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Can Fish Oil Heal the Brain?; Crusade Against Sugar; Interview with Deepak Chopra

Aired January 5, 2013 - 16:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Hello and thanks for watching.

The New Year is here -- a new chance to do things right. And, you know, I watched Dr. Robert Lustig make this case that sugar is basically toxic. I want to talk about that today. He brings some new advice on what to eat.

Also, Deepak Chopra is here with tips on how to de-stress and clearly to be happier.

And later on, I'm going to share my piece of advice about how to keep a New Year's resolution.

Here we go.


GUPTA: We're going to get to all of that, but first, every year, about 1.7 million people in the United States suffer a traumatic brain injury -- from sports, from falls, car accidents. I see it every day in my line of work. And in severe cases, I can tell you, there is no drug, there is no pill that offers any help.

But I'm about to tell but two dramatic cases of crippling brain damage that may have been reversed. How? By simply using fish oil.


GUPTA (voice-over): Bobby Ghassemi story begins almost three years ago, with a phone call.

PETER GHASSEMI, BOBBY'S FATHER: Toughest call that any parents can get.

GUPTA: It's about your son, there has been an accident. Come quick.

P. GHASSEMI: I told my younger brother, to hold his hand -- until I get there.

GUPTA: Bobby's car had careened off a dark and winding road. Paramedics assess the wreckage and Bobby.

DR. MICHAEL LEWIS, BRAIN HEALTH EDUCATION & RESEARCH INSTITUTE: When I'm looking at the reports, they report a Glasgow Coma score of three. A brick or a piece of wood has a Glasgow Coma score of three. It's dead.

And somehow the paramedics miraculously managed to revive this kid.

GUPTA: This was the scene when his parents finally arrived to Bobby's bedside.

P. GHASSEMI: You realize that he could be going any time.

GUPTA: There had been so much bleeding within the brain, his skull could not contain the swelling. Every part of his brain was affected. But Peter and Marjan Ghassemi shrugged off the horror of the situation to fight.

MARJAN GHASSEMI, BOBBY'S MOTHER: Our motto during the whole time that he was in coma: to fight your way, and you come back to us.

GUPTA: Little did they know that that fight would link them to the sole survivor of an infamous mining disaster.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, 13 coal miners trapped nearly two miles inside a West Virginia mine.

GUPTA: A few years before Bobby's car barreled off that road, 13 miners huddled together after an explosion, as deadly carbon monoxide crept into the airspace around them. Forty-one hours later --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only confirmed survivor is Randal L. McCloy, Jr.

GUPTA: Dr. Julian Bailes was Randy McCloy's surgeon.

DR. JULIAN BAILES, CO-DIRECTOR, NORTHSHORE NEUROLOGICAL INSTITUTE: He'd had a massive heart attack from carbon monoxide and methane poisoning. He was in liver failure, kidney failure, had a collapsed lung.

GUPTA: McCloy's body somehow recovered. The question was: could his brain do the same?

(on camera): Can you quantify the likelihood that someone like a Randal McCloy would recover, that he would have a meaningful neurological recovery?

BAILES: We felt, and I think everything since then supports the fact that he was truly a long shot.

GUPTA (voice-over): But Bailes was concocting an unorthodox plan to try and save Randy McCloy's brain. High doses of Omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil.

BAILES: So the concept was then to try to rebuild his brain from what he was made from when he was an embryo in his mother's womb.

GUPTA (on camera): Rebuild his brain?

BAILES: Yes. We gave him a very high, unprecedented dose, to make sure we saturated and got high levels in the brain.

GUPTA: Had that even been done before, to your knowledge?

BAILES: No, it had not.

GUPTA (voice-over): Bailes was going out in a limb, but he had a hunch. In other studies, Omega-3 seemed to restore balance in the brain, helping some patients with depression or suicidal thoughts. Could an injured brain be similarly restored? And if so, how?

LEWIS: If you have a brick wall and it gets damaged, would you want to use bricks to repair the wall? And Omega-3 fatty acids are literally the bricks of the cell wall in the brain.

GUPTA: During a traumatic brain injury, the brain swells and nerve cells stop communicating and die. Omega-3 fatty acid, the theory goes, can rebuild damaged nerve cells, reduce inflammation, keep those brain cells from dying.

The problem? Few human studies had proven this theory.

Ten days after his accident, Bobby Ghassemi was still in a coma.

M. GHASSEMI: If he ever comes out of the coma, we don't know what kind of shape he is going to be in. And it was really hard to hear that, OK, he lived. He survived. And then, now, what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So they saved his life, but we don't have anything that helps from that point forward.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I would love to have you on the show.

