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Dangerous Party Drugs: Not to Get High But to Get Healthy; New Research Could Help Doctors Discover a Silent Killer; Your Heart Health Comes Down to Two Numbers: Your Cholesterol Level and Your Trigylceride Level

Aired November 15, 2008 - SHOW   ET


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN HOST: Dangerous party drugs, not to get high but to get healthy. I'll explain. Is it safe? We'll investigate.
Fascinating new research out this week could help doctors discover a silent killer. I have a personal interest in the story. And I'll tell you why.

And it's really popular in Hollywood. It claims to flush out toxins. Fact versus fiction, ahead in "Ask the Doctor."

Welcome to HOUSE CALL, the show that helps you live longer and stronger. Thanks for joining us. We start with an exclusive look into a first of its kind study. Some will be shocked, others will be amazed when I tell you what drug is being used to help U.S. troops and other victims of trauma.

Take a look at this.


GUPTA (voice-over): Gail Westerfield is showing us a tape of her therapy session. She's under the influence of MDMA.

GAIL WESTERFIELD, SUFFERED PTSD: I have (INAUDIBLE) when I think about it. It's so early, like it wasn't that happy.


GUPTA: Westerfield struggled with depression almost all of her life and a sense of being out of it. She says it goes back to a childhood assault and later being raped in college.

WESTERFIELD: I mean, it's embarrassing to be in your 30s and be afraid to go into your house, you know, or to be alone in your house.

GUPTA: She was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, but nothing helped her until she met Dr. Michael Mithoefer, who was researching MDMA as a part of therapy.

(on camera): MDMA, of course, is better known by its street name, Ecstasy. Take a look here, at least 99 different types of pills as you see right there. When taken, it causes the brain to be flooded with neurotransmitters, especially serotonin. And that's the key to our moods and our emotions. Some doctors say it's the well-known effects of Ecstasy, open alertness, euphoria, calmness that could prove useful when it comes to therapy.

(voice-over): Mithoefer's pilot study involved 21 patients. Those getting MDMA with therapy saw more improvement in their mental well-being than patients who got a placebo. Just as important, there were no major side effects. Some illicit Ecstasy users run into problems like a rapid heart rate and depression.

MICHAEL MITHOEFER, DR., LED MDMA STUDY: I'm excited that we got this kind of result, but it is only a first step.

GUPTA: Did it work?

WESTERFIELD: Oh, I'd say absolutely. I can't believe I have this in my head. I can't believe it's in me.

I had recurrent dreams since I was a little kid. I could be walking through a house and the lights would turn out, and then this force would overwhelm me. After the MDMA, I thought it once and it never happened again.

GUPTA: Four years since the last MDMA session. The nightmares are gone.


GUPTA: Now, as I mentioned, a group that may one day benefit from this new type of treatment are returning U.S. troops. We're committed to helping people find solutions. You know, about one in five veterans face the risk of living with post traumatic stress disorder. Many remain untreated and the effects can be devastating.


GUPTA (voice-over): Baghdad's Sadr City, 2005. Army Private Kris Goldsmith serving his first tour in Iraq.

KRISTOFER GOLDSMITH: I was 19-year-old kid taking pictures of mutilated men and women and boys and little girls. And those are the type of images that never really go away.

GUPTA: Haunted by what he saw, Goldsmith left Iraq at the end of 2005. He knew something was terribly wrong.

GOLDSMITH: I get like flashes of rage, which goes hand in hand with alcoholism that I've been fighting since I got back from Iraq.

GUPTA: A volatile, sometimes violent temper, chest tightening anxiety attacks, trouble sleeping, suicidal thoughts.

GOLDSMITH: That's not who I was before I deployed.

GUPTA: Chris didn't know it at the time, but it's likely they were all warning signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. According to the most recent study done by the Pentagon in 2004, about one in six veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. And more than 60 percent of those suffering will never seek help.

GOLDSMITH: I just wanted to get out of the Army. And I figured all my problems would go away once I got out of the service.

GUPTA: But when he and his brigade were stop-lossed in early 2007, it was a breaking point.

GOLDSMITH: I was going to deploy to Iraq the same week that I was supposed to be getting out of the Army.

GUPTA: It got to the point where you thought it would be better for you to be dead than to continue on.

