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Viagra Is for Men, But What's Out There for Women?; What is China Doing to Safeguard Visitors' Health During Olympics?; Teri Garr Taking On Mysterious Illness; Are You Getting Sick From Your Gym? What You Need to Know

Aired July 26, 2008 - 08:30   ET


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN HOST: Welcome to HOUSE CALL. This is the show that helps you live longer and stronger.
First up, Viagra has done wonders for men of a certain age, but what's out there for women? Ever wonder about that? We've got the latest.

And the summer Olympics are less than two weeks away. What drastic steps is China taking to safeguard their visitors' health?

Plus, famous for her comedic roles, actress Teri Garr is taking on a mysterious devastating illness.

Finally, are you getting sick from your gym? What you need to know before working out this morning.

We start, though, with a clue in the nationwide salmonella outbreak. The FDA says one jalapeno pepper grown in Mexico and processed in Texas tested positive for the strain of salmonella that has sickened more than 1,200 people since April. Now, the FDA is warning people to avoid uncooked jalapenos. Last week, that ban was lifted on fresh tomatoes. That was the original suspect as you'll remember in the outbreak.

And in other news, a big setback for the makers of Vytorin. Pay attention. A new study finds the cholesterol drug is no better than the placebo in lowering the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death in heart patients. Though the drug did lower cholesterol, it did not prevent the need for valve surgery or stop heart disease from worsening.

There's also a new warning about cell phone use from one of the nation's top cancer experts. Dr. Ronald Herberman, head of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute is issuing a warning to his employees. He says cell phones should be used with hands free devices, on speaker phones or better yet, send a text message. And he says children should only use cell phones in an emergency.

Dr. Herberman says though link between cell phones and cancer has not been proven, there is "a growing body of literature that indicates the possibility."

Now, a study out earlier this week says that Viagra may help some women not just men. Women taking antidepressants often experience a loss of sexual function. But a study funded by the drugs maker says that Viagra can help those women by increasing sexual function.

Important news because women experience depression nearly twice as often as men. And in this week's "Empowered Patient," Elizabeth Cohen is sorting out what's available to women, what they can do about these problems -- Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sanjay, the news this week that the drug Viagra helps some women with sexual dysfunction made us ask what else is out there for women? Well, we talked to many experts in this field, and they said, look, when a woman goes to her doctor, and she's having sex problems, she needs to bring it up. Many doctors feel uncomfortable bringing up sexual issues themselves.

Not only that, they said. They said women should suggest certain approaches because again, the doctor might not bring it up. So here's some things that a woman can discuss with her doctor.

She can discuss drugs like Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra. These drugs all work in a very similar way to increase blood flow to the genitals. And these drugs are not approved for women. And so, a woman's going to have to talk to her doctor about whether or not they're right for her.

Also, testosterone. Sometimes men use testosterone patches to boost the level of the hormone in their body. Well, you know what? Women need testosterone too for a healthy libido. Again, this drug is not approved for women with sexual dysfunction. And some doctors are not going to be enthusiastic about prescribing it.

So, if you're looking for a doctor who specializes in these approaches, and specializes in other ways to help women with sexual dysfunction, there are ways to try to find that kind of expert. And you can go to our column on for ways to find those kinds of doctors.

Another thing, Sanjay, that you'll find in our column this week, that's alternative medicine approaches for women who have sex problems. There's an amino acid out there that women can take. There are herbs that women can take. And again, if you go to our column, you'll see all of that -- Sanjay?

GUPTA: All right, Elizabeth, thanks. And to find out more information on a specialist, therapy, or a specific treatment, go to And check out Elizabeth's column where she has links to experts and health institutions that may help you.

Now, thousands of athletes, trainers, and spectators are about to converge on Beijing for the summer Olympics. Some doctors are warning about a health hazard. You know, Beijing has a notorious air pollution record. Particle levels in the summer almost double what considered safe.

John Vause reports China is taking some drastic steps to slash air pollution. But the question is this: will that be enough?


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just weeks before the Olympics and Beijing still can't breathe easy with this sprawling city of 17 million waking to its usual heavy haze of pollution.

To clear the air, hundreds of factories in the capital and beyond are now closed. Others have cut production. More than a million cars are off the road. And work on all construction sites is on hold.

Thousands of workers have been sent home, an unpaid vacation many say they didn't want.

