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Boosting Your Memory: How to Prevent Alzheimer's and Remembering Where You Put Your Keys; Meet a Man Who Could Unlock the Mystery of How Our Brains Store Memories; Your Grocery Bill: What's Worth Your Money and What's Not

Aired October 25, 2008 - 08:30   ET


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN HOST: Good morning, I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Welcome to HOUSE CALL. We're bringing you the news that will help you live longer and stronger.
First up, boosting your memory. What you need to know about preventing Alzheimer's and remembering where you put your keys.

And meet a man researchers think could hold the key to unlocking the mystery of how our brain actually stores memories.

Plus, your grocery bill. It keeps going up. We've got some tips on what's worth spending your money on and what's not.

First up, though, news this week that Ibuprofen and similar drugs may slash a person's risk of Alzheimer's disease by as much as 40 percent. Amazing. A large study, a preliminary one in the Journal of Neurology finds people taking Ibuprofen regularly for five years had the best results. But other drugs in that same class known as NSAIDS also seemed to reduce risk.

Now, experts we talked to caution people should not begin taking these medications just to prevent dementia as they all have well known side effects. Bottom line, if you're worried about developing Alzheimer's, talk about the study at your next doctor's visit.

Now, as many as five million people in the United States are suffering from Alzheimer's disease. And millions of others suffer memory loss due to depression, dementia, side effects of medicine, and the simple, normal aging process. It's shocking to know that starting at age 20, we begin losing brain cells little by little. Memory loss is a normal part of aging, which makes it no less frustrating for a lot of people.

So, we spoke with some experts about what we can do.


GARY SMALL, DR., DIRECTOR, UCLA CENTER ON AGING: Lifestyle choices have a big impact. Stress is a big area, diet, physical conditioning, and mental activity, and memory training. And there's scientific evidence in each of those areas, change your lifestyle. If you reduce stress, for example, if you eat a healthier, grain diet, if you get physical, do some aerobic conditioning each day, that's going to protect your brain and possibly lower your risk for Alzheimer disease or at least delay the onset.

You know the people who never forget where they park? They park in the same exact spot each time. Now, we don't always have that luxury. So, I use (INAUDIBLE). I'm in lot 3-B, I see three large bumble bees hovering over my car. And that reminds me to come back. I just sort of do a little mental snapshot.

MICHAEL BATIPPS, DR., NEUROLOGIST: I think that physical exercise is one of the best things you can do for yourself. And I do believe that people who are physically active are less likely to -- a little less likely to get dementia at an early age. And certainly it's good for the mind and the spirit.

SMALL: Memory places, there's a great technique so you don't forget where you put things. We actually have a series of hooks in the kitchen where we hang our keys so we know where that is. Glasses are difficult. You misplace your glasses, and you're really near- sighted, it's going to be hard to find them. So it's critical you put them in the same place each time.


GUPTA: Here are some more ideas for keeping your memory sharp. Get a good night's sleep if you can. Be social. Try to challenge your mind with puzzles and games. Stock up on brain foods rich in antioxidants like blueberries, prunes, nuts, salmon. And cut down on stress. Good luck with that. But that can be a real memory-buster sometimes.

Now, while most of us struggle with our memory, I recently sat down with a man who has a rare gift. Get this. He remembers just about everything. And he has medical researchers intrigued, hoping to discover the fundamentals of memory.


GUPTA (voice-over): Imagine remembering almost every day of your life as though it happened yesterday.

BRAD WILLIAMS: 7:37 at WKTY, it is rainy in our area.

GUPTA: Brad Williams reports the day's news on the radio in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

WILLIAMS: And that's news.

GUPTA: But he can also tell you exactly what happened a year ago today, or ten years ago, or 40. You'll be astonished at just how much Williams remembers. Something spectacular is happening in his brain.

So here's a vacation to the Black Hills in 1964.


GUPTA: You're sitting there getting your picture taken. Do you know what day that was? WILLIAMS: Well, that probably was the same day as Mount Rushmore, which would have been July 28th, a Tuesday, going to Mount Rushmore. It was a very hot day. It was a hot week all around. I know the temperature got up to 100.

GUPTA: You're talking about this like it was yesterday, but we're talking about 44 years ago.

