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The Economy and Your Health; Digging for More on the Presidential Candidates' Health: Who is More Fit to Lead?; Vertical Treadmill Being Used to Thwart Off Bone Loss in Astronauts

Aired October 11, 2008 - 08:30   ET


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN HOST: Welcome to HOUSE CALL, the show that helps you live longer, helps you live stronger as well.
First up, stressed out about money and the economy? Well, we've got some help and it's on the way. We've got some specific tips to help you take back control.

And also, digging for more on the candidates' health. Now, one can't shake talk about his age, and the other was a long-time smoker. Who is more fit to lead? You decide.

Plus, take a look at this. That's me trying to walk on a vertical treadmill. Find out why I'm strapped into that contraption.

We start, though, with the economy and your health. Sky high gas prices, plummeting stocks, mounting bills, the financial crisis has Americans more stressed out than ever.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My job is the most stressful thing in my life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, we just got married. So...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Being a student, and it's very, very stressful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The gas is just killing me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't have health insurance and I am very concerned about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pretty much everything.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I have to have, you know, two mortgages.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've lost my job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The high price of gas and the scarcity of it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Going back to work with a child is really stressful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just every day life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I take everything with a grain of salt. If something's bad today, it may not be bad tomorrow.


GUPTA: Well, that's a good attitude to have, but the majority of people do seem to be struggling. In fact, eight out of 10 people say the economy is a significant cause of stress. And nearly half of American adults report having both physical and emotional problems because of stress.

Now, these statistic come from a new survey by the American Psychological Association, highlighting the toll the economy is taking on peoples' health. And psychologist Jeff Gardere is back on the show to help us sift through this.


GUPTA: It's great to see you. Welcome back, first of all.

GARDERE: Thank you.

GUPTA: Over the last few weeks, you're a psychologist, how much harder has your job become?

GARDERE: It's become extremely difficult. What we're finding, Dr. Gupta, almost every couple, every family, every individual that's coming in, they have a lot of anxiety, high anxiety, if you will, about this issue of finances and what's going to happen in the future. They just don't understand what's going on with the economy.

GUPTA: What do you tell people? Because is it a loss of control issue? What is it?

GARDERE: I think it really is about a loss of control. But what I tell them is perhaps you may not be in control of the economy because we still don't know what's going on, but you have to be in control of your own lives.

GUPTA: Are there specific things you can tell them in terms of combating stress?

GARDERE: Absolutely. In my practice, there are very specific things that we do. I talk to them about this whole issue of empowerment. Because as we know with stress, it causes us to feel helpless and hopeless. So the opposite of that is taking action, becoming empowered.

For example, I'll say, hey, listen, become empowered by taking control over your budget. What is it that you're spending on? Work with the family, work with other family members, and friends in looking at the budgets and figuring out where money's going out to frivolous things, and where you need to reprogram it so it can go towards your mortgage.

GUPTA: Sure.

GARDERE: And so reduce some of that financial stress.

GUPTA: A lot of people are going through this all at the same time.


GUPTA: So there's a lot of support out there. You know, there's been some horrific stories out there about people talking about taking their own lives, about trying to hurt themselves. At what point does someone know that they need help, they need to see you?

GARDERE: Well, I think, when they feel that they've lost control, when they feel that the walls are closing in, and they don't have any options, when they're having sleep disturbances, appetite disturbances, feeling really irritable, acting out against other family members, and they really don't know why.

I think that's the time they should say, you know what? I'm going to reach out to a support group. I'm going to reach out to a mental health professional or even my family physician to find out what's going on with me and what can I do to handle this better? So it's great to reach out to the professionals and get that help.

GUPTA: We've got a lot of e-mail questions, as you might imagine.


GUPTA: We've been recruiting those. We have a question from Amanda in Texas who writes this, "I struggle everyday to not break down into a panic attack. Do you have any tips I can follow to help me with my daily life?" And what can she do?

GARDERE: Well, we know that panic attacks have to do with anxiety. And it's that feeling that you're going to die, that the walls are closing in. You're hyperventilating and so on. But we know a lot of these things are psychological issues.

That being said, I think it's important that this person reach out to a family physician, make sure that there's not a physical basis to the panic attack. We know it's probably psychological. So the most important thing is try to handle it themselves.

They can do that with relaxation techniques, where they try to stop the hyperventilation by, for example, breathing in through their mouths, breathing out through their nose, doing that maybe 15 or 20 times. That will bring that hyperventilating down. And then what I call imagery exercises at the same time, thinking about something that calms you.

GUPTA: Right.

GARDERE: Whether walking in the park or being at the beach. And if you practice this, that will help you. And as you know, there are medications out there that people can take, anti-anxiety medications, that can help them through these panic attacks if they need some short-term help with it.

GUPTA: A final resort.


GUPTA: This too will pass, won't it?

GARDERE: A lot of people, Dr. Gupta, well, say this is tearing families and couples apart. I say, hey, this is something that brings us together. So we can work together, be empowered to get through this most difficult time in our lives.

GUPTA: We'll probably going to have you back on the show as we talk about this more and more.

GARDERE: It's always a pleasure.

GUPTA: Jeff Gardere, psychologist, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

GARDERE: Thank you.

GUPTA: Switching topics now, one of these men is going to be president. But can their health handle one of the toughest jobs in the world? I'm checking their medical records. That's straight ahead.


GUPTA: It's time for a check of the medical headlines. First up, a new survey says pregnant women are not following advice about flu shots. In fact, less than 14 percent of pregnant women between ages 18 and 44 got the shot last year, despite government warnings that they are high risk. And more than half the women thought getting the shot while pregnant was dangerous. It's not. Officials say the vaccine is safe and worried that getting the flu could lead to serious complications for both mother and baby, something to keep in mind.

Also in the news, another warning about over the counter cough and cold medicine for kids. This time, it comes from the drug companies themselves. They warn parents not to give the medicines to children under 4. Keep that in mind. This comes after pediatricians said the drugs may be ineffective and unsafe. Last week, health officials released similar findings and warned parents against giving children adult medicine instead. Don't do that either.

Now, we've looked at the medical records released by the candidates and done some digging. Up next, we're doing a fact check on the man who could be president.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSE CALL. Checking some of this week's most viewed stories on the health page. Dragon boat racing is helping some women recover from breast cancer. That's right. Check this out. The ancient exercise heals the body and the support in that boat does the rest.

Could highly creative people be at higher risk for mental illness? Some studies say yes, but who's at risk and why is complicated. We've got much more on that at

And presidential candidate Senator John McCain is facing questions about his age as we get into these final days before the election. Now age and health have always been an issue in any presidential campaign. A new CNN Opinion research poll finds nearly half, 47 percent of Americans are concerned that McCain might not make it through a first term in good health. Just 19 percent are concerned about the same things with regard to Senator Obama.

But are these concerns based on reality?


GUPTA (voice-over): When questions come up about his age, 72- year-old John McCain likes to point to his mother Roberta.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People will judge by the vigor and the enthusiasm associated with our campaign.

GUPTA: According to actuarial tables, a 72-year-old man can expect to live another 12 years. And McCain has some advantages, like good health care, and good genes. Dr. Thomas Perls is an expert on aging.

THOMAS PERLS, DR., BOSTON UNIVERSITY: We've found that longevity runs very strongly in families. So having a 96-year-old mom who's in pretty good shape definitely bodes well for him.

GUPTA: The biggest issue for McCain is cancer. Specifically, melanoma. This spring, I had a rare and somewhat unusual look at Senator McCain's medical records.

(on camera): We're going to be certainly ensconced in this room for a period of time. No electronic devices are allowed in. I have my notes, sort of prepared the things that I'm looking for. And we're going to see what we find.

(voice-over): They gave us three hours to pour through more than 1,100 pages. They only covered the last eight years. And there is no way to determine what might be missing. That same day in a conference call with reporters, McCain's lead Dr. John Eckstein gave the candidate an unequivocal thumb's up.

JOHN D. ECKSTEIN, M.D.: I and my colleagues can find no medical reason or problems that would preclude Senator McCain from fulfilling all the duties and obligations of the president of the United States.

GUPTA: But that didn't silence the critics. Just this month, a liberal activist group Brave New Films ran a full page ad in "The New York Times." This petition signed by more than 2,700 doctors. It calls on McCain to release his medical records to the public. Everyone, not just a few reporters.

WENDY EPSTEIN, DR., PETITION SIGNER: This is a skin cancer that can kill people. And that's what we need to find out. We need to know did this melanoma spread? Or didn't it? And that can be only answered by an independent group of dramatic pathologists looking at slides.

