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Deadly Dose; Gadgets to Keep You Healthy; Recipe for Battling Diabetes?

Aired February 18, 2012 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Good morning. Thanks for being with us.

One thing you may know about me if you watch this program, I love gadgets. But even I would say the amount of technology in our lives can sometimes be overwhelming. So, you know, I have been in the hunt for technology that can truly improve our health and maybe make it easier to get healthy and to stay that way.

For example, something like this -- this is a blood pressure cuff. They say you should have one in your home. This links to your iPhone and possibly communicates with your doctor as well. I'm going to demonstrate in just a bit.

I'm also going to do something else. I'm going to hit on something a little bit touchy in our world. Remember when the chef Paula Deen announced she had diabetes. There was a sort of -- a lot of people voicing their opinion, saying, "Look, I told you so. That's what you get for cooking such incredibly rich food."

We wish Paula Deen the best. We love her. But I want to take a different approach.

Sam Talbot, that's another name you may have heard of. He was a finalist on the show "Top Chef" and he's had diabetes for most of his life. It has taught him some very important message about eating healthy, we're going to learn and we're going to try and share with you today.

But, first, like a lot of people, I was pretty shocked to get the news about Whitney Houston dying just the night before the Grammys. The coroner says it's going to be weeks before we know the cause of death. That's important.

But given her history of drug abuse, people are asking a lot of tough questions. Investigators did find prescription drugs in the hotel room were Houston died.

But the coroner told us something very important. Listen to this -- listen carefully. Quote, "Nothing out of the ordinary was found as long as Houston was taken the medication as prescribed." As prescribed, that's a key point.

As a doctor, I mean, I want to dovetail enough by give you the shocking statistic -- one in 20 people over the age of 12 take prescription medications in a way that's not prescribed, another key point. Most of them are not addicts, they're just careless. And maybe they didn't heed the warnings they were told.

They take too much, they take it the wrong way, or they combine medications with something else. If you do that, it's easy to make a catastrophic mistake. In every 19 minutes, every 19 minutes a person dies from prescription drugs.

Now, this goes far beyond what may or may not have happened to Whitney Houston. I want to be clear on that. But I also want to talk to you about the dangers that everybody faces at one point or another.

So, joining me from New York to talk about this is a Dr. Petros Levounis. He's chief of Addiction Psychiatry at St. Luke's and Roosevelt hospitals in New York City.

Thanks for joining us.

I imagine, Doctor, you like everybody else have paid attention to the story of what happened with Whitney Houston. But I did want to sort of make a couple points here. I want to ask you about them. Even legitimately prescribed medications can kill in combination with other drugs and sometimes alcohol, but even just small amounts of alcohol.

I don't think a lot of people understand that. They are told, don't drink with these medications. But this idea that in combination is so much worse. Can you explain what happens? Why is it so much worse? What happens to the brain?

DR. PETROS LEVOUNIS, CHIEF OF ADDICTION PSYCHIATRY, ST. LUKE'S- ROOSEVELT HOSPITAL: What happens to the brain is something that can be quite scary, actually. And that is the synergy or synergistic effect. Synergy simply means that the total effect can be much, much bigger than the sum of the parts.

So, if you just drink alcohol, you have some kind of factor. Or if you just take, let's say valium or Xanax, or one of those medications, you have another effect. If you take some painkillers, some opiate painkillers, you have another effect. But if you combine these three, then it's not just -- the effective is not simply additive -- it's not just one plus one plus one equals three, it's more like one plus one plus one equals five or six. And that is what gets a lot of people in trouble.

GUPTA: Can you put it into context? Because even as I've been talking about this, and people have come up to me and said, look, you know, I hear what you're saying about synergy, but, you know, I take sleeping pills. I might have something to drink, you know, at night before I go to bed.

To be clear, that's a problem. I mean, we're not talking to say you need a large consumption of these medications to cause a potential catastrophe. Is that right?

LEVOUNIS: Right. So, we do have the synergistic problem, which is a very serious one. And then we super imposed on that one, the tolerance problem, that a lot of these medications can result in physiological dependence, meaning that after awhile, they do not have the same punch, the same kind of effect that they used to have.