WILLIAMS: Forty-four years ago, yes.

GUPTA: Obscure dates. Williams nails them. This may be a little difficult, but January 19th, 2004.

WILLIAMS: January 19th of 2004. Well, I think that was the Iowa caucuses. And especially the night that Howard Dean got a little carried away.

GUPTA: How about February 11th, 1990?

WILLIAMS: February 11th, 1990. I think that was the day Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

GUPTA: That is remarkable.

More than remarkable, Williams' memory is a medical mystery. And just maybe an opportunity for researchers. Can they learn enough about how the mind works to help other people whose memories are failing?

LARRY CAHILL, MEMORY RESEARCHER, UC-IRVINE: This project has the ability to radically change how my field thinks about brain and memory.

GUPTA: Williams didn't give his astounding memory much thought until one day his brother saw a news story about a woman being studied at the University of California Irvine for her amazing memory.

WILLIAMS: My brother in California saw this and said she sounds like you. Why don't we talk to the people at Irvine, see if they can study you and see if there's any similarities?

GUPTA: So, Brad traveled from his little radio station here in La Crosse, Wisconsin, all the way to some of the leading researchers in the world in Southern California.

Williams is one of only three people identified anywhere in the world with the amazing ability to retrieve distant memories in the blink of an eye.

CAHILL: The speed with which they do this is part of why I find it so amazing because it seems to indicate that there's no -- there's no or not much intentional calculation going on. It's boom, boom, boom. There's the answer. Remember, questions that they have no idea we're going to ask them.

GUPTA: Besides Williams, a woman in California and a man in Ohio have the same superhuman memory. They're not savants, where one extraordinary mental ability is offset by deficits. They can't memorize phone books. And Williams writes himself notes to remember to pay the rent.

WILLIAMS: Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, that would have been August 16th, a Monday.

GUPTA: Researchers are creating 3-D maps of Williams' brain and the two memory superstars in hopes of helping people whose memories have faded.

WILLIAMS: It is starting to appear in their brains there are some structures that are wildly different in size. And the more we study, the greater the likelihood that we're going to really figure out some fundamental new things about brain and memory that we would have never figured out without them.

GUPTA: What could you do with this?

WILLIAMS: That's a good question what I could do with it. I mean, I don't really know. I've thought about it for years. I would like to know if there -- if we can put this to some use.

GUPTA: In this age of instant information, near perfect autobiographical memory is not a commodity you can necessarily cash in on. Williams was the Wisconsin state spelling champ.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is "Jeopardy."

GUPTA: He also appeared on "Jeopardy", but finished second. Apparently he didn't know enough about snakes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The amazing memory man, Brad Williams.

WILLIAMS: Williams now does a radio bit called amazing memory man. Still, he hasn't made millions off his one in a million gift. But Williams says he'll be happy if his memory can help others with theirs.


GUPTA: He is a pretty remarkable guy. And it's worth noting Brad Williams is not really bothered by this constant flood of memories, where as at least one of the other people has actually sought medical help.

Now ahead on HOUSE CALL, a new treatment for chronic headaches and migraines comes under fire. We'll tell you what you need to know.

And when it comes to your produce, does it matter if it's locally grown, organic, or store bought? Find out what's worth the money when you're on a budget.


JUDY FORTIN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Judy Fortin with this week's medical headlines.

First up, the Obama/Biden campaign released 49 pages of vice presidential candidate Joe Biden's medical records this week. The records detail the treatment of two brain aneurysms in 1988, along with other mostly minor medical problems.

Here's what we know about Biden's health. His cholesterol is at a healthy 173. He had an episode of atrial fibrillation that prompted an examination, but it's fine. His prostate is fine as well. And his life-threatening aneurysm 20 years ago shows no signs of recurrence.

Plus, surprising news about uninsured kids. A new study in The Journal of the American Medical Association shows a gap in health care coverage for many middle class children. Some 1.5 million kids in this country don't have insurance, even though their parents do. The reason? It's expensive. Insuring your children can add more than $2,100 extra a year to your premiums. And those figures are from 2005. Now, it's probably more.

People looking for a fall guy to blame for the country's financial mess may be on to something, "guy" being the operative word. A new Harvard study shows high levels of testosterone lead men to be bigger risk-takers and make riskier investments. Researchers looked at the investment strategies of about 100 men. Men who had higher levels of testosterone invested 10 percent more money than men with average levels.

