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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Two So-Called Natural Additives Making News

Aired April 10, 2002 - 08:38   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: A couple of new developments on the health front this morning. Increasingly natural remedies have become an attractive alternative to manufactured medications. This morning, two of those so-called natural additives are making news. One of them, the herb, St. John's Wort, which many have been using for depression. The other one, fish oil, which is supposed to improve heart health.

To look at both of these issues, we're joined by CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

So, Dr. Gupta, does St. John's Wort work?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting for a long time. It's made quite an explosion, because back in '96, people actually found that it had a better effect than placebo for mild depression. That's what the makers of St. John's Wort say it's most indicated for.

Where it gets a little bit more confusing is in cases of moderate depression or severe depression, and that's what this study that you are talking about today, Andersen, actually reveals. When they actually looked at this, the largest study ever, looking at people with moderately severe depression, 340 people were looked at, and they actually studied these people over six weeks to eight months, and they found -- again, these people were all moderately or severely depressed, studied over that period of time -- and they found they had no significant benefit in that particular population of people.

The authors went on to conclude that while it's not necessarily making an improvement, the danger might be that if people think that it actually does work for moderate or severe depression, they may actually take St. John's Wort instead of seeing their doctor, instead of taking anti-depressants, instead of seeking therapy that might work. So that was a couple of the points they're trying to make about St. John's Wort.

Again, indicated for mild depression, but not for moderate or severe.

COOPER: What is the difference between a mild depression and a moderate depression?

GUPTA: There are some very significant differences, and they actually use a psychiatric diagnosis to include, being depressed most of the day, almost every day for about two weeks, to have a significant loss of interest or pleasure in all sorts of things, significant sleep disturbances, significant differences with weight, either gain or loss. Inappropriate guilt can also be a problem. And perhaps inappropriate guilt, and then also thoughts of death or suicide might actually also be a problem with people who have moderate depression. This is to be distinguished wholeheartedly, again, Anderson from mild depression, which is just usually the blues or something that might cause people to feel down for a couple of days.

Again, St. John's Wort may have some benefit for these people. But if you have significant problems, have those sorts of symptoms, you probably need to seek other treatment and not rely on this alone.

COOPER: Only about a minute left this morning. A new study about fish oil. It's much better than we thought, yes?

GUPTA: Yes. In fact, you know, the thing about it is, that coronary artery disease is something that we typically think about being associated with men. Of course it's also associated with women. In fact, heart disease is the number one killer in women as well. People don't often realize that. So with many of the studies being done on men, a lot of those studies also being done on women. As you say, Anderson, anecdotally we've known fish oils are a good thing. We've known that in men for sure. Now it's being proved in women for sure. They looked at over 85,000 women. This is a study that's been going on since '76, so a long study.

They looked specifically at Omega Three fatty acids. The names aren't that important. But what are important is the types of fish that contain these sorts of Omega Three fatty acids -- dark fishes, oily fishes, such as mackerel, salmon, sardines, blue fish, swordfish. Those are the kind of fishes that will have these high concentrations of oils and fatty acids in them, and those are the kind of fish that are potentially beneficial to preventing coronary artery disease, and significantly beneficial. If you eat fish two to four times a week, for a woman, you could cut your risk of heart disease 30 percent. Eat it five times a week, 34 percent reduction in that, in heart disease. So pretty significant improvements.

COOPER: If you don't really like fish, I don't really like fish, can you take a supplement, I mean, a fish oil supplement? Will that do the trick as well?

GUPTA: They talk about supplements as well, flax seed oil, and things like that, which people can add to their oatmeal or add to their cereal in the morning, and stuff like that, but those weren't actually conclusively studied, sort of a translational quality that they say it should probably work as well, since it does contain those fatty acids as well, so that's probably a good substitute.

COOPER: And basically what the study showed is it prevents sudden heart attacks, or deaths from sudden heart attacks, is that correct?

GUPTA: That's right. Fish oils do a good thing for the body. They actually thin the blood a little bit, preventing potentially dangerous clots from forming in the blood. They actually also reduce your overall serum, triglycerides, cholesterol levels down as well, and they also do things to prevent arhythmia in the heart, so you don't get potentially fatal irregular heartbeats, which as you say, can cause sudden heart death, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks very much. We'll to have a salmon lunch.

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