GUPTA: Dr. Michael Lewis, a former Army colonel and Omega 3 researcher, believes fish oil could be the missing link.

LEWIS: Ultimately, we need to get it in the scientific literature by doing the good science in the studies to prove it.

GUPTA: After Bobby's accident, he got a desperate call from Peter Ghassemi, and after some explaining, asked him.

LEWIS: What do you think about the idea of using high dose fish oil like Julian Bailes used with Randy McCloy?

RANDAL MCCLOY, MINE DISASTER SURVIVOR: The carbon monoxide level was really high and I had no explanation of how I escaped it.

GUPTA: But McCloy, whose remarkable recovery is well-known, was just one case, and it remains unclear whether Omega-3 was really the key.

The next hurdle for Ghassemi? Convincing Bobby's doctors.

P. GHASSEMI: It was a fight, they didn't believe. And they said, fine, West Virginia miner was one case. I need a thousand cases to be proven for me before I can give this to your son. LEWIS: He literally had to lay down in the middle of the floor and throw a tantrum until they started to put it down -- his child's feeding tube.

GUPTA: The tantrum worked. And two weeks after starting his fish oil regimen, Bobby Ghassemi, case study number two, began to emerge from his coma.

About two months after that, he attended his high school graduation.

BOBBY GHASSEMI, RECOVERING FROM TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY: They all stood up, screaming and cheering my name. I took my graduation cap off, and waved it around.

GUPTA: The common denominators for Ghassemi and McCloy, devastating brain injuries, and then Omega-3 fish oil.

But did the Omega-3 hasten their recovery? For now, we do not know.

LEWIS: I absolutely believe that it made a huge difference in Bobby's recovery.


GUPTA: After treating Bobby Ghassemi and Randal McCloy, the coal miner, Dr. Bailes and Dr. Lewis each became paid consultants to fish oil companies. But since then, they have seen other cases where this treatment has helped.

It is fascinating stuff. But it does need to be said, this is still very early. We're going to need large-scale clinical studies to see if these benefits can be reproduced.

Coming up: Dr. Robert Lustig on how to eat better and why calories are not created equal.



MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: I think I speak for almost everybody. If it's in front of me, I eat it. I love Cheez-Its. If you put a bowl, two-pound box of Cheez-Its in front of me, I'd probably eat them all.


GUPTA: That was one of my favorite interviews, Mayor Bloomberg of New York. Not immune, apparently, to temptation.

Well, this time of year, a lot of us vow to eat right but we don't have a plan. And it is tough. I try and keep it simple, try and focus on things that are easy to remember and support these things with real evidence. I'll tell you, one man who really opened my eyes is Dr. Robert Lustig.


DR. ROBERT LUSTIG, PEDIATRIC ENDOCRINOLOGIST, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN FRANCISCO: I hope I will have debunked the last 30 years of nutrition information in America.

GUPTA (voice-over): This simple lecture by Professor Robert Lustig of the University of California-San Francisco has been viewed nearly 3 million times. The basic message, sugar is toxic. At least in the massive amounts most of us eat it.

LUSTIG: Can your liver handle it? And the answer is: no, it can't.

GUPTA: The average American eats 130 pounds of sugar in a single year. That includes the white stuff. But in case, you're curious, also the high fructose corn syrup. Lustig says for most people, it makes no difference.

Of course, the sugar growers and the corn growers say sugar is like anything else -- fine in moderation. And that's true. But it's not the whole story.


GUPTA: And now, Dr. Robert Lustig joins us. He's written a new book in his spare time. It's called "Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Foods, Obesity and Disease."

With regard to sugar, and you've talked about the fact that sugar, sweets and stuff can be bad for your heart -- it can ultimately get turned into this very bad sort of cholesterol particles. What happens? Do you think of fatty foods doing that, but a sugary drink?

LUSTIG: Right. The problem is that people think that sugar is a carbohydrate. Well, the glucose part of sugar is a carbohydrate and it can go to liver, starch or glycogen and that can be fished out of the liver for a rainy day or when you're on the gridiron. That's the ready energy source.

But fructose, the sweet part of the sugar, the molecule we seek, the reason why everybody likes sugar, that does not get turned into glycogen. What that does is it gets turned into liver fat. And now, one-third of America has nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. This is a disease that wasn't even described until 1980. It is the biggest epidemic in the history of the world.

GUPTA: It's -- I mean, it's stunning to think about. And again, I think more people need to hear that particular message and the history of it as well.

