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Health Care Clock Ticking; How to Live Longer; H1N1 Key Warning Signs

Aired December 5, 2009 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Good morning. Welcome to HOUSE CALL: The show that helps you live longer and stronger. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks so much for watching.

First up, there's a lot of outrage on Capitol Hill this week. Lawmakers are demanding answers about those controversial new mammogram guidelines. Now, I'll tell you what, the conversation took sort of an interesting turn as well. We'll tell you all about it.

And I sat down in this week in London with two of the brightest minds in field of longevity. One of them believes we are very close to extending our life span to 1,000. You heard me right, 1,000 years.

Plus, what really happens to children with H1N1? Well, I can tell you, they can go downhill pretty fast. So, we're going to tell you the key warning signs.

You're watching HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: We start though with those new mammogram guidelines that caused such an uproar recently. They've been giving a thorough investigation on Capitol Hill. And members of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, that's the group that made those recommendations that women aged 40 to 49 do not need routine screening for breast cancer. Well, it took some questions from lawmakers. They tried to spell things out a bit more clearly as to when women should get screened.


DR. DIANA PETITTI, U.S. PREVENTIVE SERVICES TASK FORCE: The task force is saying that screening starting at 40 should not be automatic nor should it be denied. Many doctors and many women, perhaps even most women, will decide to have mammography screenings starting at age 40. The task force supports those decisions. The task force communication was poor.


GUPTA: Now, when I listen to this, you know, the task force really continues to make three major points. First of all, the decision about when to begin screening should be made between a woman and her doctor. Also, there is this idea that there's a great psychological harm in false positives. You see you get something on your mammogram, and ends up not being cancer. When a mammogram essentially finds an abnormality, there might not be a reason for concern, there might be. That's the concern there.

And, third, mammograms are more effective for women between the ages of 50 and 74. It doesn't mean they are not effective for women younger than that, but they're just -- they're more effective at that age.

And most of the doctors we talk to about this, including those affiliated with major cancer societies say they're going to continue recommending mammograms starting at age 40. So, that really seems to be the bottom line.

Now, many House members did use those hearings as a platform to talk more about health care reform, even more so than mammograms. In fact, in the Senate, it may seem like they've been debating health care forever and the real question is, whether the debate is going to end at some point. That's what everyone is asking.

Both parties right now are adding amendments to the $849 billion reform bill proposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. There are some key issues that remain though, like the public option which we've talked about. This was a critical week for health care reform and the clock is ticking on the president's biggest initiative.

Here's CNN's Jim Acosta.



JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If only the president could get a pardon for health care reform -- his signature initiative that's in danger of being plucked to death in the Senate. Already calls to delay the bill are coming in -- including one from a key Republican, once a close colleague of Mr. Obama's in Congress, who argues there are more pressing issues to tackle.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: The war is terribly important. Jobs and our economy are terribly important. So, this may be an audacious suggestion -- but I would suggest we put aside the health care debate until next year.

ACOSTA: Democrats are staring at their calendar with dread. After hoping to wrap up their work by December 18th, less than three weeks from now, congressional leaders are warning with members they may work weekends, right up to Christmas, fearing any delay on health care will kill the bill.

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: We have to go ahead and conclude this debate. To stop now would be stopping on the edge of, I think, significant reform, which is so important for the country. ACOSTA: And any amendment could drag down the bill in the Senate, from anti-abortion Democrats who want to restrict spending on abortion, to party conservatives who want to water-down the public option.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: I would be very reluctant to support legislation that did not have a strong public option.

ACOSTA: Some Democrats aren't even sure the bill lowers health care costs, one of the president's chief objectives.

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: We want to cover the uninsured -- yes. But we don't want to do it in a way that's going to drive up the costs for folks who currently have it. That's one of the biggest complaints that I hear from people.

ACOSTA: And with time winding down, health care will have to share the spotlight. There are congressional spending bills to keep the government running, an upcoming climate change summit in Copenhagen, and unemployment -- the one issue many Republicans hope to ride right in the next year's midterm elections.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The number one issue in this country is jobs, getting people to work.