GUPTA: McCain's doctors say it didn't spread. And the pathology report I saw supports that. The campaign says it's unacceptable for doctors who haven't examined McCain to second guess his own physicians.


GUPTA: You know, it's worth noting, as well, McCain is an open book as compared to the 47-year-old Obama. When we asked for his medical records, the campaign released just one page, but we did do some more digging.


GUPTA (voice-over): At age 47, Barack Obama is one of the youngest nominees of a major party ever.


GUPTA: His health isn't as widely discussed as his 72-year-old opponent, but Obama does have one issue that's been talked about. He was a long-time smoker. Boston Dr. Thomas Perls has studied the effects of smoking.

PERLS: There's no doubt that smoking is an age accelerator. It enhances vascular disease. It predisposes to cancer. It predisposes to Alzheimer's Disease.

GUPTA: Obama said he gave up smoking last year to run for president. He's admitted that falling off the wagon a number of times.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did you quit because I'm quitting now?

OBAMA: Nicorette, you want one?


OBAMA: Here, try one out.

GUPTA: Dr. Tedd Mitchell runs the Cooper Clinic , where President Bush got his physicals while governor of Texas.

TEDD MITCHELL, DR., COOPER CLINIC: While the risk does get better every single year goes by that he's not smoked, it never leaves him.

GUPTA: Experts say quitting is no magic bullet, but it does cut the risk of heart disease in half after just a year. After 10 years, your lung cancer risk is also cut in half. Senator Obama has cancer in his family. His mother died of ovarian cancer at 52. His grandfather was 73 when he succumbed to prostate cancer.

But cancer specialists say neither of those should affect Obama's risk. Observers say we don't know everything about Obama's health because the campaign hasn't released complete medical records.

But in May, they did release a one-page summary of those records and this statement from his long-time doctor. Here's what it said. "Senator Obama has been in excellent health. He has been seen regularly for medical check-ups and various minor problems, such as upper respiratory infections, skin rashes, and minor injuries. The summary went on to say his cholesterol was good, blood pressure healthy.

John McCain this year gave reporters, including me, a glimpse at more than 1,100 pages of medical records. A McCain spokesman tells CNN it's a "complete double standard." The Obama campaign tells CNN, no record will be made public.



GUPTA: Well, move over Facebook and Twitter. Social networking sites for health are among the newest Internet trend. And ordinary people are teaming up online for tips to stay healthy and overcome disease. Sounds like a good idea. So where are these sites? And could they possibly work for you?

Elizabeth Cohen is here as always to give us some details. What are they?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the technical term for this is Web 2.0. And so it's sort of an inside the beltway term for you techies. But for the rest of us, it means building up communities, joining with people who share your illness or share your health concerns to try to make life better.

And in my column this week, I list several sites that are really terrific where people are really coming together. Sites like,, and Those are just three in my column. I list several others, places where you can go to meet as that first one says patients like me.

GUPTA: That's right, you know. And it's interesting. And I've seen that one, that -- which is a pretty good site. But these community sites have existed for some time, right? I mean, how are these new ones different?

COHEN: Right, there have been groups out there really almost since the Internet began. What makes these sites different is that people work together to do certain things. For example, a fertility group might work together to use a good ovulation predictor. Or people might get together and say here are my symptoms on this drug, what were your symptoms and work together to build a good sort of profile of what side effects the drug can have.

So, it's really that there are more tools now for people to work together and build wikis and built other kinds of things.

GUPTA: Boy, you really are good at this tech talk, aren't you?

COHEN: Oh, well, thank you.

GUPTA: Now you -- in your column, you talk about people who actually go on one of these sites and benefit. Who are they and how did it work?

COHEN: Yes, this is an interesting family. This is two sisters. One sister was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer. And she was on Medicaid. And nobody in her state really was an expert on this type of cancer.

So, her sister went on one of these sites. She found a physician who had this type of cancer. And she helped her appeal to Medicaid so that she could go get help at a hospital in Boston. And the sister said she never would have gotten the help that she needed to get to this expert in Boston if it hadn't been for this website.

GUPTA: The world is getting flat even when it comes to this stuff.

COHEN: Absolutely. That's right.

GUPTA: Elizabeth, thanks as always. And for more details, be sure to read Elizabeth's full list of tips online by visiting

Now, take a look at this. This is me trying to walk on a treadmill vertically. Why you ask? Well, it's all in the name of science and living longer. I'll explain after the break.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL. You know, the International Space Station may be the largest and most complex scientific project in our history. Since 1998, astronauts from around the world have called it home.

