLS: You know, I think part of it is people working harder and their diets. And a lot of people in these other areas are thin. They're not obese. And that's a big problem in the United States.

So more of a fish-based, vegetarian diet. And the working hard, not so much being a couch potato. Those are probably pretty important. Most people should be getting to about 86, 87 years. If you start to do some of these opposite things, you're going to live less than that. The idea is to hit that potential of your late 80s.

GUPTA: Let me flip that question around a little bit, because people, you know...


GUPTA: ...obviously basics always apply. What do you think is the one thing that we're absolutely doing wrong that's greatly limiting our lifespan in this country?

PERLS: Number one would be smoking. And fortunately, that's going down. I'm afraid that among some young people, actually, smoking continues to be rising in incidence. But mostly it's smoking. That would be number one.

Number two would be our diets that are conducive to obesity.

And then number three would be the exercise. So for those who don't smoke, it's still, it's the obesity.

GUPTA: Let me keep going here, staying on theme with another e- mail question, still about longevity.


GUPTA: An important one here. This is from Prema in New Orleans who asked this question, "How do you reduce stress?" We got lots of questions. One of the reasons we picked this question is because it's one of these overused terms. It's vague, it's hard to define stress. Is there a way that the average person can reliably reduce it?

PERLS: I think what's very important is to realize if you're one of those people that stress just bounces right off of you, or does the stress hit you really hard? You internalize it. And this translates into things like heart disease and stroke and maybe other illnesses as well.

So if you're one of those folks that seems sensitive to stress, and it really gets to you, hopefully, you also kind of know what helps you get rid of it. For some people, like myself, actually, when I'm in a real stressful situation, I know to kind of stop, take a deep breath, reset my - reset, so to speak, and that helps.

For other people that have it more chronically, that things like physical exercise, maybe meditation, faith and religion, being around family, Thai chi, yoga. I would say that most of us have either accidentally or purposely fallen into something that they realize, oh, that works and that helps. And you really have to rely on that experience to help you figure that out.

GUPTA: And you've got to remember it as well, so that you can use it next time for sure.


GUPTA: We're talking with Dr. Thomas Perls. We're going to take more of your questions as well. But first, living to be 100. You know what? I put my own mortality to the test. Coming up, Dr. Perls spent a day with me and he put me through his own calculator. Find out as well what you might have already done this morning, already done, that may extend your life. At least I hope you did it.

Then later, supplements and your health. How much good are they really doing? It's a controversial topic. We'll take a closer look.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: HOUSECALL viewers have a chance to win a copy of Dr. Sanjay Gupta's new book on aging. Just log onto the CNN Web site at


GUPTA: Welcome back. Genes account for only about 30 percent of how long we'll live. That means the rest of it is up to you. So your lifestyle may predict if you'll live to be 100. And helping us calculate our chances, Dr. Thomas Perls of Boston University.

The doctor has developed a life expectancy calendar that I actually found so interesting. I asked him to follow me around for a day and determine how I would do on his longevity scale. So I'm sure there's a doctor -- the Gupta house starts pretty early. The night before I didn't get much sleep. The night before you met me, I was in the operating room until very late. So I only got about four hours of sleep.

Unfortunately, he tells me, that's not that uncommon for me and not that good for me either. I woke up, I brushed and flossed my teeth, I had a breakfast omelet with some water.

Doctor, you watched my entire morning routine. And we spent the entire day together there. You told me some of the things were good things -- the eating the breakfast, the flossing my teeth, the no smoking, the no coffee. We know those things are good for us, but do they actually extend life? Can you predict that?

PERLS: Well, you're right. I think most of us should be getting to about 89, almost 90 years. And you did some really good things. You weren't drinking coffee, you had some tea. You were drinking lots of water. And then with that terrific smile of yours, you're flossing your teeth, you're brushing your teeth. And in fact, with things like flossing your teeth, that's probably a really important factor. Chronic gum disease feeds right into the development. It produces these inflammatory markers substances that feed right into the development of plaque, the stuff that clogs your blood vessels and leads to heart disease. So doing things that keep rid of -- get rid of the gum disease is really good for you.

Then we actually went for a nice, long walk with your dog. And you know, the kind of keeping even low-level exercise, even for 30 minutes or so, which is what we did, is very, very good for you. A lot of people think that you have to do high-impact, high-energy exercise every day. And that isn't necessarily the case. Even just the small amount that we did was probably very good for you. Also plays an important role not just in keeping fit, but in how you're dealing with your stress.