ACOSTA (on camera): But the political obituary for health care reform has been written before. Democratic leaders have had plenty of chances to leave it for dead and there are no signs they are backing down now -- Sanjay.


GUPTA: All right, Jim. Good information there.

And I'll tell you what, on its first vote on amendments to this massive bill, the Senate did approve a measure to provide women with low-cost mammograms and other preventive tests. And senators also voted down a Republican amendment that would have prevented panels, like the one we're talking about, the U.S. Preventive Task Force, from influencing which screen tests for women would be covered. So, that was voted down.

Now, what's also important to point out that this lifeline for millions of laid-off workers who lost their health insurance and it is beginning to expire. You've heard about this probably. It's called COBRA, and it gives workers who lose their health benefits the ability to continue health coverage under their employer's plan for up to 18 months. It can be very expensive though.

And since March, it's part of the federal stimulus bill, employees who lost their job in the wake of the recession, have had a temporary reprieve of sorts. They've only had to pay about 35 percent of that cost.

Now, the government has been paying the remaining monthly premium up until now. But that subsidy only lasts for nine months. And workers, who are still unemployed after that time, are now finding their premiums nearly tripled. That's something people are paying attention to, as well.

Next, we are taking a look at the science of longevity. This is something that fascinates me. We're going to tell about some simple things. For example, a food that you can eat just four times a week that could extend your life by two to three years.

And later, we'll tell you about the five warning signs you need to watch out for if your child is sick with H1N1.

Stay tuned to HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: And we are back with HOUSE CALL.

You know, these 13 newly created human embryonic stem cell lines and they've been approved for federally funded research, the first ones to get funding under the new guidelines set out by the Obama administration. Now, previous rules limited those research dollars to a select number of lines created before August 21st. The belief is that embryonic stem cells could potentially lead to breakthroughs to treatments for Parkinson's, diabetes, spinal cord injury.

We sat down and talked to the director of the National Institutes of Health and here's what he had to say on CNN's "CAMPBELL BROWN."


DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: We have the chance to really push forward and see what can be learned and just how quickly can we test out those ideas of the ways on which this could treat terrible diseases that we currently don't have good solutions for.


GUPTA: All right. As it happens, some scientists also believe stem cells could help in the age-old search of immortality. Are we getting any closer to one day erasing aging?

To find out, I flew to London and sat down with two of the brightest minds in the field of longevity.


GUPTA: We start with you. You and I have talked about this, this concept, before. This idea that there's lifestyle and then there's genes...


GUPTA: ... that dictate how long you're going to live, your aging process overall. First of all, which is more important? And with regard to lifestyle, things like diet, what can you do to try and reverse ageing?

BUETTNER: Right. So, for the average person, only about 10 percent of how long we live within certain biological limit is dictated by our genes. The other 90 percent is lifestyle. So, the premise behind blue zones is that if we can find the populations where people are living the longest and look for the common denominators, it gives us some clues to what we should be doing.

GUPTA: Well -- so, what are some examples? What are blue zones and what did you find there?

BUETTNER: Well, found them in Sardinia, in Okinawa and Costa Rica, Ikaria, and among the Seventh Day Adventists in America. They have nine common denominators and a few of them -- first of all, they almost all eat a plant-based diet. It doesn't mean they don't eat any meat.

Secondly, they live in environments that nudge them into physical activity as opposed to mindful exercise which for the most part people don't do their entire life.

And then, they think about who they hang out with. They are either born into circles of friends that nudge them in the right behaviors or they proactively choose that, because at the end of the day, who we hang out with has a long lasting impact in our health behaviors as opposed to diets or exercise programs. These are invariably short- lasting.

GUPTA: When you talk about diet, though, specifically, what -- is there a longevity diet to speak of?

BUETTNER: No. No. I think diet is the wrong way to look at it. I actually think we should be looking at what to take out of our daily food regimen as opposed to what to put in our food regimen.