GOLDSMITH: I chose to try and take my own fate into my own hands. And you know, I tried to -- tried to commit suicide. And I didn't imagine it being possible for me to survive.

GUPTA: But Kris Goldsmith did survive. And his unit deployed to Iraq without him. His official diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder at a VA hospital came months after he was discharged.

GOLDSMITH: Right now, I'm doing a lot better. I've been through a lot of therapy. And I've been surrounding myself with, with other veterans who are going through the same thing.


GUPTA: Kris, good luck to you and your family.

Now making headlines this week, the flu shot could prevent blood clots. People who have the vaccine were 26 percent less likely to get a blood clot. Now the benefit was even more pronounced in people under the age of 52. They were almost 50 percent less likely to have a blood clot if they got that flu shot. Now scientists whose research was presented to the American Heart Association aren't quite sure what the connection is there.

And tracking the flu online, fascinating stuff. That's now possible using a new resource from Google. The company plans to track people searching for flu-related terms on their site. And Google says that based on their search models, they can actually track which people have the flu. The data can be updated quickly so it should allow early warnings of flu outbreaks.

Now, keeping your heart in tune. You're going to be surprised which activity you probably do every day could be lowering your risk of heart disease.

And multi vitamins, folic acid, ginseng, your medicine cabinet may be full of vitamins, but are they worth the money? Find out later in the show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL. There's exciting new research for patients and doctors out there to try and find a silent killer before it strikes. Fascinating stuff. Question for a long time, can you potentially find out if you're more likely to have an aneurysm in your brain before it strikes?

University researchers at Yale say yes. They've been studying this for 15 years, big project, trying to figure out specifically are there areas within our DNA that are going to be problematic in people who have aneurysms? The answer comes back yes. In fact, three specific areas. If you have abnormalities in all these areas, you're three times more likely to have an aneurysm.

Now a lot of people ask, what exactly is an cerebral aneurysm? We talk about this quite a bit on HOUSE CALL. But remember, this is a CT angiogram of the brain. Take a look here. This is a normal blood vessel. Then all of a sudden, you get this little pouching or blister or little pouching of the blood vessel. It is weak. It could potentially be a problem. I'll show you why.

Take this now and go ahead and blow that up. And if you take a look at what happens to the brain specifically, all these little blood vessels in here, when you get a problem right in this region here, and that is the aneurysm. That starts to leak, starts to bleed, and causes pressure on the brain.

Now, a lot of people ask, what exactly happened to Vice President-elect Joe Biden? Well, he had two aneurysms in the past. He had one aneurysm. And then when he had a brain scan, they found a second aneurysm as well. It would look something like this. Again, a little pouching on a CAT scan. And when they found those two aneurysms, they went ahead and operated on them.

For you at home, you ask yourself, well, when might this be available for me? What would it mean? If you had the blood test, it would just be a blood test, you could potentially find if you had these genetic markers, you would start getting these scans earlier so as to find the problem before it potentially strikes.

Now, this isn't available for everyone at home yet, but Yale tells us possibly within the next five years. When they give us that information, we'll, of course, bring it to you.

HOUSE CALL's back in 60 seconds.



GUPTA: You are listening to some of my favorite music there with me. And new research shows that listening to it may just help my heart. In a small study, researchers have shown for the first time that the joy people feel from listening to their favorite music seems to enlarge their blood vessels.

They can see here that blood vessels seem to actually change in response to the music. Over here is the baseline. And look what happens to someone who's listening to joyful music. The diameter of the blood vessel, which is here, seems to increase and that's a good thing.

Take it a step further and you can see when someone is listening to anxiety-provoking music, the diameter of the blood vessel actually starts to get smaller. Again just from listening to music.

The study authors believe being joyful releases some chemical in the brain that causes this reaction. As you might guess, larger studies are needed as well.

There's been a lot of research coming out this weak about your heart, but as Judy Fortin reports no matter your age, your heart health really comes down to another set of numbers.


JEFF SCHAFFER, HEART PATIENT: Not me. I'm not having a heart attack.

JUDY FORTIN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Jeff Schaffer knows a lot about the heart. But 15 years ago when he began to have chest pains while teaching a CPR class, he didn't listen to his own advice.

SCHAFFER: I just blew it off, said it couldn't happen to me.

FORTIN: At 39, Schaffer was having a heart attack. Even though he was a certified EMS worker, he never thought about his own heart. He didn't know his own blood pressure or cholesterol rate. He thought he was invincible until his doctor gave him the bad news.

SCHAFFER: My triglyceride level was about 530. And my cholesterol at time of heart attack, was 312. Very high.

FORTIN: Like Schaffer, heart specialists say most people in their 30s never think about their heart, but statistics show five percent of those having heart attacks are under the age of 40. Cardiologists blame it on stressful lives, fast food, and smoking. In your 30s, a dangerous process begins.

MICHAEL MILLER, DR.: Hardening of the arteries is a slow, drawn- out process. Your risk increases over time.

FORTIN: A good indicator that plaques could be hardening your arteries is high levels of bad cholesterol. So watch your numbers now, like your blood pressure reading. Know the difference between LDL and HDL, the bad and good cholesterol. And pay attention to triglycerides. Doctors are finding a high triglyceride number is a precursor to poor heart health.

If you have high yield and high triglycerides, you appear to be at the highest risk of having a heart attack.

FORTIN: In your 40s and 50s, it's all about the waist line. As we age, our metabolism naturally slows down. That can lead to weight gain, which can raise blood pressure and stress our circulation system. Increase your exercise. Research shows that even ten minutes a day can improve your cardiovascular fitness.

MILLER: As you get older, you have to increase your energy expenditure. That is, exercise more or reduce your intake. And the problem, of course, is that as we get older, we tend to be a bit more sedentary.

FORTIN: Today at 54, Schaffer feels better than he did in his 30s. He diets, takes medication, and closely watches his numbers. He knows he's lucky to be alive, and he wants to stay that way.

Judy Fortin, CNN, Atlanta.


GUPTA: Now, here's a question. Are you wasting money with that daily supplement? People are curious about that. And Elizabeth Cohen joins us next with a look at vitamins that could help your wallet.

And later, as the weather turns cold, many of us turn to comfort foods. We're going to give you ways to feel warmed up without being fattened up.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSE CALL. You know, millions of Americans take supplements every day. In recent studies, there's virtually no proof that vitamins can make you healthier or live longer. So should we be taking them?

Well, in this week's "Empowered Patient," Elizabeth Cohen tells us what works and what's a waste.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Walk down the vitamin aisle in any grocery store, and you can be bamboozled. What should you take and are there things you shouldn't take? Well, we decided to ask four experts what they take every day. And right now, we're going to tell you what two of them have to say.

Dr. Andrew Weil is a guru of alternative medicine. And this is what he takes every day. He takes a daily multivitamin, multi mineral, Vitamin D, magnesium, juvenon, which is a supplement that includes several different things, and another supplement called Co- enzyme Q-10.

We also asked Dr. Christiane Northrup. She's the author of the new book, "The Secret Pleasures of Menopause," and an expert on women's health. Every day, she says that she takes an antioxidant supplement, fish oil, calcium, magnesium, Co-enzyme Q10 and Vitamin D.

Now, they also said that there are some things that they think that people shouldn't take. For example, Dr. Northrup said that post- menopausal women should not be taking iron. She said they don't need it and it can lead to heart problems.

Dr. Weil said that men don't need calcium. And in fact, it could increase the risk of getting prostate cancer. So for more information on what experts are taking and not taking, go to

For "Empowered Patient," I'm Elizabeth Cohen.


GUPTA: You know, we're starting a new segment today. Every week, we're going to be bringing you tips on how to fuel your body. We call it "Food for Life."

Between cold weather, holiday parties, family gatherings, this time of year can play havoc with people's waist lines, but experts say there are some simple ways you can stay healthy and still feel satisfied.

Twenty years ago, everything from burgers to salads were about half the size and half the calories as you see today. To keep portions under control and manage calories, dietitian Page Love says it's all about balance.


PAGE LOVE, REGISTERED DIETITIAN: What really provides a meal is the balance of getting a lean protein, a grain, and your produce component. Those three things together really are what help us feel full.

GUPTA: As weather turns cold, soups could fit that bill.

LOVE: So your best options are often going to be vegetable-based type soups, minestrone type soups. Even sometimes chowders that are made from meat and starchy vegetables would be OK that don't have a cream base.

GUPTA: And let's not leave out a fall favorite and cookoff classic.

LOVE: Chilis that are made with lean ground beef are a wonderful choice or beans, or legumes, kidney beans, black beans, even chickpeas are a good mixture of a complex carbohydrate, a fibrous carbohydrate, and a vegetarian protein source.

GUPTA: Another tip, combine a salad with that soup and you'll check off just about every one of your nutritional needs.


GUPTA: And now a grueling routine, hundreds of stops, lots of heavy lifting. Ahead, how yoga is helping some delivery drivers prevent injuries on the job.

And up next, a viewer wants to know if a certain cleanse has any benefits. My answer in "Ask the Doctor." Stay with us.


GUPTA: And we are back with HOUSE CALL. It's time for my favorite segment of the show, "Ask the Doctor." Before the break, I mentioned this question. Alicia in Starkville, Mississippi wants to know does a colon flush have any benefits?

Well, Alicia, the best answer here is that there are no proven health benefits. A colon flush or a colon cleanse, as it's called, is useful ahead of a colon exam, for example, but a lot of people try to cleanse or clean out toxins as well. And that's not really necessary.

Here's the thing. Your colon is going to do this for you all on its own. Also, keep this in mind. Some of these cleansers can throw off your body's electrolyte balance which can make you dehydrated. So, be careful and enough said.

All right, another question, Richard in the Bronx asks this. "What does it mean to be reactive to Hepatitis A and non-reactive to Hepatitis B and C?"

Well, thanks, Richard. The simplest way to explain this. Hepatitis simply means an inflammation of the liver, and is most often caused by one of these three viruses labeled A, B and C. Reactive to Hepatitis A means you are protected against Hepatitis A. You've either had the virus at some point in the past and recovered, or you've been vaccinated against the virus and now have immunity.

Non-reactive to Hepatitis B and C generally means your body's immune system hasn't produced antibodies against those viruses most likely because you haven't been exposed to them. You might ask your doctor about getting vaccinated against Hepatitis B. After the vaccination, you would test reactive because your body will have produced those antibodies. And you'd be immune from the virus and protected for a long time, on average more than 20 years. In case you're curious, there is not a vaccine for Hepatitis C, and the treatment for that is often limited. Hope that helps.

Now from lifting heavy boxes to posing and stretching on a mat, not your average yoga students. They're UPS drivers. I'll tell you what they're up to. Stay with us.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL. UPS drivers running packages to doors, lifting, loading, climbing. Now delivery giant UPS is packing up its drivers and shipping them off to yoga class all in the name of safety.


GUPTA (voice-over): It's 7:00 a.m. at Zenergy Yoga Studio in California's wine country, but inside you're not going to find your typical yoga students.

SCOTT STEPHENSON : It really balances my life a little bit better. My body's balanced more, it centers myself a lot.

GUPTA: This class is full of UPS drivers. For Scott Stevenson and many of his fellow drivers, staying fit is part of the job. He climbs up these steps about 400 times a day, making more than 150 deliveries. So the thought of doing more exercise, especially in a yoga studio, never even crossed his mind.

STEPHENSON: Last year was the first time I've ever done it. And I've been doing it twice a week for over a year now.

GUPTA: This twice-weekly pilgrimage of UPS drivers from Napa Valley to the yoga studio started more than a year ago when health and safety manager Mike Yates grew concerned over the number of on-the-job injuries.

MIKE YATES, UPS HEALTH & SAFETY MGR.: Being a UPS driver it's a physical job. You have to keep yourself in, you know, top physical condition in order to perform the job safely day in and day out.

GUPTA: So he began introducing the drivers to things like yoga, nutrition classes, stretching, walking. The results have been spectacular.

YATES: It affected us so positively. It was amazing. And we have a little tag phrase we use where it's safe by choice, not by chance. It's all the little decisions that I watch people make that make a change.

GUPTA: For Scott, picking up yoga has helped him find more balance in his life, given him more energy, helped him quit smoking.

STEPHENSON: It's probably one of the best things I've ever done.

GUPTA: And he says it sure beats going to a gym.

STEPHENSON: You know, I lift boxes all day. The last thing I want to do is go lift weights.


GUPTA: All right, keep it up, guys.

There's more favorite music again. Listen to your own favorite music as well this weekend. As we told you, it might just be good for your heart. If you missed any part of today's show, be sure to check out my podcast on And make sure to tune in next weekend. We're bringing you stories of people making a difference. From Alzheimer's to children's health, tune in and be inspired. I was.

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.