GUPTA: One of the things you dinged me on, I will say, is the working too hard thing. And as you know...


GUPTA: ...and you sort of made a point of this, saying you've got two full-time jobs, essentially. And you know, I do work hard, over 80 hours a week. But you know, is that really the problem, the number of hours that you work? Or is it more how you deal with it? What have you found in your research?

PERLS: Yes. You know, Sanjay, I think you're a little bit of an exception, because you're one of those guys, I think, that actually thrives a little bit on the stress. And so it may not affect you as much as the calculator -- living took on you.

But in general, I think that a lot of hours per week, like 80 hours per week in your case, for most people is pretty damaging. It's stressful, it cuts into sleep, it probably cuts into people eating right. So it goes far beyond in terms of all the other things in your life that it can affect.

GUPTA: Doctor Thomas Perls, you gave me lots of good tips. You'll be happy to know I'm already starting to try and incorporate some of those into my life. The truth is, our health really is in our own hands. And our diet plays a key role.

So coming up, facing the fats in your diet. A new campaign to open your eyes before you open your mouth.

And later, a surcharge for your candy bar? Well, vending machines could be the new front in the war on obesity.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSECALL. Let's get a quick check with Judy Fortin. She's here with this week's medical headlines.

JUDY FORTIN: Hi, Sanjay. Some interesting medical stories to tell you about this week. Researchers are suggesting they can accurately predict a woman's chance of having a hysterectomy. In a study, women who suffered just one predictor, such as pelvic pain or bleeding, had a 20 percent chance of undergoing a hysterectomy within four years, while women with a combination of symptoms and other factors had up to a 95 percent chance.

The American Cancer Society says obesity is responsible for almost as many cancer deaths as tobacco. It says about one-third of the half million cancer deaths in the U.S. this year can be blamed on poor diets and sedentary lifestyles, and that approximately two-thirds of Americans are overweight.

The American Heart Association has launched a Web site that explains good fats versus bad fats. The site has a fat translator that calculates how many calories and fat you should consume daily based on your personal information that you provide. You can visit for more information.

Sanjay, back to you. And by the way, congratulations on your new book. When are you going to sign my copy?

GUPTA: Absolutely. Happy to any time, Judy. It's kind of a nerve-racking process, the whole book thing...

FORTIN: I bet it is.

GUPTA: ...but glad to have it done.

I'll check out that Web site as well. Sounds like a good site for a lot of people out there. Also don't forget to click on This week, I'm taking your e-mail questions about using honey for allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, and autism. Click over and download.

Before you check that out, though, stay where you are. Your snack machine may be charging you extra for fat.

Coming up, new labels and new charges in some vending machines. Is this the way to fight obesity?

And later, are your supplements doing your health some good or are they just draining your wallet? The latest on whether supplements can help you chase life.


GUPTA: Welcome back. A new study by the Rand Corporation shows a startling trend. The number of Americans who are severely obese, I'm talking about people who are 100 pounds or more overweight, also increased by 15 percent between 2000 and 2005, 50 percent. Researchers say people who are the very heaviest, the morbidly obese, are growing at an even faster rate.

It's numbers like these that are one of the reasons that health professionals are working hard toward solutions in this fight on obesity. And we here on HOUSECALL are among them. We bring you weekly reports about the battle against obesity. What's working and what's not.

Now the story of one university that believes you should always know what you're eating and you should pay more for unhealthy choices.


GUPTA (voice-over): It started with the University of Virginia Medical Schools' vending machines. Dr. Arthur Garson, who's the school's dean, decided to encourage healthy eating everywhere. Using the FDA nutritional guidelines, all vending machine snacks were marked with stickers. You got green for healthy choices, yellow meant fairly nutritious, and red for high fat, high calorie goodies. The red items also carried a 5 cent surcharge. Researchers recorded all the items sold for one year.

ARTHUR GARSON, DR., DEAN, UNIV. OF VA. MEDICAL SCHOOL: The red items' sales went down 5 partly cloudy. The yellow items up 30 percent, but the green items up 15 percent.

GUPTA: The program was so successful, Garson expanded it to the hospital cafeteria. Everything was labeled with the colored stickers. Nutritionists say the goal is to make people think about what they're eating before they grab their food and go. But the manufacturers of snack foods say labeling foods could give consumers the wrong message.

LISA KATICK, SNACK FOOD INDUSTRY: When you really try to stick a label on a particular food, you're going to get something that falls into a category that perhaps doesn't belong there.