Now, researchers are tackling a major risk of frequent space travel, bone loss. As I learned on a recent visit to NASA, tackling that problem can literally be an uphill battle.


GUPTA (voice-over): It orbits the earth at a speed of 17,500 miles an hour, hovering 240 miles above the earth's surface. The International Space Station is home to astronauts who live, work, and exercise in zero gravity, which poses health risks, which increase everyday.

PETER CAVANAGH, R., UNIV. OF WASHINGTON, SEATTLE: Bone loss in space is an extremely significant problem. Astronauts lose about ten times more bone every month than a post menopausal woman on earth loses.

GUPTA: That happens even after the astronauts are given 2 1/2 hours a day for exercise and set up. So researchers are trying to cut the risk through running, vertically.

(on camera): Twenty-four pullies are holding me up here. This is quite a contraption, sort of trying to simulate weightlessness. Now comes the true test, though. What is this going to feel like when I start to walk vertically? How much does a system like this cost?

(voice-over): All told, in the low millions.

(on camera): I feel good. You know, I feel like each step is like I could bounce and jump with each step.

(voice-over): Researchers say bone loss occurs because astronauts are not getting enough load bearing exercise in space. Bungee cords can help, but it's extremely uncomfortable.

CAVANAGH: It's as though you have another person of your body weight of your back. And then we ask you to get on the treadmill and run.

GUPTA: So now, I've got to really work just to even walk. I'm feeling my entire body weight pushing against this treadmill, every last pound.

CAVANAGH: We feel that bones need this constant mechanical stimulation to stay healthy.

GUPTA (on camera): That was easier than I thought it was going to be for sure.

(voice-over): But of course, that's only after 20 minutes. It'll be a tougher task for the months or even years it will take to get to the moon, Mars, and beyond.


GUPTA: And in case you're curious, studies show it takes astronauts about 1,000 days after returning from space to recoup all that bone mass loss.

Next, we got your questions about John McCain's health in our "ask the doctor" segment. Many of you asked, is there some reason for concern? And there are some growing fears about melamine. We're going to help you put that into perspective. Stay tuned.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL. And it's time for my favorite segment of the show called "Ask the Doctor," a chance to answer the medical questions that are on your minds.

And Sonya from Tennessee called in on this question.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was exposed to melamine white rabbit candy. What should I expect in regard to my long-term kidney health?


GUPTA: You know, it's amazing, we're getting so many questions about melamine, something a lot of people probably haven't heard of a couple of years ago. Many are concerned about the reports of contaminated food products specifically imported from China.

So here's the deal. Melamine is a chemical often used in manufacturing plastics. So, we're all exposed to trace amounts of it every single day. The FDA says those trace amounts are not harmful, although higher quantities in the body over prolonged periods of time can lead to kidney stones and renal failure, which is what I think you're asking about, Sonya.

Basically, you'd have to eat tons of this candy to be at risk. The high exposure is rare in the United States due to some pretty strict regulations. But if you're concerned, you're probably going to have warning ahead of time, some symptoms that you might experience. For example, you might start to have stomach pain, you might have vomiting, fever, blood in the urine. Those are some things that might give you a clue. Of course, you want to see a doctor immediately.

Well, the next question is from Susanna in Missouri. She asked this, "Is John McCain's parotid gland on the left side of his face more swollen? If so, what could that mean?"

And again, this is a pretty common question. Many of you asked specifically about the senator's left side of his face and his parotid gland more specifically.

Now keep in mind, it was removed in 2000 following his melanoma diagnosis. Now I want to show you something here. There's a lot of recent pictures about him. But I think one that sort of highlights what they're talking about is the operation they had to do, which was they had to cut out a fair amount of the cancer here. So there was an incision, a large one, all along the left side of his face.

What happens here is the parotid gland is removed, and a lot of the soft tissue is removed as well. That makes this area in here look more puffy. Doctors have assure us, I've talked to them personally, that this is not a recurrence of cancer, but rather just the normal sort of healing after an operation like that.

We're going to have much more on that and the health of the presidential candidates in general. I'm going to address these sorts of concerns in my special called "Fit to Lead." Airs tonight 8:00 Eastern on CNN. You're not going to want to miss it.

And of course, if you missed any part of today's show, be sure to check out my podcast on Thanks for watching HOUSE CALL. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. More news on CNN starts right now.