HOUSE CALL will be back in 60 seconds.


GUPTA: Time for our segment "Ask the Doctor." So, we hit the streets to find out the medical questions that are on your minds. You get to interact with us. Here's a question a viewer had for me.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. I was just wondering at what age should a person start worrying about pre-Alzheimer symptoms? Or is it just stress that causes you to have, you know, temporary memory loss?


GUPTA: I want to be clear here. Many things can cause memory loss, but Alzheimer's is much more than that. It's a debilitating brain disease with no known cure. It sounds like what you might be talking about is a typical memory loss which many people experience at some point in their lives. And, yes, you're right. Stress, which we all have at some point or another, is a memory-buster.

Now, when we're stressed out, our body is in fight or flight mode. Overexposed to cortisol and other stress hormones, that over time, can contribute to problems like obesity, digestive problems, heart disease, depression and, yes, memory loss. Let's not forget that one. Try to keep your mind free of stress and get moving. Research shows physical activity can help boost brain power and decrease normal age-related memory loss.

Now, we also had a question from Alabama. This is from a young guy who asked this. "Some people have told me that taking a tablespoon of local honey really helps relieve allergy symptoms. Is there any truth to that, or is that simply an old wives' tale?"

Well, I've heard that as well, but it seems to be more myth than fact. Experts we talk to said honey is made from the nectar in flowers. Here's what they're talking about. Bees are attracted to the pollen on a flower and that is what eventually gets put into the honey. But the thing is it's not the same pollen that most people are allergic to. People tend to be allergic to tree and grass pollen, not pollen from flowers.

Bottom line, honey doesn't hurt you, doesn't help you necessarily, with your allergies. For more information on the pollen count in your area, log on to

Well, coming up later, before you log on, you're going to want to tune in. The health Web sites every woman needs to know about.

But first, as gas prices rise, so does the cost of groceries, but you don't have to spend a fortune to stick to a healthy diet. We got some tips. Stay tuned.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSE CALL. You've heard the reports. The lagging economy is issue number one for many Americans, but if you think cutting back on costs means cutting out healthy foods, think again.

As Judy Fortin reports, you can be both fit and frugal.


FORTIN (voice-over): Jennifer Roberge's family is about to expand and so is her shopping budget.

JENNIFER ROBERGE, SHOPPER: Some things can be really expensive. It's outrageous.

FORTIN: Jennifer has teamed up with a registered dietitian Marisa Moore to find less expensive, yet healthy food at the grocery store, starting with produce.

MARISA MOORE, REGISTERED DIETITIAN: Berries are a great choice this time of year because you can actually freeze half of them and use them later in the year. You know, when it comes to vegetables, it's a good idea to look for seasonal, local produce. The squash is a very good deal at only 99 cents a pound.

FORTIN: Jennifer is also looking for ways to save on meat.

MOORE: Ground beef is actually one of the things that's actually increased in price recently. You could add black beans to the mix and actually stretch your food dollar that way. Beans are a great source of protein, great source of fiber.

FORTIN: Moore also touts eggs as a cheaper food source.

MOORE: At only about 20 cents per serving, they're a great source of protein and B vitamins.

FORTIN: Buying nutritious food without breaking the bank.

Judy Fortin, CNN, Atlanta.


GUPTA: Really helpful. Thanks, Judy.

Organic food producers are also feeling the pinch. Though many consumers consider premium organic foods to be more nutritious and have longer lasting health benefits, their hefty price tag has shoppers switching to local and pre-packaged items. Are they getting the best deal? That's the question.

To help you shop smarter, we have these tips from nutritionist expert Cynthia Sass.


CYNTHIA SASS, NUTRITION DIR., PREVENTION: People are really looking for healthy food, but about -- among people who used to buy organic who stopped, 70 percent say that cost is the number one barrier. And fortunately, there are ways to still eat organic food on a low-cost budget.

My top tips for getting healthful food without spending a lot of money, number one would be locally go to your farmer's market. If it's in season and it's readily available, the cost is much less.

You can also freeze things. So, really load up now when things are very, you know, low cost. And enjoy them for months to come. People are going online and looking at supermarkets' Web sites to try to find out about sales, and, you know, get coupons.

Nearly every supermarket chain now has an organic line of food or within their store brand, they carry organics. You can download coupons off their Web site for as much as a dollar off a half gallon of milk or a 16 ounce container of yogurt.

Also buying in bulk is another great idea. Join a price club. Costco, B.J.s, Sam's Club all have organic foods. So, if you can afford the organic, it really does offer some significant nutritional benefits.

The only kinds of organic in my mind are the cost barrier. You know, organic foods can be 50 percent more, depending what the food is. As far as locally grown, the benefits are it's got amazing flavor, it's in season, it's nutrient-rich, it's very fresh. The downside is it's probably not grown organically, so there will be pesticide residues there. Store packaged tends to be the least expensive, but they really do have differences in terms of the nutrient level that they contain. It does tend to have the least nutritional value, because it was probably picked 1,500 miles from where you're buying it. And it does lose nutrients during that time in the transit.

Most important, bottom line is getting enough produce, whether it be store brand, conventional, or local, or organic. You want people just to eat a healthful, nutrient-rich diet. But if you can get more nutritional value from getting those local, organic products, that's really even better.


GUPTA: Coming up, finding reliable health information online. What women need to know to arm themselves with knowledge about their own health.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When it gets to be bad for your health, you've got to make the right decision.


GUPTA: Why turning 50 was a definite milestone, one that made Barbara turn her entire life around. We'll have her story and more. Stay with us.


GUPTA: Most people spend lots of time being a parent or a caregiver to others. CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has the top health Web sites for women with tips on how women can take better care of themselves.


So, in the "Empowered Patient" column this week, we have a list of the best women's health Web sites, the best place for women to get medical information.

What we did is we asked four women doctors what they thought the best Web sites were, where they send their patients. And here's the list that we compiled. There's many, many Web sites. Here are a few.

First of all, for fertility, one doctor recommended the fertilesoul the and fertileheart, For breast cancer, the Susan G. Komen Foundation,, the Gynecological Cancer Foundation,, and Dr. Susan Love's Web site,

For general information about women's health, the National Institutes of Health,, the Centers for Disease Control,, and the Food and Drug Administration, also have very good women's health sections.

Now, in my column this week, I also have Web sites that talk about osteoporosis, that talk about pregnancy, that talk about women and heart disease, basically every health issue that women need to think about.

Now, you might be wondering well, this is all good information that's on the Internet, but how do you know when you've run across bad information? So one hint, one red flag is that if a Web site is trying to sell you something, you should look and see if that information is truly objective. It may be more marketing than information. So, that's definitely something to keep in mind.

Now, to see all of these Web sites, go to

GUPTA: All right, Elizabeth. Thanks.

Coming up next, it's never too late to turn your life around. We've got a story that proves it. Taking charge of your life and your health. CNN's "Fit Nation" is after the break.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL. This week's "Fit Nation" success story, Barbara Aldridge suffered from a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, but an approaching milestone birthday encouraged her to make a much-needed change.


GUPTA (voice-over): Barbara Aldrich had always been overweight, but as the years flew by, the pounds added up. And as she edged toward 50-years-old, her doctor made it clear that it was time for a change.

BARBARA ALDRICH: Got to the point where my doctor told me that I was borderline diabetic, and when it gets to be bad for your health, you've got to make the right decisions.

GUPTA: Determined not to be a burden on her family, Barbara took action right away.

ALDRICH: I just made the decision that I'm going to find a program that works for me.

GUPTA: A balanced diet, daily exercise and a multi-vitamin. The pounds came falling off.

ALDRICH: It just seemed to just come off, just eating right. And I mean, I wasn't hungry. I wasn't starving myself. It was all store-bought food. For me, I would lose sometimes four to five pounds every week. So, it was like 20 pounds a month.

GUPTA: Now, looking back on her experience, Barbara says she looks better, feels better, and she's proud that even at age 50 she could reach her goal weight.

ALDRICH: It's just a good feeling to know that I accomplished this. I did it on my own. Yes, I had to wait until it was medically necessary, but that's the way life is. My name is Barbara Aldrich and I've lost 75 pounds.


GUPTA: 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, as always, 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.