"We wanted to work hard for a long time," he says, "but because of the Olympics, we don't have jobs anymore."

"No work means no pay," says another.

The government has opened new subway lines, and put more buses on the roads, and has lowered the cost of fares. It's a last minute drastic scramble to reduce pollution, a plan which has no absolute guarantee of success.

MALCOLM GREEN, BRITISH LUNG FOUNDATION: To my knowledge, this has never been done before, somebody take a city and hugely reduce the amount of polluting sources, cars and factories. And it'll be fascinating to see what does happen.

VAUSE: Olympic officials admit they're hoping for a stiff breeze and some good rain to wash the air clean. If that doesn't happen, pollution might stay stubbornly hard.

GEORGE THURSTON, NYU, ENVIRONMENTAL MEDICINE: And if they put on the control measures, my expectation is it'd still be probably at least double what the pollution levels would normally be in a city like New York.

VAUSE (on camera): And all of this is just a quick fix for the Olympics and the para Olympics. After mid September, the factories will fire up, the construction will restart, and all the cars will be back, and so will the pollution.

John Vause, CNN, Beijing.


GUPTA: John, thanks.

And here's what we know about air pollution and your health. The biggest problems are ozone and particle pollution. That's the stuff that's found in haze, smoke, and dust. In China, that often comes from the China coal burning plants. This bad air has been shown to make blood stickier, causing blood clots, breathing problems as well.

Beijing's pollution problems are usually worse in August because of hot, humid weather and low winds, which don't allow this polluted air to be blown away. Now, imagine going in for heart surgery and being asked if you want a massage. Well, that's a new trend at some of the nation's most prestigious hospitals. We'll explain.

Plus, actress Teri Garr speaks about living for nearly 20 years with mysterious symptoms and no diagnosis. We'll have it for you in 60 seconds.


GUPTA: And we're back with HOUSE CALL, checking some of this week's most viewed stories on the health page now, there's a break finally in the salmonella investigation. A pepper grown in Mexico was found to have the bacterial strain that has sickened hundreds.

And saturated fat, trans fat, polyunsaturated, the list goes on and on, here's the question. Which fats are the worst and which ones are really good for you?

Finally, sick truckers on the road, a new study claims little is being done to protect drivers from sleepy and medically unfit truck drivers. We're going to have more on that.

But for almost 20 years, actress Teri Garr. She struggled with a mysterious health problem. Doctors gave her multiple diagnoses. She almost had spinal surgery at one point. And all of it was wrong.

I had the chance to sit down with her recently and got the whole truth now that her mystery is solved.


TERI GARR, ACTRESS/COMEDIAN: I had no idea. I just felt tingling. Actually, I felt buzzing in my foot when I used to jog in Central Park. And when I finished jogging, I would limp. My brother said it's because your muscles expand and it's pressing on the nerve. But I also had this horrible stabbing feeling in my arm. And I thought, well, I'm in Central Park so maybe it is a stabbing knife, but it wasn't. It was the MS.

GUPTA: What year was that? And how long after you started feeling anything did you get the official diagnosis?

GARR: First feeling in all those things was in '82. It was around the time I did "Tootsie," one of my favorite movies. And I got the official diagnosis in '99.

GUPTA: Seventeen years?

GARR: Oh, God, yes.

GUPTA: What did you know about MS at that point to put it in context?

GARR: Nothing, not a thing. And I said well, what can be done about it? And he said nothing right now. I was trying to work, but I noticed that people, if they had any inkling of the idea that I was sick or that the rumor started that I may have MS, people shunned me.

GUPTA: MS is one thing. And then you had a ruptured aneurysm. What happened? I mean, do you remember any of that time period?

GARR: I don't even know ...

GUPTA: Is it a headache? Did you have anything?

GARR: No, nothing. I went to sleep to take a nap. And then my daughter couldn't wake me up. So thank God, she called 911. They rushed me to the hospital. But she had to write an essay at school about someone very meaningful. And she wrote my mother's aneurysm. And I read this thing and I cried. I had no idea.


GUPTA: Like I said, she's really an amazing woman, a really fascinating conversation. Thank you, Teri, and good luck. And we wish her all the best.

Now as you may know, we've been traveling across the country on our fit nation tour. And joining us are leading experts in all areas of medicine.