But sugar -- it's not just the amount of sugar, but it's the rate at which it's absorbed in the body. You really talk about these sugary drinks as opposed to a piece of fruit, for example, which also has sugar in it.

LUSTIG: The reason fiber is so important -- the reason to eat your sugar as whole fruit and not as fruit juice, not as smoothies, is because the fiber helps reduce the rate of absorption from the gut into the bloodstream. When you juice it, it's all going to you and your liver gets overwhelmed and you get sick.

GUPTA: So what do you do?

LUSTIG: Well, I think the government has to get involved. The problem is, government doesn't want to get involved, because there's money involved.

GUPTA: Right now, what do you do? I mean, how do you eat?

LUSTIG: Very simple. I tell my kids that if they see something advertised on TV, that means they're not to eat it. Because that's -- advertising is for something you don't want and don't need, because if you wanted it or needed it, they wouldn't have to advertise it.

GUPTA: You've told me before, eat real food.

LUSTIG: Eat real food, exactly. My kids know that if there is something sweet, it's a piece of fruit, they can have a treat once a week on a weekend, and that's just fine. OK. But we plan for it. We make it special and, of course, no soda or juice.

GUPTA: Just really quickly, there's obviously a lot of books out there about nutrition, about diet. You've read them, you know these authors.

How is -- how is your book different?

LUSTIG: What I try to do is I try to make peace. Every diet book espouses a diet. I don't, because there are a lot of diets that work. There's the paleo diet, there's the Atkins diet, there's the Ornish diet, there's the glycemic index diet, there's the South Beach diet. You know what? They all work, except for one thing. They don't.

And the reason they don't work is because after two months, every diet regresses to the mean. Christopher Gardner at Stanford showed this nicely in his A to Z study.

Bottom line, we can't stay on a diet and the reason is because of what's available. No one can stay on a diet. The question is, what's wrong with the Western diet? And when you answer that question, you see what all of these diets actually share in common, they share two things: low sugar, high fiber. And you know what? Low sugar, high fiber is called real food.

GUPTA: I love that. You've told me this before. I've adopted it in my own lifestyle, feel healthier as a result. Eat real food.

LUSTIG: Real food.

GUPTA: Great to see you as always. My pleasure.

LUSTIG: My pleasure.

GUPTA: Dr. Robert Lustig, thank you. Next up, Deepak Chopra stops by to talk about how to reduce stress, and also a trip to improve your memory, something that I'm using in my own life now.


GUPTA: How would you like to have a user's manual for your brain? Seriously, who wouldn't want this? A way to train your brain to cooperate.

Earlier, I spoke with Deepak Chopra. He's coauthor of this new book called "Super Brain." and we started with the difference between perception and reality.


GUPTA: Everybody's perceptions of even a simple event or simple object can be wildly different.

DEEPAK CHOPRA, CO-AUTHOR, "SUPER BRAIN": Right. And if you change your perception of time, for example, you slow down your experience of time, your biological clock is influenced by that. So if you're running out of time, your mental dialogue, your internal dialogue says, I'm running out of time, your biological clock actually speeds up. You have a higher blood pressure, jittery platelet with high levels of adrenaline. When you suddenly drop dead of a heart attack, then you've run out of time.

GUPTA: Right.

CHOPRA: So if you have all of the time in the world -- and it's a mental attitude. I said I'm going to make my flight this morning.

GUPTA: Right.

CHOPRA: But right now, I'm with you.

GUPTA: You made one comment in the book, I remember, I paid attention to as a journalist, is that attaching emotion to something is going to make it to behave differently in the brain.

CHOPRA: Yes, the more you attach emotions and healthy emotions are love, joy, compassion, empathy, equanimity. In Eastern traditions, they called it divine emotions because they move you out of your skin- encapsulated ego and connect you with the world.

GUPTA: Right.

CHOPRA: And these are very healthy emotions.

GUPTA: So if you're teaching a child, the concepts they learn in grade school not the most exciting. But should emotions either through story-telling or otherwise be part of the way kids are taught?

CHOPRA: (INAUDIBLE) mythical stories, stories of great heroes, heroines, history, mythology, religion, which we grew up with. You know, these were part of our culture. And somehow, you know, because we're living in this very highly technological society, stories telling is not getting the importance it should get.

GUPTA: Right. And this idea of attaching emotion even to, you know, math, God forbid, or something like that.

CHOPRA: Math, and music, emotion --

GUPTA: Right.

CHOPRA: -- to anything.

Also, it's important to parcel out time. So, you know, the critical brain cannot multitask. Your autonomic brain can. But your cortical brain, that's a myth. So, do one thing at a time and do it with focused attention. So there's, you know, work time, sleep time, there's --


GUPTA: So, you're saying I shouldn't be looking at my BlackBerry when talking to my wife?


GUPTA: I know for a lot of different reasons.

CHOPRA: They need you doing neither.

GUPTA: Right, right. That's what she says very well.

Something I thought was interesting and very specific was I love to make lists. I make lists if I go to the grocery store and things like that. Just -- and I'm very dependent on those lists. You say that's not such a good idea.

CHOPRA: Yes. Because, you know, again, those who have very good memories, they connect those lists with images in the brain, or with emotions. And that's -- that's what is good photographic memory.

GUPTA: You told the story of a guy who became dependent -- had a pretty good memory but started making lists and then when he forgot the list, he couldn't remember anything. So it's almost this case our brains become dependent on things.


GUPTA: And you also call the stuckness or a mental groove in the brain.

CHOPRA: Yes, mental groove in brain.

GUPTA: What does that mean, the mental groove?

CHOPRA: It means that you become a creature of habit. You become a bundle of conditioned reflexes and nerves as constantly being triggered by people and circumstance into predictable outcomes, which means you don't have any creativity anymore.

GUPTA: That's bad.

CHOPRA: That's bad.

GUPTA: It sounds bad, obviously. But in terms of our brain itself, it's bad.

CHOPRA: It's bad, because there's loss of creativity. You know, the more you are un-stuck, the more predictable you are, the more comfortable you are in embracing uncertainty, the more creative you are.


GUPTA: You know, if you want a healthy outlook, you can do a lot worse than the man you're about to meet. For most people, cancer is a scary word. But this expert chef beat cancer five times and he now continues to pay it forward.


ERIC LEVINE, CHEF: I'm the executive chef at Encore Catering in East Hanover, New Jersey.

GUPTA (voice-over): Eric LeVine got off to a rocky start on the Food Network's "Chopped", but the fact that he showed up to compete at all defines resilience in the face of adversity.

LEVINE: The night before, I had the chemo-radiation treatment, I found out I had six to eight months to go. At that moment, it was like, a light bulb went off. It was, wow, look at the opportunities I have. Most people would give their soul to have what I have.

GUPTA: Eric survived the chopping block and won $10,000. But more importantly, he has now survived cancer five times. He was first diagnosed when he was just 29 years old.

LEVINE: After I had cancer for the first time, I wanted something to remind me every day of life. So the five on the outside represents the five times I've beaten cancer and the I.M. is the first power, is the indestructible master of one theory that I have. And for that, you take responsibility for your happiness and actions and what you do in life.

If you pass that on to one person every day.

Good afternoon, ladies. How are you? Good. Are you enjoying your dining experience so far?

GUPTA: LeVine, now 43, is using his new-found celebrity to push others to attain their full potential. And he begins right in his own kitchen.

LEVINE: Throughout the kitchen, we have different phrases or different signs, different things. I think it's a point to our whole being of the kitchen, the mindset of the kitchen.

And the stems, cut it off. We'll use that for the --

GUPTA: LeVine shares his culinary and cancer survival experiences at events held at his restaurant, as well as when he lends his time to the American Cancer Society.

LEVINE: For me, it's all about paying it forward and through a good cause and very involved with the American Cancer Society.

GUPTA: In the end, he says fight the fight, do what you love every day and above all, have some fun.

LEVINE: I think the fun factor is what it's about, besides the hokey pokey. I mean, the hokey pokey is obviously what it's about. But they look at me and go, OK, I get it, I'm not winning any, you know, sexiest man of the year awards. But I'm the happiest person in the universe.


GUPTA: That attitude, despite beating cancer five times. Good luck.

Four out of five Americans don't stick with their New Year's resolutions. I'm talking to you. So let's change that together, next.


GUPTA: You know, more than 100 million Americans just made New Year's resolutions. But if research is right, most of you have already given up. Four out of five people break these pledges within days, and I get it. Habits can be hard to break.

But here's something you should know. It takes your brain about 21 days to make or break a habit. So stick it out that long, and it's going to get a lot easier.

Also, keep this in mind. It's a small change that can make the most lasting impact and especially true with those trying to lose weight.

So, try these simple things: bring your lunch to work. Write down everything you eat in a food journal. And make a plan to never skip breakfast.

Small changes, and they're proven to help shed the pounds. I do it myself. Good luck.

That does it for this edition of SGMD. Thanks for watching. Also, let us know what you think, and follow me on Twitter at @drsanjaygupta.

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