So, you start adding a bit and go up on the dose a little bit, sometimes totally within the recommendations of your physician. But you go up and up and up and then you may reach a breaking point where the side effects -- meaning in this case, the respiratory depression or any other kind of physiological trouble that they can give you goes out of control and you may end up dying.

GUPTA: And one of the areas of the brain that I think is affected is the hypothalamus. That's part of the brain that's responsible for a lot of things that we don't think about -- you know, regulating our heart rate or heart beat, but also our drive to breathe. And when you say depressing that, I think that that's what you are referring to.

Is there a particularly dangerous combination? Something that surprises you both in terms of what the medications are and how little can cause a problem?

LEVOUNIS: Some of the opiates, some of the painkillers have been notoriously implicated in overdose deaths. Sometimes we think that pain pills cannot possibly be as dangerous as heroin. And yet, they are very, very similar drugs and can very easily kill you.

So, that's what we see. We see some people taking OxyContin or Vicodin and say, hey, the dentist gave me this. How can it possibly be all that dangerous?

And yet, when taken in combination with alcohol or some other drugs or sometimes even by itself, can get you in trouble.

GUPTA: Well, you know, I appreciate that point. But, look, the status quo is not acceptable. So, if the message needs to be clearer, and needs to be louder and it needs to be -- you know, I don't want to alarmist, but you got -- I mean, I think it's very, very important for doctors to communicate this to their patients, which again I appreciate that you do that and I try to as well.

Maybe we'll have you back on to about talk it some more. We're going to say on this.

Dr. Levounis, I appreciate your time.

And coming up, you know, I'm going to take time to show you some of my favorite gadgets. Again, I am the gadget guy around here. But these are new inventions that could potentially put you on the road to getting healthier. We'll explain.

Stay with us.


GUPTA: Welcome back to SGMD.

You know, we've reported on shortages of cancer drugs. And this week, we got word of a big one. Hospitals and pharmacists warned they only have a few weeks supply of methotrexate. This is a medication mainly used for childhood leukemia.

I'll tell you, a lot of lives are at stake here. We have been talking about it for some time.

But on Wednesday, the Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the FDA had helped drug companies find additional suppliers to try and keep up production.


KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: It's resolved because what we can do is accelerate alternatives.


GUPTA: Now, that's welcome news, of course. But the Government Accountability Office tell us that the overall trend of more and more of these shortages -- again, shortages that we've been talking about -- are likely to continue. Remember, these are some critically important medications.

Now, another cancer drug was also in the news this week, Avastin. This week, the FDA said some recent shipments to medical practices were, in fact, fake. They were counterfeit. Now, the good news is that it's pretty easy to spot the difference.

Take a look at this. The packaging in specific on your left, real Avastin. That's produced by Genentech. And the packaging is in English. The fake is on your right. Now, it says it's produced by Roche and the writing is in French.

The FDA and Genentech are looking into this. They don't know yet if any patients in fact got the fake version.

Also this week, we got some news I've been very interested in, stem cells. We talk about this a lot, but there were some pretty remarkable results from the clinical trial I first reported in November. Now, the full paper is out. We had a chance to look at it.

Doctors used threaded catheters, you see there, to take stem cells, grow more of those cells in a Petri dish and then reject them a few weeks later. Now, the result of all that, more healthy heart muscle and 50 percent less scar tissue. So, we'll keep an eye on that.

Re-growing heart muscle is amazing technology. But not something you want to try at home, obviously.

But I do want to show you some technology that could be in your home, gadgets that could actually help you get healthy and possibly stay healthy.

So, Matt Sloane, our medical producer, another resident gadget guy, to help us out.

You've been looking at a lot of these gadgets. You went to the consumer electronic show, by the way, which is pretty fun, I hear. Did you have a good time?


GUPTA: Yes, the gadgets are pretty interesting. Some people said technology can make it tougher because people are parked in front of screens. But you found things that maybe are quite the opposite.

The scale, for example, to start off with -- there are a lot of scales out there to measure your weight obviously, also your body mass index. But what's different about this one?

SLOANE: This one will sync with your home Wi-Fi network. And it will actually send all the data. When you step on the scale, your body mass index, your lean body mass, it will send that to some really weigh loss apps. So, it makes it easier to keep track of. But it looks pretty and it looks like just a regular home scale to anybody who doesn't know any better.

GUPTA: Some accountability as well.

SLOANE: Absolutely.

GUPTA: And one app, I think, is called Lose It. So, it will send information to this app Lose It.

SLOANE: It will. Yes. It's a free app. I've got it on the iPad. This is actually my food I have eaten today. So you can see. I have 1,805 calories for the day. I have eaten 1,523, I've got 282 left. You can actually go in here and search for the food that you've eaten out of the library of 100,000 foods.

But something I really like about this, you can actually -- let's add a snack here. If you have a food, you --

GUPTA: If you have a food --

SLOANE: You just hit scan bar code. Scan it right there. It adds it, 180 calories. Add it to your app. And --

GUPTA: And you get et a better idea of how you are going overall.

SLOANE: Yes, it will give you a good report everyday, you can -- by the day or by the week.

GUPTA: Now, you're actually, I mean, you're using this app?

SLOANE: I am. Yes, I've actually lost 12 pounds using this app. So, it's nothing --

GUPTA: Not increasing exercise or anything. Just doing something like that.

SLOANE: Just paying attention.

GUPTA: Why do you think it works so well for you? SLOANE: You know, it helps you be accountable. And I didn't know how many calories I was eating on a daily basis. So, to just put it in here, even if I'm eating badly, even if I go over, it at least tells me how many I have eaten. So, I can tell you, I'm not going to do that next time.

GUPTA: I think there's something to that -- the psychology of just again being held accountable.

One thing another big deal, and, you know, as I've told you, Matt, I have a history of heart disease in my family. Blood pressure is something that a lot of people know to get checked when they're at their doctors office.

But it's a sort of silent problem. You may not have any symptoms. So, this is a blood pressure cuff. Tell us about this.

SLOANE: Yes. You know, of course, two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. It's a topic that you and I covered a lot together.

GUPTA: Right.

SLOANE: As the connected generation starts to develop high blood pressure, I think this is going to be a real cool tool. All you do is plug this little cuff right here into your iPad or really any tablet device.

GUPTA: Right.

SLOANE: Hit a couple buttons. And then, obviously, put it on somebody's arm.

GUPTA: So, just put it on your arm, just like a regular blood pressure cuff. So, this is, in fact, acting as the blood pressure machine. This is the cuff that you're -- it's an app, I guess, that does this?

SLOANE: Yes, and it will keep track of them for months at a time. And then you can send that to your doctor, which is really important for them to keep track of.

GUPTA: Give me a quick idea on cost of these things over here.

SLOANE: A hundred sixty dollars for the scale, $130 for the blood pressure cuff. Of course, the app is free.

GUPTA: Matt, thanks a lot. Don't go anywhere. I think you'll want to hear this as well. It's sort of an eye-popping revelation, if you will, at NASA.

A medical mystery to be solved if we are going to keep astronauts in space for an extended period of time.


GUPTA: And we are back with SGMD.

You know, something you might have heard about recently, the possibility of us going to mars. It's really fascinating. The United States is spending $18 billion over the next five years to try and develop a rocket that could take astronauts to the red planet.

But, you know, something I've always been curious about, what does a trip like that really do to people's bodies?

CNN's very own John Zarrella got this inclusive opportunity to sit in on an eye exam given to one NASA astronaut who, like many, has come back from his long duration space flight missions and had changes to his vision. What exactly happened? Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't do this in space.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Astronaut Mike Barratt undergoes an eye exam. No big deal, right?


ZARRELLA: But unlike your eyes or mine, the future of human deep space could be riding literally on astronaut eyesight.

TERRY TADDEO, ACTING CHIEF OF SPACE MEDICINE: I would say this is our top priority at the moment. In terms of establishing countermeasures for long duration space flight, this has all of our attention.

ZARRELLA: Why? You see, Barratt is one of 10 astronauts who have return from long space station missions with changes to their eyesight, sometimes permanent and not at all good.

The cause? A mystery.

DR. ROBERT GIBSON, SENIOR VISION CONSULTANT: What we're seeing is structural changes to the retina. We're seeing wrinkles or folds on a microscopic level to these areas.

ZARRELLA: And as this image shows, the back of Mike's eye has flattened out.

GIBSON: See the farsighted shift, again the cause for the farsighted shift appears to be globe flattening.

ZARRELLA: In some cases, back on Earth, the eyes correct themselves, but not Barratt's.

BARRATT: I'm kind of eagle-eyed at long distance. But I depended up on close up specs.

ZARRELLA: Doctors say the problem has only occurred in male astronauts. It's possibly from an increase in pressure inside the cranium caused by microgravity. Doctors don't know if the problem might worsen or even lead to blindness on longer flights, say to Mars. ZARRELLA (on camera): Over the next five years, NASA is spending about $18 billion to develop a new big rocket and this Orion spacecraft to send astronauts on those deep space missions.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): If the problem isn't solved, human Mars missions could be in trouble. The alternative? Get them there a lot faster.

BARRATT: I'm still hopeful that in 20 years, we'll have advanced propulsion capabilities that can get us there on a matter of weeks to maybe a very few months. And then a lot of these problems go away.

ZARRELLA: Doctors are intensely working the problem with space station crews, undergoing on-orbit exams and using special glasses called SuperFocus. But so far, there haven't been eye-opening breakthroughs.

John Zarrella, CNN, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.


GUPTA: And NASA astronaut Mike Barratt joins me now from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Thanks for joining us.

You know, this is fascinating. It's one of those things where you might not predict this or guess something like this would happen.

Let me ask you, first of all, how are your eyes now? Have they stayed affected by your trip?

BARRATT: Well, yes, they have, pretty much. I spent 199 days in space in 2009 and landed in October of that year. So the vision changes that we noticed have been pretty static since then.

So, again, what it is, is a farsighted shift. And if you wear the right corrective lenses, we're totally functional and that's kind of a hallmark here. Everybody is perfectly functional with their eye changes, even if they persist. But there's a lot more the scientists envision that work.

GUPTA: And the other thing is that when people's pressure comes down, oftentimes their vision improves. But, again, in your case, it didn't happen.

And something else that was sort of striking, it was just in men.

BARRATT: That's right.

GUPTA: Correct me, if I am wrong on that. Just so -- why -- you're a doctor, you're studying this. Any idea as to why that is?

BARRATT: Well, you have to think of some of the obvious things, that perhaps there's some hormonal protection of the vascular system. I think much of this is related to the fluid shifts that happen in zero gravity and those relate to changes in drainage of the venous system of the head, of the brain. And certainly, the vascular system of female is influenced by a high level of hormones that might differentiate us.

Another thing is that there are some shape changes that might actually account for some of this. And that's fairly typical of the average astronaut guy and maybe slightly barrel-chested I guess they've been described. And that might predispose some of the movement of the lung which might actually trap some of our venous drainage against the collarbone.

GUPTA: That's fascinating.

BARRATT: But that's not necessarily you know --

GUPTA: Yes. I mean, I guess, the physiology is really interesting. And I think the space travel as a whole.

Let me ask, we just got a little bit of time, but how big a deal is this? Obviously, you know, there's money being spent to try and create this rocket to go to mars. This problem of visions, I mean, it sounds like this is no small problem if people's vision is this dramatically affected.

BARRATT: Right. It's a big deal. I would say this is the most significant finding, physiologic finding in space in at least 10 years and probably more.


BARRATT: I would emphasize that this is probably not new. We've probably been flying and re-flying people with this syndrome for 20 years and just didn't know it. So, you don't see functional impairment.

But I don't want to belittle this. We do see increased pressure. We see slowing of the optic nerve. We see changing of the shape of the eye, and a lot of these changes persist.

So, what's the long-term implications? We don't know. So, yes, it is a big deal.

GUPTA: Well, I'm glad -- I mean, you look healthy. I'm sorry this happened with your eyes. But this is fascinating. And I encourage people when they think about space travel, when they hear about this possible trip to mars, remember Mike Barratt and, you know, the impact that it has on people's bodies.

Sir, thanks so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. Fascinating.

BARRATT: My pleasure.

GUPTA: And still ahead, as promised, you know, I'm going to head into the kitchen with Bravo "Top Chef" he's a fan favorite -- Sam Talbot. You may know him. But what you may not know is what happened when he was 12 years old changed him forever. We'll tell you what it was, that made him the man and the chef he is today.

Stay with us.


GUPTA: You might recognize that guy. Bravo "Top Chef" season two finalist Sam Talbot. "Cook nice" -- that's what he always says for the mind, body and soul.

I recently decided to hit up a local kitchen with Sam to talk about his new book. It's called "The Sweet Life: Diabetes Without Boundaries."


GUPTA: How long have you been cooking?

SAM TALBOT, TOP CHEF: I've been cooking since -- I started my first job, I was probably 13 years old. I started off as dishwasher and went to a bus boy and then I was cooking pizzas when I was 14. My first professional job I was 15 years old.

GUPTA: Naturally good at cooking?

TALBOT: Naturally, yes. It's one of those God-given abilities. I remember being like 8 years old and going to the farmer's market with my grandmother and getting eggs and making scrambled eggs and all the types of things that an 8-year-old not -- you know, doesn't necessarily pick up.

GUPTA: You said your food is generally pretty healthy. I mean, how important is that? Because, obviously, you can make things taste better sometimes if they're not a healthy.

TALBOT: I'm a person with type I diabetes, right? But I'm not necessarily cooking for diabetics all the time.

GUPTA: When you got diagnosed, you were 12.

TALBOT: I was 12 years old.

GUPTA: What do you remember? Not feeling well.

TALBOT: You know, my uncle, my mom's brother was diabetic. So, a lot of the symptoms that happen when you're becoming newly diagnosed, things were happening to me. And my mother obviously had seen them growing with her brother.

So one night, you know, I was (INAUDIBLE) like 15 times of the course of a 10-hour sleeping period. My mom took me to the hospital, we went to the emergency room, and they checked my blood sugar. My blood sugar was like 980. It was crazy.

GUPTA: Normal is like 100 --

TALBOT: Normal is like 80 to 120 or something. And mine was 900 -- 980, I think. And my mom burst into tears. So we went across the street to Friendly's. You know Friendly's?

GUPTA: I'm from Michigan. So, I know.

TALBOT: There you go. There you go. Yes.

So she took me across the street to Friendly's and we got a bunch of sundaes and ice cream and now, my blood sugar was probably goes to the roof, whatever. But she was like, do this now because you'll never been able to do it again.

And from that moment on, I was 12. I really made it like a lifetime goal of mine to never have to say that to anybody, and to never have to live within a parameter.

GUPTA: How much of your life is dictated by, you know, measuring your sugars and your diabetes overall?

TALBOT: I mean, you know, we both wake up in the morning, we both shower, we both brush our teeth. I just have a few more steps I have to go through. And that is my life.

GUPTA: You say there have been some perks to being a diabetic.

TALBOT: I just get to be healthier, because it's hard if you don't anything wrong with you, right? It's kind of like to be one of like, yes, I want to become healthier but why?

GUPTA: It's great.

But when something like what happened recently with Paula Deen, for example -- how big an issue that is for celebrity chef? Does she been more transparent about that? What do you think?

TALBOT: To each their own, right? But I think when any person with a bit of notoriety that has a platform to speak on, right, whether it'd be a chef, or a doctor, or whatever it is that you're a profession is, and you're speaking from the heart, people are listening to you.

GUPTA: She said she has diabetes type II. Said she's going to make some changes now in her diet, as well.

TALBOT: I hope so. Certain food tastes really good going down, but it's that aftermath of like, oh, man, you know? No one wants to be a part of that.

GUPTA: We've all been there.

TALBOT: We've all been there. Listen, we're all sort of vying for that same goal, which is to keep raising the bar of education and keep raising the bar of awareness. I mean, I'll break bread with Paula any day of the week.

GUPTA: Yes. Perfect. Whole wheat bread.

TALBOT: Yes, whole wheat bread.


GUPTA: That's going to wrap things up for SGMD this morning. Follow me at Also on Twitter. We have an ongoing conversation there @SanjayGuptaCNN.

And also get a sneak peek of next weeks' show. We're going to be talking heart health and how you can actually reverse damage in your own heart. It is too late. We'll have it here for you next Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 a.m. Eastern.

Time now, though, to get you a check of your top stories in the "CNN NEWSROOM".