But if you look at the longest lived people in the world, they tend to eat a lot of beans. We know from the Adventist, it tells you that people who eat nuts four times a week, two ounce at a time, live two to three years longer than people who don't eat nuts. And we don't know if there's something magical in nuts or if just nut eater -- nut eaters have a better diet.

GUPTA: And we pay attention to that. First of all, real quick, bouncing off what Dan said, 10 percent genes, 90 percent lifestyle. Do you buy that?

DR. AUBREY DE GREY, SENS FOUNDATION: Well, the proportions that come out of different studies vary a little bit. But, certainly, it's believed that only a minority of the -- of what goes to longevity is inherited, yes.

GUPTA: At the other end of this idea of trying to prevent some of these age-related problems in the first place is this idea of rejuvenative medicine or something that you were that you worked on quite a bit. First of all, is that an accurate way of portraying it? And what is it, exactly? DE GREY: Yes, that is an accurate way of portraying it. Rejuvenation medicine is simply the application of regenerative medicine to the problem of aging. So, rejuvenative medicine is something that people have become increasingly familiar with, things like stem cell therapy, tissue engineering. It's actually broader than that. Those aspects of medicine coming along that one might consider to have been molecular regenerative medicine, the removal of molecular garbage from the inside of cells, for example, or from the spaces between our cells, extra-cellular matrix.

So, there's a lots of different aspects to it. But they're all moving forward quite rapidly. And, really, what my work focuses on is on, like, my foundation's work, SENS Foundation, is on looking at the possibility that within the foreseeable future, we may be good enough at all of these various aspects of regenerative medicine that we can put them together into a comprehensive panel of interventions that will be able to address the whole of ageing.

And the real advantage that we get from applying from regenerative medicine to the problem of aging is that we can actually turn the biological clock backwards. We can take people who are already in middle age or perhaps older and turn them back to having a lower biological age than they had before. But it's not something we can do yet, of course, but it's something that is, in my view anyway, foreseeable.

And that's really why the work that Dan does and the work that other people are doing to explore how we can optimize our health today is so important, really. It amplifies the importance, because it means it's not just the case of getting a few years extra before you have the downhill decline that we all still have anyway. It's the case of increasing your chances of making the cuts that is big, it's living long enough, healthy enough, to be around when the future therapies come along that may be able to postpones the ill health of old age indefinitely.


GUPTA: You know, the guy with the big beard, that's Aubrey de Grey. And he says we may one day be able to live to 1, 000 years old, using these concepts of rejuvenative medicine. To many, it seems like science fiction. But there are some scientists who think it's not that farfetched.

If you want to hear more of that conversation -- it was absolutely fascinating -- you go to

Now, are you looking for a good cause this holiday season? A lot of people are. I'm going to tell you how to make your weight loss someone else's gain.

And also, babies that pack on the pounds early on life -- are they at risk for obesity later? We'll have the answer in "Ask the Doctor."

You're watching HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: We are back with HOUSE CALL.

So, you need motivation to lose weight after the holidays? Well, check out an innovative program where your loss is literally someone else's gain.


GUPTA (voice-over): Rosemary Barresi never considered herself obese.

ROSEMARY BARRESI, LOSE FOR GOOD LEAD VOLUNTEER: I always battled weight, but not -- I've never thought it was a significant amount of weight, maybe five or 10.

GUPTA: But when a neighbor mistakenly called her pregnant, she immediately decided to join Weight Watchers and became a lifetime member. Now, 12 years later, 31 pound lighter, and a Weight Watchers meeting leader herself, Rosemary and the entire Weight Watchers family are starting to give back in a meaningful but somewhat ironic way.

BARRESI: We asked our members, if you'd lost a pound, you bring in a pound of food to symbolize tat weight loss. And what we do in turn is we turn it over to City Harvest which in turn that donates to the 10 or 12 groups that are in our local area.

GUPTA: The Lose for Good campaign, as it's being called, is now in its second year, and it's delivering some remarkable results.

DAVID KIRCHHOFF, CEO, WEIGHT WATCHERS: This year, in seven weeks, our members have lost over 4 million pounds of weight. They have contributed over 2 million pounds of food.

GUPTA: It's an astounding amount of food. But for Rosemary, it just simply makes sense.

BARRESI: We have opposite ends of the same rainbow. We will be dealing with obesity and these people are dealing with, oh, my, how am I going to pull a meal together with what I have in the cabinet?

GUPTA: And for the organizations receiving the food, it's a very welcome helping hand in a difficult economy.

JILLY STEPHENS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CITY HARVEST: We can pick it up in the morning and it will be on someone's table in the evening. So, really, that's an immediate result. And we can't ask for anything better during this time.


GUPTA: More inspiration there, if you're trying to lose some weight.

Are you ready for a truly life-changing experience? Well, if you are, you could join us on the "Fit Nation" triathlon challenge. What we're doing is we're looking for five people who are ready to make a change that really sticks. They're going to lose for good as well. Commit to our six-month challenge and you could be in the New York City triathlon. I'm going to do it as well. And for more information, you could logon to Maybe we could train together.

The food industry has spent millions lobbying Congress over concerns health care reform is going to be subsidized in part by a soft drink tax. But supporters of the tax say rising health care costs can be linked directly to increasing rates of obesity and diabetes. So, you see how it all ties together.

Louise Schiavone reports.


LOUISE SCHIAVONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thirsty, have a soda. That's what your brain is telling you says former Food and Drug Commissioner David Kessler.

DAVID KESSLER, FMR. FDA COMMISSIONER: The fact is that our brains, not only our brains but our children's brains, are being hijacked. Our behavior is becoming conditioned and driven by all the fat, sugar and salt that's been put on every corner and made available 24/7 by the food industry.

SCHIAVONE: And that's why there are growing calls for taxation on foods that lead to obesity starting with sweet drinks. There's currently no such provision in the House or Senate health care reform bills. And at Yale University, Kelly Brownell says 33 states tax soft drinks with little impact on consumption. He recommends a federal tax on sugar-sweetened drinks of a penny an ounce to deliver $15 billion in the first year alone, which he says should be targeted to health programs.

KELLY BROWNELL, YALE UNIVERSITY RUDD CENTER: If there's any evidence to suggest a tax would work, it's how hard the soft drink industry is fighting this. They're lobbying extremely hard.

SCHIAVONE: The food and beverage industry has spent $26.4 million on lobbying for the first three quarters of this year. The figures from the Center for Responsive Politics. It's a significant increase from the roughly $21 million in lobbying dollar spent last year and about $15 million spent in 2007.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And now we're hearing about a new tax on juice drinks and sodas. It's a tax that hurts families who can least afford it and it comes at the worst possible time.


SCHIAVONE: This ad comes from a coalition of beverage, food and agricultural industries, among others, who have tried to get ahead of the conversation before it becomes policy. SUSAN NEELY, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN BEVERAGE ASSN.: And people don't want to pay one penny more on anything right now, particularly what they put in the grocery cart, so we're for solutions that will really work.

SCHIAVONE: People who care about their health, says the coalition, should understand that calories consumed and calories burned in exercise need to cancel each other out.

(on camera): It's a touchy subject. And although President Obama told one interviewer earlier this year that a sin tax on soda should be explored, the White House says it is not a notion the administration is currently pursuing.

Louise Schiavone for CNN, Washington.


GUPTA: H1N1 can turn deadly pretty fast. We want to show you the five warning signs all moms and dads need to watch out for.

You're watching HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSE CALL. Time for our segment "Ask the Doctor." Let's get right to it.

A question from Celeen in Virginia. She writes this: "Both of my children were exclusively breast-fed. At three months, they doubled their birth weight. I recently read a report stating 40 percent of children that doubled their birth weight at three months are at risk for being overweight or obese. Should I be concerned?" she asks.

Well, Celeen we reached out to Dr. Jennifer Shu, she's our pediatrician to help answer your question.

Now, it turns out it's very common for breast-fed babies to pack on the pounds, if you will, on the first six months or so, and formula- fed babies to speed up that process in the second six months. After that, it turns out infants sort of gravitated to whatever their genetic background dictates, with those breast-fed babies often coming closer to the middle or even a bottom of the growth chart for a little while. The pediatrician is going to follow your child's development over a period of months and years and can alert you if there are signs of being overweight.

Now, typically, this rapid gain in the early months does not mean weight problems later on. A pediatrician can watch the child's growth between the first and second year, and measure the child's BMI starting around 2 years old. If there's rapid weight gain then, it could be managed by reducing the amount of fat in the diet and also, as you might imagine, increasing physical activity as well.

Now, a little boy with H1N1, the virus can turn deadly pretty quickly. We're going to tell you about the five signs of trouble his parents should watch for.

You're watching HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: Welcome back.

As you probably know by now, millions of children have gotten H1N1 and most of them recover just fine. But parents beware, kids with the virus can go downhill pretty fast, and senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen found out some of the warning signs.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When children get H1N1 flu, they can get very sick very fast. Andrea Samples' daughter almost died from it.

ANDREA SAMPLES, MOTHER OF H1N1 SURVIVOR: Zero to 60 in 10 seconds. That was how fast it went down.

COHEN: So we asked a pediatrician for advice.

(on camera): Doctor Lavin, you have a patient inside this house you think has H1N1.


COHEN: And we brought you here because we want to you tell his parents what they need to look for, when you this she worry and hightail it to the doctor.

Tell me, Elijah, what happened?

ELIJAH WIERTEL, 8-YEAR-OLD: I've been sick.

COHEN: When he was at his worst with H1N1, how sick was he?

LEAH WIERTEL, MOTHER: That was the sickest we'd ever seen him.

COHEN (voice-over): Leah Wiertel is worried about her 8-year-old son, Elijah. How will she know if his H1N1 flu crosses the line to become a potentially deadly virus?

The Wiertels' pediatrician, Dr. Arthur Lavin, tells Leah what to watch for. Warning sign number one: trouble breathing.

LAVIN: He'd really be tugging to get air in and out of his chest. His chest wouldn't be moving very smoothly, it would be pulling hard. He'd have to reach and grab something to breathe.

COHEN: Warning sign number two: a stiff neck.

LAVIN: Can you touch your chin to your chest, Elijah, like that? See how nicely he does that? So, if you move your neck that easily, then the second thing we worry about isn't there. The second is your neck is stiff, not if it's sore but stiff and you can't move it.

COHEN: Warning sign number three: continuous pain in one spot.

LAVIN: We're not talking about pains that move around the body and shift every hour. One spot that really hurts and keeps hurting more and more every hour, especially around the tummy.

COHEN: Warning sign number four: blue nails.

LAVIN: So, Elijah, let's take a look at your nails. In they turn blue, that'd be a sign that something's not working. We have a nice little window into your oxygen level right through the fingernail. If they all turn blue, that good healthy flow of oxygen has been interrupted.

COHEN: And warning sign number five: your child just doesn't seem right.

LAVIN: I'd be concerned if you came to him and some way he just seemed like a different person, not just different. Elijah acting differently but you didn't recognize him. That would be very worrisome.

COHEN: Looking out for these five signs can save your child's life.

As for Elijah, he's on the mend with a lot of care with from his mom and dad and big brother.

(on camera): What do you do to take care of your brother?

AEGEAS WIERTEL, ELIJAH'S BROTHER: I'd say, I hope you feel better sometime and...

E. WIERTEL: You probably said that twice.

COHEN: Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, Cleveland, Ohio.


GUPTA: All right, Elizabeth, thanks.

I hope that helps you at home as well.

If you missed any part of today's show, be sure to pick up my podcast,

Remember, this is the place for the answers to all of your medical questions. Thanks for watching.

I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. More news on CNN starts right now.