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Baby Formula Fears; Mitochondrial Disease; Flu Season is Here; How to Not Pack on the Pounds This Holiday Season; Giving the Gift of Good Health

Aired December 8, 2007 - 08:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Thanks, guys, this is HOUSE CALL. We're making the rounds this morning of some of the most intriguing medical stories of the week.
First up, baby formula fears. There could be a problem in the can. Then, how to get the right diagnosis even when your doctor may be stumped.

Plus, your child could be suffering silently. We go inside the world of mitochondrial disease. It's more common you think.

And finally, giving the gift of health. It's a present for a lifetime. We're making a list.

Let's get it started, though, with baby formula fears. A consumer group says a chemical in cans of baby formula could be hurting the infants, but the concern an overreaction from environmentalists or something new moms need to take seriously?


GUPTA (voice-over): New mom Helen Niblock wanted to breast feed 5-week-old Emma, but didn't produce enough milk.

HELEN NIBLOCK, FEEDS BABY LIQUID FORMULA: I actually cried when they told me I had to give her formula in the hospital.

GUPTA: To supplement Emma's diet, she feeds her Enfamil, just one of the canned baby formulas a research group claims contains a toxic chemical that could hurt her. It's Bisphenol A or BPA. It's used as a protective lining in cans. Some moms panicked when they learned it's in plastic baby bottles. Now the environmental working group says top baby formula makers acknowledge BPA is in their cans. And that environmental working group says even a little bit is harmful.

JANE HOULIHAN, ENVIRONMENTAL WORKING GROUP: Bisphenol A is linked to toxic effects at very low doses. Concerns range from breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, early puberty, and infertility.

GUPTA: Also fueling concern, findings just published from a federal panel say that BPA poses some risk to babies' brains and behavior. Findings the American Academy of Pediatrics takes seriously, but admits there's not enough information yet to take action. ARI BROWN, DR., AUTHOR, "BABY 411": We don't have any data, unfortunately, in humans. So it makes it a little bit hard to know what's worrisome and what's not.

GUPTA: The FDA insists infants would have to ingest over 7,000 times more formula than they do in a day to do any harm. And add that there's no reason to ban or restrict its use in baby formula cans.

Meade Johnson, maker of Enfamil, joins the nation's other top baby formula makers in acknowledging a trace amount of BPA in their cans within federal limits, but say their products are safe. The industry maintains no changes in feeding practices are recommended.

New moms may not have answers, but they do have alternatives. Powdered formula or formula not packaged in cans, and glass or BPA- free plastic baby bottles.

BROWN: If there's an easy, cheap way to limit or reduce the exposure in your child's life, why not do it?


GUPTA: You know, we know parents are bombarded with confusing messages, lead in toys, chemicals in baby bottles, and now formula cans. And the temptation may be to throw up your hands and say, I just can't keep up with all these things. Best thing you can do as a parent, stay informed, talk to your doctor, and do the things that you can control, like limit your health risks to your child. And as always for more information, go to

Have you ever had an unusual malady or symptom that even your doctors couldn't explain? Well, in today's "Empowered Patient", Elizabeth Cohen takes a look at how to push your health care providers to get that proper diagnosis.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Have you ever found yourself in the situation where your doctor just couldn't get rid of your symptoms and you went from physician to physician and nobody could help? Sometimes people find this when they have back pain or extreme dizziness or extreme fatigue.

So in this week's Empowered Patient, we have some advice. First of all, the doctors we consulted said make a list of all the drugs you're taking. Sometimes drugs can interact with one another. And when people have symptoms that won't go away, oftentimes they find various doctors have prescribed drug on top of drug on top of drug.

Secondly, pick a team leader. Take one of the doctors who you like the best, no matter what their specialty, and ask them not to be just your physician, but to be your team leader, to help coordinate your care.

And lastly, sometimes people have to accept that they're not going to find the cause for their symptoms. The doctors we consulted said sometimes you need to give up on a cause and just pursue finding different treatments that will help you.

For Empowered Patient, I'm Elizabeth Cohen.


GUPTA: Elizabeth was talking about difficult diagnoses. And coming up, we're going to look at another difficult diagnosis: mitochondrial disease. It's more common than you may think. We're going to tell you Ty Seldes's story.

And later...

JUDY FORTIN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Why give any old present this holiday season when you can give the gift of health? Some shopping tips coming up on HOUSE CALL.

GUPTA: Look forward to that. And finally, are you ready for flu season? We answer your questions in the "ask the doctor" segment, plus some flu trivia. That's coming up in one minute.


GUPTA: We're in the midst of another flu season. And throughout history, doctors have had some interesting theories on what causes it. That's the topic of this week's quick quiz. Which of the following did doctors once think caused the flu? A, underground vapors? B, rabid cats and dogs? C, the influence of the stars? Or D, volcanic eruptions? The answer at the end of the show. Stay tuned.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSE CALL. Now a story that is very personal to us here at CNN. We recently found out about a member of the CNN family whose son is dying from mitochondrial disease. It's a disease that has no cause and no known cure.

Here's Ty Seldes.


SHERI SELDES, TY'S MOTHER: Ty makes me smile and laugh every day.

GUPTA: Sherry Seldes makes the most of the happy moments because they're slipping away.

S. SELDES: It is very difficult waking up every day and taking care of a child that you know is not going to live much longer.

GUPTA: Ty has mitochondrial disease, a disease with more questions than answers. There is no cure, just an agonizing reality the Seldes face every day.

DARIN SELDES, TY'S FATHER: The hardest part is seeing him get worse and knowing there's nothing that I can do about it.

GUPTA: For the Seldes, Dr. Shoffner provided the answers that 14 months and dozens of other doctors could not.

JOSEPH SHOFFNER, DR., MITOCHONDRIAL DISEASE EXPERT: Spent that many years educating physicians and families about these disorders because although on the one hand they're complex, they're very common. And the function of the mitochondria sits at the fundamental root of many, many things that go on in your body, many processes.

GUPTA: Mitochondria generate 90 percent of the body's energy supply. When they fail, the body doesn't get the energy it needs. Organs and other vital systems begin to fail. Some patients can be managed through treatment. Others, like Ty, cannot.

SHOFFNER: Ty, unfortunately, has one of the more severe types of mitochondrial diseases called Lee's Disease. And it's sort of a general statistic, roughly by about five years of age, many if not most of the children have passed away.

S. SELDES: I think the saddest thing is the fact that Max, my older son, at such a young age, will be experiencing death of his brother. And that has really been the hardest thing for me.


D. SELDES: It's going to be more devastating for me and Sherry to see that and explain that. And that's a pretty tough one.

GUPTA: The goal now is to educate others and bring awareness to a disease that has become more common than childhood cancer.

SHOFFNER: This is the driving force to all of us is to make it better for children like Ty, better for the adults that are dealing with these disorders, and try to bring us closer to a cure.


GUPTA: This powerful story first aired on our sister channel TBS. And we invited Ty's parents Darin and Sheri Seldes to come join us and talk more about their experience with mitochondrial disease. Thanks for being here. Thanks for your strength.

What was it like to watch that, Sherry?

S. SELDES: It was hard. It's hard to watch. You know, you try not to think about it every day and just enjoy the time that you have. But it's hard to watch that, yes.

GUPTA: How did you first know that anything was wrong with Ty? Were there any signs or symptoms?

S. SELDES: Actually, when Ty was born, he had a lot of facial features that were unusual. His ears were lower. He had a completely formed nose, you know, not like your pug nose that you would expect a sweet baby to have.

GUPTA: Well, let me ask you, Darin. You take care of Ty from day to day. What's that like? I mean, what are the challenges? What are the rewards?

D. SELDES: Rewards are wonderful, as any child would be. The challenges are he is unable to tell me what he would like. He doesn't speak. He doesn't have control of his limbs very well. He doesn't walk or talk. So I have to kind of guess what it is that he wants to keep him happy. His focus is always changing. And we always have to guess what it is that he's wanting to do.

GUPTA: You know, one of the things that's so powerful, obviously, is talking about both your children, Sheri. And I have two children close in age as well. And I mean, how do you explain that? I mean, do you explain that? Is it appropriate to explain that?

S. SELDES: What we've done to this point, Max understands that his brother is not going to grow up. But he thinks it's just, you know, his -- his brother is going to be the size of an infant for the rest of his life. He understands his brother has a disease and that until doctors find a cure, his brother's going to remain the way he is.

He doesn't understand the death component of it. We haven't shared that with him yet. The issue is that this disease, it takes its toll very slowly over time. And we really have no idea how long Ty is going to be with us. So it's it's so premature right now to even talk about that with Max.

GUPTA: What is it -- you know, we live in the same neighborhood, I think it's worth pointing out. And you're obviously passionate about it. You talk to people about this. What is the goal? I mean, first of all, is -- when you went to the doctors to talk to them about Ty, did they even know what you were talking about initially?

S. SELDES: You know, when we go to the emergency room, or when we go for a routine appointment with pediatricians, they have never heard of it before. And so, you -- you know, you've gone to the emergency room with your child. And you're trying to explain what's happening. And they're like, OK, you know, we don't -- we're just going to treat him for this one particular symptom. We need to do some research and figure out what you're talking about.

But that is the issue is that this disease is not rare. However, because it is so complicated, that doctors have not been able to diagnose children. They have -- every child is going to manifest itself in a different way. And they're going to all react differently. So it's not like you can look at something and say, OK, this is this particular disease, and it looks the same in every person.

GUPTA: Darin, you're obviously talking about it. You're here today, and in peace. What is the role for you? I mean, is it to educate more people?

D. SELDES: Definitely it's to educate more people. We have done things like walkathons. And I did a fundraising CD. And every time we tried to contact people about they'd like to sponsor a walkathon and things like that, nobody knows about it. And so, the research is not there. And when we say, would you like to make a contribution? They say, well, our money is spoken for for these charities and that charity. So there's this -- not the research out there. There's only a few doctors in the country that are doing research on this disease.

GUPTA: OK, I wish we had more time to talk about this, obviously, so important. And first of all, I thank you for your strength just being here. I know it's tough to talk about. I'm the father of two small children as well, so I really appreciate it. Thank you very much.

D. SELDES: Thank you for having us.

GUPTA: Good luck to Ty.

D. SELDES: Thank you very much.

GUPTA: All right, and if you'd like to learn more as well about information about mitochondrial disease, how to find an expert or research facilities, you can check out the mitochondrial disease foundation Web site. That's at

Well, there's much more to come on HOUSE CALL. Sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, you guessed it. Flu season is here. What you need to know.

And later, tip the scales in your favor this holiday season. Some simple ideas to avoid packing on the pounds. All that straight ahead on HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: The way we eat during the holidays is a decision that can affect us all year-round. We know that. On this week, we asked which topic you'd like us to most tackle on HOUSE CALL. You picked that perennial problem, holiday weight gain. Thanks to all those who voted. We turn now to nutritionist Page Love for some ways to stay slim this holiday season.


PAGE LOVE, NUTRITIONIST: When it's crazy during the holiday season with all the holiday bustle, and running to get your gifts, and going to parties, it's really hard to stay on track with your nutrition plan. So I'm going to give you my three top tips of how to stake on track during the holiday season.

Number one, you want to make sure that you don't go shopping or go to holiday parties when you're really hungry or ravenous. Take a snack with you or eat a snack before you go. Raw fruit, raw veggies, string cheese, whole grain crackers, a mini popcorn bag, anything healthy like that that will help you curb your craving, so you don't arrive at the mall starving and then (INAUDIBLE) a bad food choice, or you don't arrive at the party starving and want to overfill your plate, or have multiple trips to the buffet table.

Once you arrive at this party, have a plan. Survey the buffet table, look at all the options, try to fill your plate with fruits and veggies, maybe even half of your plate with a fresh fruit and veggie tray, maybe a quarter of your plate with whole grain crackers, maybe whole grain sandwich spread, and then lean meat maybe for the other fourth of your plate.

Save room for one extra so you don't fill the pie. But plan on one trip to the buffet table to be your normal eating like your dinner plate. And have that be your meal. Maybe come back, sit down, turn your back to that buffet table. And that's your meal that you'll be perfectly satisfied with because you've eaten balanced and increased your fiber.

And obviously, you're going to have more calories coming in. So you want to burn a little more calories. So add an extra cardio session possibly on the day that you're going to be going to a party or maybe even on the back end of a party.

The next morning, add an extra cardio session. So beef up your walking, beef up your elliptical machine, or your spinning, or your aerobics class. Add one more session for every extra event where you're going to have a little more calorie consumption. And you can really balance that out without any weight gain.

So here are these top three tips for the holiday time to keep you on track with your nutrition plan.


GUPTA: Try to get those workouts in after the party? That's going to be pretty tough. But good advice nonetheless. Page Love.

Now that you know how to stay jolly without becoming a bowlful of jelly, let's talk about getting your gift list healthy. Straight ahead, giving the gift of good health.


GUPTA: Finding the right gift can be stressful, but forget the fruitcake and the last-minute mall nightmares. Survive this holiday shopping season with some healthy gifts. Judy Fortin has some ideas.

FORTIN: Sanjay, if you're looking to do something really special for a friend or loved one this holiday season, don't just give them any old present. Give them the gift of health.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just let me know.

FORTIN (voice-over): It's not exactly peace on earth, but a deep tissue massage may have a similar effect on the body.

CELIA TULLY, NATURAL BODY SPAS AND SHOP: Well, it's very relaxing. It's an hour of total bliss. Your skin gets hydrated, your muscles get relaxed. FORTIN: For about $100, the treatment is cheaper than a vacation. But if it's too much of a budget stretcher, try filling a basket with lotions and soaps.

Tired of watching your loved ones struggle through another diet? Some nutritionists offer special sessions for as little as $125 an hour.

PAGE LOVE, NUTRITIONIST: You can get an individualized plan, you get a realistic plan, and you get behavioral goals, too.

FORTIN: If nutrition therapy tips your financial scales, what about a cookbook for a fraction of the cost? Exercise bands and hand weights are inexpensive gifts, but they're only effective if you put them to work. There are no excuses when working with a personal trainer. Services range from $50 to $125 an hour.

LEIGH FOTI, PERSONAL TRAINER: A trainer's job is to make somebody's routine not a routine, always change it up to make sure it's safe, to make sure it's dynamic.

FORTIN: Dynamic gifts that last well beyond the holidays.


FORTIN: The bottom line here, you don't have to spend a fortune on healthy gifts. Some pedometers, for instance, cost between $5 and $20 and can go a long way toward encouraging daily fitness. The small devices just clip on your clothing. And they record the number of steps you take, very easy to use, very encouraging, too.

A yoga mat and a pilates ring are so inexpensive, easy to use in your own home. Pair them up with a workout DVD and you have a really nice theme gift. What about a jump rope or some light hand weights? They're light enough to pack in a suitcase, especially for those who are on the road a lot and don't always have time for a workout.

Now, if fitness gadgets don't fit your idea of a fun present, what about buying a smoothie maker for someone? A basic model costs just under $30. And the drinks are really easy to make with some fresh fruit and some yogurt. And they taste great, too.

Now it's the perfect time of year to warm up someone's heart with a selection of teas. Green teas, full of antioxidants, which helps to boost the body's immune system. So for not a lot of money, any of these suggestions send a really important message during the holidays. It's all about your health.

Sanjay, back to you.

GUPTA: Judy, some really good ideas there. Maybe the smoothie maker for my wife, not so much the pedometer. We'll see.

We've talked about surviving the holidays certainly, but what about surviving the flu season? Your questions answered in our "ask the doctor" segment straight ahead. Plus, the answer to our flu trivia question. Stay with us.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL. Earlier in the show, we asked about the flu in our quick quiz and what doctors once thought caused the flu. Take a look there. The answer is C, the influence of the stars. That's where the term influenza, the Italian word for influence, came from.

But fault doesn't lie in the stars as we know. We now know the illness is actually caused by a virus infecting the upper respiratory tract.

Well, we can't blame the stars for the flu, but some might find the extreme winter weather a bit astronomical. Chad Myers joins us with a look at what's in the forecast for the weather and the flu.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Sanjay, with weather like this over the week, look at Fargo, 26 degrees below zero was the wind chill factor, and now all the rain in southern California going on, people are going to be inside. And they're going to be spreading germs to each other. So we expect this cold and flu report to really kind of speed up for the next couple of weeks.

Sporadic activity in the West, down across the South. But with all this cold air and all these people inside, we expect local and regional activity probably by this time next week. We'll keep an eye on it.

Sanjay, back to you.

GUPTA: Chad, thanks. And with the cold weather and the flu settling in, lots of people are wondering about flu shots. For our "ask the doctor" segment, we hit the streets to find out the questions about flu that's on your mind. Here's what one viewer wanted to know.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just wanted to ask whether or not if there's any allergic reaction caused by taking a flu shot?


GUPTA: Good question. Allergic reactions to the flu shot are very rare, but they can occur interestingly in people with a severe allergy to eggs. That's because the elements of the vaccine are grown in eggs. Symptoms can include difficulty breathing, wheezing, hives, and dizziness and often occur from a few minutes to a few hours after the shot.

Now people who have had severe reactions to eggs or previous flu shots should check with their doctor before getting one again. Here's another question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How can you tell if you have the flu or just a cold?


GUPTA: It's probably one of our most common questions, a great one as well. The flu starts like a cold, but has more severe symptoms, like fever, chills, extreme tiredness, possibly lead to death, rare. Colds are milder and include a runny nose and congestion. Even knowing these symptoms, it can be very difficult to tell the difference.

But a good rule of thumb is this. If you're symptoms come with a fever or last more than a week, see a doctor.

Well, unfortunately, that's all the time we have for today. Stay healthy this flu season.

Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN starting right now.