Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Chasing life with Dr. Sanjay Gupta

CNN journalist and neurosurgeon gives advice on longevity


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes fish oil pills and baby aspirin every day, buys local produce when possible, and only eats red meat when he and his family are out on the town.

"At home I play a game with my kids. We try to eat seven different colored foods each day," he said. "And that doesn't include jelly beans. I mean vegetables."

Gupta joked, gave health and diet advice, and shared recent medical discoveries on longevity to a full house of listeners at the Limelight Room at the Sun Valley Inn on Thursday night.

His keynote address rounded out the St. Luke's Wood River Foundation's annual Issues and Opportunities Forum.

Gupta, an Emmy Award-winning journalist and practicing neurosurgeon, doesn't take vitamin supplements and only buys organic dairy products to avoid ingesting bovine growth hormone, an additive created by Monsanto Corp. to increase dairy production. He also believes stem cell research may hold great promise for the treatment of spinal cord injuries and Parkinson's disease.

Gupta's research into the lifestyles of the oldest people on earth, in Costa Rica, Okinawa, Sardinia and Loma Linda, Calif., led to his current best-seller, "Chasing Life: New Discoveries in the Search for Immortality to Help You Age Less Today." While writing the book he traveled to Russia to meet scientists who believe they have reversed the aging process with the use of adult stem-cell injections. Though Gupta could not confirm the Russians' claims, he said infant stem cell research may soon lead to medical breakthroughs in the treatment of injuries and age-related diseases.

Before becoming CNN's chief medical correspondent, and one of the most celebrated doctors in the world, Gupta wrote speeches for President Clinton and was a contributing writer for The Economist magazine. As a licensed neurosurgeon, he later practiced with an embedded group of U.S. naval doctors in Iraq. It was there, while under attack in the Iraqi desert, that he found for himself what he considers an essential component of a long and healthy life: a sense of purpose.

While under fire with the "Devil Docs" in a makeshift hospital in 2003 near Baghdad, Gupta operated on U.S. Marine Jesus Vidana, who had taken a sniper's bullet to the head and was twice pronounced dead. Yet Vidana still showed a pulse when he was handed over to Gupta, who used a sterilized power drill to remove a blood clot from his brain, thus saving his life.

During the ordeal, Gupta also wrote what he thought might be his last letters to loved ones, and came to realize in the process why he wanted to live.

"Don't put your self in harm's way," he said to the crowd in Sun Valley. "But pretend that you are there already and it will help to discover your sense of purpose."

Much of Gupta's advice for those wanting to live "longer, better, more exceptional lives" involved eating less meat, and eating smaller, more frequent meals. He advocated upper-body exercises for old timers because this increases basal metabolic rates, reduces the risk of pneumonia and reduces the stooping postures associated with osteoporosis. He said natural activities, like gardening and walking with friends seem to be the most effective form of exercise for long life.

He also advised exercising our brains, which can clog with toxic substances, as do our arteries, from lack of use.

Yet Gupta's life-extension plan also called for a less tangible, health-related program. Gupta said a sense of purpose, called "plan de vida" in Costa Rica, and "Ikigai" in Japan, stems from a positive attitude and social network, and often exists within cultures that value the elderly.

"There is no such thing as retirement in Japan," he said. "People just do different things as they get older. They aren't put away somewhere. They are honored more as they age."

He said stress hormones make us age faster, and that hypertension, or high blood pressure, can be a silent killer.

"It is important to re-evaluate our lives each day and re-create Ikigai, or sense of purpose," he said.

Gupta advised the use of calcium supplements for the elderly, and folic acid for pregnant women, but said he rarely takes supplements himself.

"I will take a multi-vitamin from time to time when I am not eating well," he said.

Yet Gupta suggested that the book may never be closed on medical research.

"Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling once championed the use of mega-doses of vitamin C," he said. "If Pauling were alive today, I think even he would agree that this is not effective."

Though he described himself as a "Western-trained medical doctor," Gupta allowed for the possibility of alternative medicine's promise, saying "acupuncture may be difficult to prove, but these things are still used in big hospitals in China."

St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center just celebrated the first use of acupuncture in its Ketchum hospital this month.




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