Dr. Brent Bauer was with us in Seattle. He's the head of Mayo Clinic's Complimentary and Integrative Medicine Program. They actually have one of those. I talked with him about how alternative medicine is becoming more mainstream.


BRENT BAUER, DR.: I think it's evolving. You know, certainly 20 years ago when we started doing a lot of this research, I think a lot of colleagues were skeptical. And with good reason. There's been a lot of things out there that haven't been good for patients. So keeping some degree of skepticism, I think is helping.

But what we're seeing now is more research is being done.

GUPTA: What has been something that has really worked? You think maybe even should be adopted by all docs, all surgeons in the hospital or otherwise?

BAUER: You know, one of the things I've been very impressed with is massage. Very simple technique, relatively risk free, relatively inexpensive, significant benefits, stress, anxiety, pain, we were able to significantly reduce pain in patients coming out of cardiac surgery with a simple massage on the upper back.

Chest has been opened, kind of sprung the rib cage in the back, working those areas, that's more of a therapeutic attack.

GUPTA: Mayo Clinic is arguably one of the most prestigious medical institutions. Do they prescribe this sort of thing for their patients at the hospital? BAUER: The cardiovascular department, the cardiovascular surgery department hired a massage therapist full time just to be available to the patients.

GUPTA: But could you name some of your top integrative approaches, some massage you mentioned. What are some others?

BAUER: We definitely used a lot of acupuncture We've had good success with patients who've had chronic pain syndromes, neck pain, back pain. We're also using a little bit in preoperative settings to try and decrease nausea post operatively. That seems very positive.

But if you can pick something that works for you, and start incorporating that, just a great opportunity.

GUPTA: I'm really fascinated by the guided imagery. And you mentioned it for nausea specifically. So I'm someone who gets motion sick and has trouble with that. How would that work for me if I were to do it?

BAUER: We're starting to see a lot more studies out on hypnosis. We can actually change patterns of brain connections, how the neurons interact with each other. I don't think we fully understand how these things work, but I think we understand enough to know the risk is low and the efficacy's pretty darn high.

GUPTA: Does insurance cover this sort of thing?

BAUER: That's one of the challenges. You know, our healthcare system is so focused on fixing broken things, and really kind of rewarding procedures, there hasn't yet really been a way to grasp what do we things like massage and acupuncture.

Acupuncture to some degree has been covered by a lot of the insurance products, but massage, almost never.


GUPTA: And coming up, for some employees, results at the gym could lead to big returns in the checkbook. We're going to have that later in the show, but first, ick. Is something like this lurking in your gym? How to make sure nasty germs don't ruin your workout. We'll have it for you. Stay tuned to HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL. You know, you go to the gym because you care about your health, right? Well, while working off those pounds, you could be picking up some deadly germs. So how can you exercise caution during your next workout?

Judy Fortin has these tips.


JUDY FORTIN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Our visits to the gym have become a lot more dangerous lately. Forget battling boredom and feeling the pain. Now the fight is one on one. Us against them.

Germs, that is. And the fighting starts early.

KRISTIN MCEWEN, GROUP VICE PRESIDENT, YWCA: The time to actually de-germ and get ready for your workout is actually before you work out. So I have my backpack here. And in it, I've packed a water bottle, which is clean, packed a couple of plastic bags to put my workout clothes in and my shoes in after I work out. I have a clean towel. I have some flip flops for a shower.

Also in my workout bag, I carry some wipes and some hand sanitizers, which you should really use prior to and after working out. So let's go into the gym and see how we can use all this.

Today, I'm going to work out on the tread climber, but before we get started, I'm going to go over here and get some disinfectant and a power towel. We're going wipe down the equipment. The areas I'm going to wipe down are the ones that I'm going to use, which are the handrails here, the handrails here, and the control path.

FORTIN: And the same wiping down rules apply to less technical pieces of gym workouts, like floor mats. But the best way to ensure a germ free mat workout is simply to bring your own. And for your hydration needs, there are some tips to (INAUDIBLE) from heading your way.

MCEWEN: It's best to use the spicket versus the faucet here. People put their hands on it. They put their mouths over it.

FORTIN: And remember, those germs don't stop at the lockerroom door.

MCEWEN: As you can imagine, there are a lot of germs on the floor in the lockerroom and in the shower area. You need some kind of protection for your feet. I use flip flops. Now, I'm going to head into the shower.

We put a lot of time and effort into staying healthy and working out. It just takes a little bit of an extra effort to keep us germ free as well.

FORTIN: Judy Fortin, CNN, Atlanta.


GUPTA: All right, good stuff, Judy. Thanks so much.

Coming up next, find out how one company is paying its employees for good health. Great idea. It's something you don't want to miss.

And later, are you a mosquito magnet? I am. Constantly getting bitten, don't know why? We're going to have some solutions coming up after the break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) GUPTA: And what you're looking at there is just a sample of our Fit Nation tour stop in Seattle. We're going to be going to Minneapolis this weekend. And just around the corner in Nebraska, an amazing example of how a healthy attitude and simple focus on wellness isn't just good for the employee, but it's great for the bottom line.


GUPTA (voice-over): Lincoln Industries looks like an old fashion blue collar plant, making motorcycle and truck parts. But at this Nebraska company, you're also going to find massages and stretching before every shift. All 565 employees also undergo mandatory quarterly medical check-ups. That's right, mandatory.

Employees are tested for flexibility, blood pressure, weight, body fat. And they're given annual blood tests. Workers receive ranks like platinum and gold down to non metal. They also set goals for themselves.

Seven years ago, shift leader Howard Tegtmeier was in the non- metal category. The 49-year old smoked, he drank, he was overweight. He took 12 pills a day to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

HOWARD TEGTMEIER, SHIFT LEADER, LINCOLN INDUSTRIES: And I had just made the decision that it was time for me to change my life. And the wellness program showed me the ways to do that.

GUPTA: Tegtmeier says he no longer smokes or drinks. His weight is down from 230 to 180, thanks to diet and exercise. His cholesterol and blood pressure are also down. And he no longer needs any medication.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a way to engage everybody, even those that are really resistant.

GUPTA: The company spends $400,000 a year on the wellness programs and says it saves more than five times that much.

HANK ORME, PRESIDENT, LINCOLN INDUSTRIES: But we'd like to have a return on investment like this in anything that we did because the return is extraordinary.

GUPTA: Healthcare costs here are under $4,000 per employee. That's about half the regional average.

So what's the payoff for workers? Well, if you're in the fittest platinum category, you get a company-paid trip to climb a 14,000 foot peak in Colorado.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, just a beautiful view up here. It's a great feeling to make it to summit and especially with the entire team.

(END VIDEOTAPE) GUPTA: And coming up, when it comes to mosquitoes, you may find having a little animal magnetism, not such a good thing. What can you do to reduce your attraction? That's coming up after the break.


GUPTA: And it's time for our "Ask the Doctor" segment, a chance to answer the medical questions that are on your minds. And here's a question from Dan in Canada.

"I was reading an article that said about 10 percent of the population actually qualifies as a mosquito magnet. Can you tell me why this is the case, and is there anything I can do about it?"

Great question, Dan, and a personal one, too, because I have the same problem. There are more than 300 bodily compounds that can influence an insect's attraction to you. Experts say mosquitoes are particularly drawn to carbon dioxide, which we of course release as we breathe, but also attracted to body odor, sweat, and lactic acid.

Each of us releases different combinations of these chemicals, which mosquitoes can detect from yards away. Long story short, you can't do much about your body chemistry, but using repellents like Deet and Precaridin (ph) are safe and effective. Here's some other research that shows just avoiding perfumes, beer, and dark clothing. They may help reduce your mosquito magnetism.

Here's a question we got from Kathleen in Pennsylvania. "Is your life in jeopardy for having a period only 4 times a year?"

Well, Kathleen, if you're referring to taking extended psycho contraceptions called Seasonale and Seasonique, for example, the answer is no. Your life is not in jeopardy. Generally, women on these forms of birth control have the same side effects as women using conventional birth control. These often include nausea, headaches, mood changes, and bloating.

Keep in mind, though, that taking any form of oral contraception increases your risk of blood clots. So be sure to check with your doctor if you experience things like chest or abdominal pain, shortness of breath, severe headaches, or severe leg pain. Hope that helps.

Unfortunately, that's all the time we have for today. If you missed any part of today's show, be sure to check out my podcast on Remember, this is the place for the answers to all of your medical questions. Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN.