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The Future of Football; Saved by Fish Oil?; What's Really in Your Food

Aired January 19, 2014 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN HOST: Some parents call it bullying, others call it just pushing your kids hard. But I watched Esquire Network's new show, called "Friday Night Tykes", and I did watching that wonder how much is too much?


NARRATOR: This is the Texas Youth Football Association, one of the elite programs for kids in America, and the 8 and 9-year-old rookie division in San Antonio features the best of the best.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't give me that soft crap.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There should be no reason why you don't make other teams cry.

I could care less if they cry!

NARRATOR: The teams are ultra competitive, demanding commitment --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is where you earn your play time.

NARRATOR: -- sacrifice, and intensity.

UNIDENTIFIED KID: You can do this. You are stronger than this.


NARRATOR: Five teams.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We come out screaming and yelling.

NARRATOR: Five heated rivals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got to fight, we've got to fight!

NARRATOR: Only one can win.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're so worried about winning, you don't care that you're playing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't care how much pain you're in! You don't quit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You guys forget they're babies. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If that kid comes across, I want you to put it in his helmet, you understand?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't care if you don't get up, let's go.


GUPTA: Wow. I mean, a lot of people are going to watch that clip, myself included, and say, wow. That's just -- it seems too intense for kids who are just 8 or 9 years old, and I have an 8-year-old at home myself.

Other people are saying, hey, it's football, it's fun, it's a way of life.

So, we want to talk about this with Lisa Connell. You just saw her son. He plays on the junior Broncos, one of the teams profiled.

And also Brian Morgan, CEO of the Texas Youth Football Association. That's the league that the Broncos are in.

Welcome both of you to the program.

First of all, let me ask you, Brian, is this TV, or is this actually accurate, what we just saw there?

BRIAN MORGAN, TEXAS YOUTH FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION: I think it's a combination of both. I mean, you do see some portrayals of the show, you know, may not be 100 percent accurate. But for the most part, I think you're getting a good look at what happens behind the scenes.

GUPTA: You know, Lisa, at the beginning of the show, you said that you enrolled your son Colby because you were sort of tired of the "everyone gets a trophy" league. You know what? I get that, too. I have young kids who are playing sports.

But, you know, did -- when you look at that now, do you think that that's going too far? I mean, that's just -- it seems very intense, not just in terms of the emotions on these kids, but also just physically?

LISA CONNELL, SON PLAYS ON JUNIOR BRONCOS: It is -- it is an intense activity and our kids are pushing themselves, but it's because they have the potential for that greatness. And for our family, in particular, Colby specifically, we just felt that he wasn't being challenged where he was, so we wanted to put him in a place where he could grow as an individual and really work on those skills.

GUPTA: Yes. And, again, I think that part of it -- I think most people are going to fundamentally understand, you know, you don't want to give everyone a trophy. You want to make sure people win things.

Brian, part of the reason I wanted to talk about this -- I've done a lot of reporting on the dangers of the repeated hits to the head. The NFL, many other football organizations, are teaching these things now. Don't put your head down when you tackle.

Just watching that clip, and again, you see this all the time, there are numerous examples of kids leading with their heads. You're hearing the coach in the clip say, if that kid comes across, I want you to put in his helmet. I don't care if he doesn't get up.

Are you condoning that?

MORGAN: No, we don't condone anything along those lines. We do a lot of education as far as to teach our coaches the proper techniques of how to -- how to instruct their kids on the proper tackling techniques. I think what is not being shown is, you know, these hits in the show is not mentioning what's happening after the fact, that the coaches are pulling the kids together to correct their actions as far as to say, this is not the proper way you tackle.

But as far as the action of the coach -- you know, we don't condone any coach telling another player to go out there and do something to another player, that would potentially harm that player.

GUPTA: Well, yes, and we have you telling us this, obviously, but people are going to watch the program, and are going to see the representation that they're seeing there. And they're going to think that that's how this is.

Let me ask you, Lisa. I mean, you had a goal for your son, Colby, that you didn't want him to be a part of the "everyone get as trophy" league and learn the principles of hard work.

Are you -- are you getting what you hoped to be getting from this?

CONNELL: You know, I think it's a process. There are moments in the season where I have expressed -- you know, my child isn't learning, we're not developing, it's not what we thought it would be. And then, things change.

And so, it's never just one thing. It's always evolving and changing, and there's more than just the one coach. I know that everybody seen Coach Charles, but we have seven other coaches that are out there instructing the kids on the fundamentals and teaching them the sport, which unfortunately it hasn't come out yet in the series.

And "Friday Night Tykes", we're hoping that future episodes will bring the points across, where we are teaching safe tackling techniques, and as safe as the game can be.

GUPTA: Yes. And, hopefully, I'm sure the producers of the show are paying attention to this, but it might be worth reminding them as well, in your positions.

I want to bring in pediatrician and author of "411" series, Dr. Ari Brown.

You know, Doctor, you hear this discussion. Is this just the culture of football, or do you think there's something more going on here? DR. ARI BROWN, PEDIATRICIAN: Well, I did watch the show, and I have to say the trailer is much more provocative than the show is. And I found it disturbing. I wanted to puke, just like Lisa's son did on the show. It was awful.

And yes, I live in Austin, 90 miles away from where this is going on in San Antonio, and football is king, in Texas that's true. I hope it's not reality. Reality TV is rarely reality, and I would put this in the category of the "Kardashians," and I hope that's really not what's happening with these kids, because this is gladiator-style football, and that's not what happens in other organizations and other leagues.

I am concerned about the bullying element of coaching, however, and I think there is an element of that that is important, that parents need to know about, and not let their kids be bullied by coaches.

GUPTA: Let me ask you about football overall, and sports, Dr. Brown. You know, a lot of parents put kids in sports with the idea it will build confidence and a healthy sense of competition. Again, I have kids. I want that for my kids, as well. But it seems you can do that without creating the sense of "win at all costs," physical and emotional costs.

BROWN: I agree completely. I think team sports are great experiences for kids, and we encourage kids to get involved in sports. It teaches them teamwork. It teaches them leadership. It makes them work hard and be proud of their efforts. But it can be done in a positive way with constructive criticism to get a kid to perform.

You do not need to rule with intimidation. And frankly, it's demoralizing for kids, and then they don't want to play. And the whole point is that they have fun at the end of the day. Because, look, these kids that are being coached, they're not going to go pro. You'll be lucky if you get one pro kid out of one of these organizations, OK?

So the truth is, these kids are learning life experiences they're going to carry with them. And at the end of the day, it's having fun and learning how to work together.

GUPTA: Again, that makes a lot of sense. I think the people that are watching, Lisa, do you agree with that, as well? Is that the objective for you?

CONNELL: Absolutely. We are there because Colby loves to play football. He's playing with his friends. He's not coming with the attention -- intention of getting a full-ride scholarship, you know, 10 years from now. That's not why we're out there. And the true spirit of the players hasn't come across yet in the "Friday Night Tykes" series.

We're there for our child. We're there for the other parents and the team. This is a community effort. It's not just about pushing our kid, or -- the term "bullying" was used, which I really dislike. The bullying, I don't think, is accurate for our coaches. Our coaches love these kids. Yes, they push and we consider that tough love. They're not picking and degrading and leaving it there.

They push these kids, because they see the potential in them. Not because it's some man with a complex that he didn't make some team somewhere, and I think that's where a lot of these things are misguided.

GUPTA: Well, tell him to keep his head up, try not to lead with the head. I want those kids to protect their brains.

Thanks to all of you for joining us. Really important topic, and getting a lot of comments on this. Thank you.

From football to the Olympics, just a few weeks away now, luger Julia Clukey has faced some pretty tough obstacles off the track, as you're about to her. But it was her passion for racing that drove her to fulfill her dreams.


GUPTA (voice-over): As she jumps into her sled, Julia Clukey has one focus, getting down that track as fast as possible.

JULIA CLUKEY, OLYMPIC LUGE ATHLETE: The speed is definitely a big adrenaline rush.

GUPTA: Clukey says her life experiences help give her perspective when she is on the track.

CLUKEY: I think any time something happens to you, you have to decide to feel, decide what you're going to do to get there, and then stick to your plan every day.

GUPTA: And Clukey has had plenty of life obstacles. Her father passed when she was 19. She has had training injuries, her knees, torn meniscus and ACL to herniated discs in her neck. But she overcame them all to make her first Olympic team in 2010.

CLUKEY: It was a great honor, you know, for myself and for my family. You know, they had seen all the good and bad days, highs and lows.

GUPTA: But her Olympic high was short-lived.

CLUKEY: I was diagnosed with Arnold-Chiari Syndrome shortly after the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

GUPTA: Chiari is a disorder in which the fluid around her brain doesn't circulate properly.

CLUKEY: A lot of the symptoms that I was having were severe headaches and pressure in the lower part of my skull, and then a lot of problems with the right side of my body.

GUPTA: For her, surgery was the only option.

CLUKEY: They go in and removed a little under a centimeter of my skull bone to create access for the spinal fluid to flow freely.

GUPTA: She didn't let that stop her, though. Just 14 months later, she was back on the sled.

CLUKEY: I never lost sight of where I wanted to be after my surgery, and that was back competing in the sport of luge.

GUPTA: While Clukey fell short of making her second Olympics by just a fraction of a second, she is staying sharp as the team's first alternate.

CLUKEY: I wake up every day knowing that I'm going to slide, knowing that I'm training for something I love. I think it's a big gift.

GUPTA: And it's that gift that Clukey wants to make sure other young girls like her also get to experience.

CLUKEY: The 10-day camp that focuses on self-confidence, understanding stereotypes, breaking down barriers, and just being proud of who you are and going after your dreams.


GUPTA: A little inspiration for you today.

Up next on SGMD, this young man's doctor told the parents to pull the plug. They refused and saved his life. We'll tell you how.


GUPTA: It's about a year ago we brought you the story of fish oil and how it may have helped a teenage boy's brain recover from this horrifying car accident. And now we're staying on this. It's another drama involving the same type of treatment.



GUPTA (voice-over): Grant Virgin's family knew only a few details about his accident -- a white car, a hit-and-run, a teenager airlifted from a bloody scene nearly dead. They rushed to the hospital to find out if he was still alive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a tough scene when we got there.

JJ VIRGIN, GRANT VIRGIN'S MOTHER: The doctor had a really, really bad look on his face.

GUPTA: That look was a reflection of Grant's injuries. They were staggering.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He had a torn aorta, multiple brain bleeds, a broken wrist, a broken elbow. Both his femurs were fractured.

GUPTA: His E.R. doctor told grant's family to let him go. JJ VIRGIN: The fact that this doctor wasn't fighting for his life just blew my mind. He's not dead yet, why would you just, as a parent, how could you ever let go, not knowing that you hadn't done every single possible thing that you could for your son?

GUPTA: Doing every single possible thing was going to take Grant's family on a wild journey, full of twists and turns, and some unconventional therapies. Two weeks after his accident, after several operations, Grant was in a coma. His heart was OK. His brain was not.

JJ VIRGIN: The doctor told me, she goes, OK, now we wait. Surely there's something we could do. She goes, "Nope, nothing we can do. We just wait. You know the brain's got its own time schedule."

GUPTA: In what would become a theme -- impatient. Grant's family swept aside that doctor's advice. First, they tried progesterone. That's a hormone that, according to early studies, may reduce inflammation in the brain. Soon afterward, his family says Grant began to speak.

JJ VIRGIN: He'd say, "Let's go." He'd say, "I want to go home." But he really just brief little, like, "yes," "no" type of things. Not big, long explanations of anything.

GUPTA: Then, Grant's mother got an e-mail with a link to this story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He never would have come out of a coma if it hadn't been for the use of Omega 3s.

GUPTA: The CNN story was about high-dose Omega 3s found in fish oil, and how it may have played a healing role in cases of traumatic brain injury. During a traumatic brain injury, the brain swells and nerve cells stop communicating and die. Omega 3 fatty acids, the theory goes, can do three very important things -- rebuild damaged nerve cells, reduce inflammation, keep those brain cells from dying.

DR. BARRY SEARS, PHYSICIAN: When we look at severe brain trauma, we're looking at inflammatory event. And obviously, the one thing you want to do to basically treat brain trauma is to put out the fire, to put out the fire in the brain.

GUPTA: The first time this had ever been done, 2006, after a mining explosion. Twelve miners died, only one, Randy McCloy (ph), survived. But his brain was badly damaged.

His team of doctors, including Barry Sears, figured this -- about 30 percent of the brain is composed of Omega 3 fatty acids, giving McCloy a large dose of fish oil, which is rich in those patty acids, might restore function.

Dr. Julian Bailes was McCloy's neurosurgeon.

DR. JULIAN BAILES, NEUROSURGEON: So, the concept was in trying to rebuild his brain with 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.

RANDY MCCLOY, MINING EXPLOSION SURVIVOR: I'd just like to thank everybody for their thoughts and prayers.

BAILES (voice-over): After the fish oil, McCloy made a dramatic, full recovery.

The science is not clear. There have been no large studies, and it didn't always seem to work. But despite that, Grant Virgin's family, a combination of desperate and determined, decided to give it a try.

JJ VIRGIN: I don't want to wait 20 years while they do a bunch of more studies to prove it really works. I don't -- I don't need that.

GUPTA: Grant was given 20 grams of fish oil per day through his feeding tube. Even more than Randy McCloy got. In December 2012, nine weeks after his accident, and only two days after starting high- dose fish oil therapy, Grant Virgin made a phone call.

JJ VIRGIN: It was unbelievable. A couple of days of giving him the fish oil, he now is talking in sentences.

GUPTA: In time, Grant became more animated, and soon, he was walking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we'll do it starting with January.


GUPTA: Here is Grant, a year after nearly dying, a year after his family was told to let him go.

GRANT VIRGIN: I'm Grant Virgin. I'm 17. At some point, I'm going to be 18. But, yes.

GUPTA: He is doing everything doctors said he wouldn't.


GUPTA: Now, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that some of the proponents of Omega-3s as an intervention, including Dr. Bailes you just met in the piece, do receive money from fish oil companies. But they also say, look, the case studies are stacking up, proving that this could work in at least some patients.

Coming up, fish in your vegetables, bacteria in your corn. You heard me right. What you're really eating. I promise this is going to surprise you.


GUPTA: And we are back with SGMD. You know, just this week, members of Congress, along with 200 businesses and organizations, called on President Obama to require the labeling of genetically modified foods.

But we had a question. What does genetically modified really mean?


GUPTA (voice-over): Take a close look at these pea plants. You'd never guess, but they actually have bacteria genes in them. They've been genetically engineered.


GUPTA: Wayne Parrot is a professor of plant breeding and genetics at the University of Georgia, where some of the research is funded by the industry.

PARROT: We took a gene in a laboratory like this one, and put it into the plant so that it does something better for us.

GUPTA: Genetically engineered, better known as genetically modified foods, or plants, or animals that have had a specific gene altered or added to them, in hopes of making them better in some way. Splice a spinach gene into this orange, and now it can withstand a certain disease. Add a bacteria gene to corn, and it can resist insects.

Scientists have even tried adding a flounder gene to the tomato in hopes of making it withstand colder weather.

And these foods, they're more prevalent than you might think. Genetically modified ingredients can now be found in 75 percent to 80 percent of all processed foods. Take the soybean, for example. It's found in tofu, oil, baked goods, and 94 percent of all soybeans in the United States are genetically modified.

PARROT: They have the exact same variety of the soybean, and the difference is this one has been engineered to resist weed killers.

GUPTA: Fewer weeds means more crops, and more food to feed people. According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, genetically modified plants have helped reduce the use of pesticides around the world by 9 percent over the past 15 years. But do pest-resistant plants sound a bit like Franken-food?

Michael Hansen, senior scientist at the Consumers Union, he has some concerns.

MICHAEL HANSEN, SENIOR SCIENTIST, CONSUMERS UNION: There could be increased levels of naturally occurring toxins or allergens. There could be decreased nutritional status, right? Or there could be -- you could create new toxins, new allergens.

GUPTA: Hansen says in animal studies, GMO foods have caused tumors, adverse effects in the gut, the immune system, and reproductive organs.

So, how do you even know if the food you're eating has been genetically modified? While the European Union requires all GMO food to be labeled, the FDA does not so far.

HANSEN: The U.S. does not recognize that that's different than conventional breeding, and does not require safety studies before these products are allowed on the market.

GUPTA: But Parrot says there's nothing here to be concerned about.

PARROT: And when it comes to people whose expertise is agriculture and plant genetics, it's a consensus. It's as safe as regular food.


GUPTA: Now, if you want to know if your food is genetically modified, you can look for the organic label. Now, nothing labeled organic is going to contain genetically modified foods.

Another easy rule of thumb: almost all processed foods do contain GMOs.

Still ahead on SGMD: a big milestone at the White House this weekend. We're going to tell you about it.


GUPTA: The first lady, she turned 50 on Friday, telling "People" magazine, quote, "I want to feel good. I want to be as healthy as I can be, because I want to be able to enjoy my 70s and 80s." And you know what? Knowing Mrs. Obama, I bet she'll be chasing life to a hundred.

You can, too. But 50 is the time to put a few things on your to-do list. For one, get screened for colon cancer. You've got six options nowadays, including a colonoscopy.

For women, it's also time to keep up with your mammograms every other year. Remember that menopause could also be right around the corner, which does bring a higher risk of osteoporosis. So, keep the bones strong. This is very important. Do regular weight-bearing exercise. My mom does this, actually lifting weights to try to keep the bones strong.

And also make sure you take in enough calcium, and very important, vitamin D, as well -- get the levels checked. Don't go overboard on that stuff, though. Too much calcium can raise the risk of heart disease. So, do talk to your doctor even about those supplements.

That's going to wrap things up for SGMD today. But do stay connected with me at Let's keep the conversation going on Twitter @DrSanjayGupta.

Time now, though, to get you back in the "CNN NEWSROOM" with Martin Savidge.