GUPTA: And that fat surcharge is another issue. Although researchers could not determine if the sale of red items went down because of the 5 cent surcharge, the levee did raise $7,000 in nickels. Garson says it's up to the consumer whether they want to pay the extra money.

GARSON: The response to the vending machines, in fact, was great after a little bit of, gee, you're limiting me. In fact, we didn't. We said eat anything you want, but we'll give you choices.

GUPTA: The reaction has been so positive, other hospitals are now looking at the UVA system for their own cafeterias. And education officials are thinking of bringing the system into their schools so kids can better understand all of their choices.


GUPTA: And in case you're wondering, that surcharge went to the hospital's childhood obesity unit, helping to fund an exercise program that the medical center provides.

Now when HOUSECALL returns, we're taking a closer look at supplements, Echinacea, ginkgo, Vitamin C. Do they really help?


GUPTA: Click on and check out what you can do decade by decade to stay healthy.

Now a question we get asked all the time is should supplements be a part of that health plan as you age? And if so, which ones?


GUPTA (voice-over): Every morning Dr. Frank Pinto pops not one supplement, not two, not three, not even four, but 25 different pills from alphalapoic acid to zinc.

FRANK PINTO, DR. SUPPLEMENT USER: Need little more water.

GUPTA: Dr. Pinto is a dermatologist in Tipton, Georgia. His wife, Rosemary, is a family therapist.

ROSEMARY PINTO, SUPPLEMENT USER: It's really important for me to stay young. I'm six years older than my husband, so I feel a responsibility to stay young, physically, emotionally, mentally.

F. PINTO: There's no way to halt the aging process. It's going to happen. People like myself and Rosemary that embark on a program like this, I think that we all, we want to age gracefully.

GUPTA: They try to eat well, they exercise. And when afternoon rolls around, more pills. All told, the Pintos each swallow more than 40 different supplements every day.

You could say it's a leap of faith. The federal government says Americans spend several billion dollars a year on dietary supplements. And yet, the National Institute on Aging doesn't specifically recommend any supplement.

Here are just two examples from the Journal of the American Medical Association. Does ginkgo help memory? Probably not. Echinacea to fight colds, doesn't work. You've heard of antioxidants. People who eat lots of fruit and vegetables that are rich in antioxidants are less likely to get cancer. And they tend to live longer.

But one recent study found that taking antioxidants like Vitamin A and E in pill form might actually be harmful. Studies have shown that a good diet, not pills, is the safest and best way to stay healthy. Frank Pinto agrees.

F. PINTO: If you don't eat properly and you don't get any exercise, you know, taking all the supplements is kind of a waste.

GUPTA: But he's not about to give up the pills.


GUPTA: Hmm. Now back with us is Dr. Thomas Perls. He's an expert about living to 100. He's with Boston University.

Doctor, one of the things we got to in the documentary, but we didn't talk about today, is human growth hormone. Now that's a treatment that people believe will extend their lives. People come down very strongly on both sides of this issue. What's your take?

PERLS: I think only a few people come down strongly on the benefits of growth hormone for anti-aging. And those are the people in the anti-aging industry that are marketing it. And that really is all it is to me is marketing, hucksterism and quackery.

There's studies in lower organisms in mice and rats, that show that growth hormone actually shortens lifespan and increases risk for cancer. There really aren't really good long-term studies in humans.

And in humans, we see pretty high rates of adverse side effects. Despite all this, there's a real marketing machine out there on the Internet particularly, where they are saying it stops and reverses aging. And I think because people think of hormones generally as something equated with youth, unfortunately, they're falling for this quite a bit.

GUPTA: Well, people are always...

PERLS: I think mostly it's costing a lot of money.

GUPTA: People are always going to be searching for that fountain of youth, Dr. Perls. It's amazing.


GUPTA: Unfortunately, we're out of time for today. Dr. Perls, thank you very much. You've helped us out a lot.

And for everyone else, if you want to know how long you can live a longer life, go to Also make sure to tune in this week to my special on "Chasing Life." See more about HDH, the blue zones, and hear from top experts. I want to help you "Chasing Life". That's at 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. tonight.

Now make sure to tune in next weekend. On Sunday, I'm going to be live with marathoner Jeff Galloway and also a special guest. You have to stay tuned to find out who that is. We're going to take your e-mails. We're going to help you get started on a fitness routine.

Remember, this is the place for the answers to all of your medical questions. Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN.


CNN TV E-mail Services CNN Mobile CNNAvantGo Ad Info About Us Preferences
© 2007 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines