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Sanjay Gupta MD

Ibuprofen Shows Promise of Reducing Alzheimer's Risk; Brain Different in Those with Exceptional Memory

Aired May 10, 2008 - 08:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Good morning. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Welcome to HOUSE CALL. We are bringing you the news to 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 have tips on what to spend your money on and what not.

First up though, news that ibuprofen and similar drugs may slash a person's risk of Alzheimer's disease by as much 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. Experts we talked to caution people shouldn't begin taking these medications just to prevent dementia. They all have well known side effects.

Bottom line, if you are worried about developing Alzheimer's, talk about the study at your next doctor's visit. As many as 5 million people are suffering from Alzheimer's, and millions of others suffer memory loss due to depression, dementia, side effects of medicine and the simple normal aging process.

It is shocking to know that starting at age 20 we begin losing brain cells little by little. Memory loss is a normal part of aging making it no less frustrating for a lot of people so, we spoke with some experts about what we can do.

DR. GARY SMALL, DIRECTOR, UCLA CENTER ON AGING: Lifestyle choices have a big impact. Stress is a big area, diet, physical condition, and mental activity. There's scientific evidence in each of the areas, if you change your lifestyle and reduce stress, if you eat a healthier brain diet, if you get physical and have aerobic conditioning each day, that's going to protect your brain and possibly lower the risk for Alzheimer's disease or at least delay the onset. You know the people who never forget where they park, they park in the exact same spot each time. We don't always have that luxury so what I use look, snap, connect. I'm in lot 3B and see three huge bumblebees hovering over my car, that reminds me to come back. I just sort of do a little mental snapshot. DR. MICHAEL BATIPPS, NEUROLOGIST: I think physical exercise is one of the best things you can do for yourself. I do believe the people who are physically active are less likely, a little less likely to get dementia at an early age. Certainly, it is good for the mind and the spirit.

SMALL: Memory placement is 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 it is. Glasses are difficult. If you misplace your glasses, and you're really near sighted, it's going to be hard to find them. So it's critical you them in the same place each time.

GUPTA: Here's some more ideas for keeping your memory sharp. Get a good night's sleep, if you can. Be social and 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 hoping to discover the fundamentals of memory.


GUPTA: Imagine remembering almost every day of your life as though it happened yesterday.

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

GUPTA: Brad Williams reports the day's news on the radio in Lacrosse, Wisconsin. He can also tell you what happened exactly a year ago today or ten years ago or 40. You'll be astonished how much Williams remembers. Something spectacular is happening in his brain.

Here's the location of the Black Hills in 1964. You're sitting there getting your picture taken. Do you know what day that was?

WILLIAMS: Well, I probably with was there the same day as Mount Rushmore, which would have been July 28, a Tuesday, going to Mount Rushmore. It was a very hot day. It was a hot week around. I know the temperature got up to 100.

GUPTA: You are talking about this like it was yesterday. We are talking about 44 years ago.

WILLIAMS: 44 years, yeah.

GUPTA: Obscure dates, Williams nails them.

January 19, 2004.

WILLIAMS: January 19, 2004, I think that was the Iowa caucuses. Especially the night that Howard Dean got a little carried away. GUPTA: How about February 11, 1990?

WILLIAMS: I think that was the day Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

GUPTA: That's 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 we think ability brain memory.

GUPTA: Williams didn't give his memory much thought until this brother saw a news study 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 Lacrosse, 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 of which they do this is part of why it is so amazing. It seems to indicate there's no or not much intentional calculation going on. It is boom, boom, boom. There's the answer. Questions they have no idea we are going to asked them.

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

WILLIAMS: The museum of science and industry in Chicago, that would have been on August 16, a Monday.

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

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

GUPTA: What could you do with this?

WILLIAMS: That's a good question what I can do with it. I've thought about it for years. I would like to know if we can put this to some use. GUPTA: In this age of distant information, near perfect autobiographical memory is not something you can cash in on. Williams was the Wisconsin state spelling bee champion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is "Jeopardy."

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

WILLIAMS: The amazing memory man, Brad Williams.

GUPTA: Williams now does a show called "The 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's a pretty remarkable guy. It is worth noting, Brad Williams is not really bothered by the constant flood of memories, whereas at least one of the other people has actually sought medical help.

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.


GUPTA: We are back with HOUSE CALL.

News out this week that many emergency rooms in large metropolitan cities are not prepared if a disaster strikes. At congressional hearings this weekend, a new report was released compiling the information from seven emergency departments across the country. The report finds more than half the emergency rooms in these big cities are already above capacity, meaning new patients would be in hallways and waiting rooms. Doctors we talked to said they are stretched too thin and budget cuts like an impending Medicare cut, only makes things worse.

If you have migraines or chronic headaches, don't look to botox for help. That's the word from the American Academy of Neurology which released some new guidelines this week. The guidelines say botox shouldn't be offered to patients with migraines or tension headaches because it is not any more effective than a placebo. While the FDA has not approved botox as a treatment, some studies have shown the drug to be more effective for headache sufferers. The new guidelines say there's not enough research to support its use.

And more evidence that women having heart attacks are treated differently than men. A new study reveals women are twice as likely as men to have "normal results" at an exam even though they are actually having a heart attack. Many women have blockages that take up no more than 50% of their blood vessel. That can lead to differences in treatment. In fact, women are less likely to receive medications crucial to preventing further heart episodes.

Next week we'll take an in depth look at women's health. You don't want to miss it. That's Saturday and Sunday, 8:30 a.m. Eastern.


Time for our segment "Ask The Doctor." 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 wondering at what age should a person start worrying about pre-Alzheimer's symptoms or is it stress that causes you to have temporarily memory loss?

GUPTA: I want to be clear here. Many things can cause memory loss, but Alzheimer's is much more than that. It is a debilitating brain disease with no known cure. It sounds like what you might be talking about is a typical memory loss many people experience at some point in their lives. Yes, you are right, stress, which we all have at some point, is a memory buster. When we are stressed out, our body is in fight or flight mode. Overexposed to cortisol and other stress hormones that can contribute to obesity, heart disease, and depression and memory loss. Let's not forget that one. Try to keep your mind free of stress and get moving. Researchers say physical activity can boost brain power and decrease normal age-related memory loss.

Now, we also had a question from Alabama. This is from Nhan-Ai who asked this. Some people have told me that taking a tablespoon of local honey leaves allergy systems. Is there truth to that or is it a wives' tale?

It seems to be more myth than fact. Experts we talked to say 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 eventually what gets put into the honey, but it is not the same pollen most people are allergic to. People are allergic to tree pollen, not the pollen from flowers. Bottom line, honey won't hurt you, but it won't help against allergies. For more information on the pollen count in your area, log onto

Coming up later, before you log on, you want to tune in. The health websites 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 stoic a healthy diet. We've got some tips. Stay tuned.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSE CALL. You have 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 fit and frugal. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JUDY FORTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 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 registered dietitian Marisa Moore to find less expensive yet healthy food at the grocery store starting with produce.

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

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

MOORE: Ground beef is one of the things that has increased in price recently. You can add black beans together to let it stretch farther. 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 are 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 longer lasting health benefits, their hefty price tag has people switching to local and pre-packaged items. Are they getting a better deal? That's the question. To help you shop smarter, we have these tips from nutrition 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 of people say cost is the biggest barrier. 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 would be to locally go to your farmer's market. If it's in season and readily available, the cost is much less. You can also freeze things so really load up now when things are very low cost and enjoy them for months to come. People are going online to try to find out about sales and to get coupons. Nearly every supermarket chain has an organic line of food or within their store brand, they carry organics. You can download coupons off their website for $1 off a half-gallon of milk or a 16-ounce container of yogurt.

Buying in bulk is another good idea. Join a Price Club. Costco, BJ's Sam's Club all have organic food. If you can afford the organic, it really does give you nutritional benefits. The only problem with organic is the cost barrier. Organic foods can be 50 percent more depending on what the food is. As far as locally grown, the benefits are it has amazing flavors, it's nutrient rich, it is nutrient rich, it's very fresh. The downside is 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 levels they contain. It does tend to have the least nutritional value because it was probably picked 1500 miles from where you are buying it and it does lose nutrients during that time in transit.

The most important bottom line is getting enough produce, whether it be store brands, conventional, or local and organic. We want people to eat a healthful diet, but if you can get more nutrient value from getting the local organic products, that's better.


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

Plus ...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When it gets to be bad for your health, you have 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 women spend lots of times being a parent or a caregiver to others. CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has the top health websites for women with tips on how women can take better care of themselves.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey Sanjay. This week in honor of mother's day, we want to help you give your mom the best gift ever, and that's the gift of help.

In the empowered patient list this week, we have a list of the best women's health websites, the best links for women to get medical information. What we did is we asked four women doctors what they thought the best websites were where they send their patients.

Here's the list we compiled. There's many, many websites. Here are a few. First of all for fertility, one doctor recommended the fertile soil and fertile heart. For breast cancer, the Susan G Comen Foundation, the Gynecological Cancer Foundation and Dr. Susan Love's website. For general information about women's health, the National Institutes for Health, the Centers for Disease ControlHe, and the Food and Drug Administration website.

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

You might be wondering, this is good information that's on the internet, but how do you know when you have run into bad information? One hint, one red flag is that if a website is trying to sell you something, you should look to see if the information is truly objective. It could be more marketing than information. That's definitely something to keep in mind. Now, to see all of these websites, go to

GUPTA: All right. Elizabeth, thanks.

Coming up next, it is never too late to turn your life around. We have a story to prove that taking charge of your life and health. CNN "Fit Nation" is after the break.


GUPTA: We are 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: Barbara Aldridge was always overweight, but as the years flew by, the pounds added up and as she edged towards 50 years old, her doctor made it clear that it was time for a change.

BARBARA ALDRIDGE, LOST 75 POUNDS: It got to the point where I was borderline diabetic. When it is bad for your health, you have to make the right decision.

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

ALDRIDGE: 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.

ALDRIDGE: It seemed to come off just eating right. I wasn't hungry. I wasn't starving myself, it was all store bought food. For me, I would lose sometimes 4 to 5 pounds a week. It was 20 pounds a month.

GUPTA: Now looking back at her experience, Barbara says she looks better, feels better and she is proud that at the age of 50 she could reach her goal weight.

ALDRIDGE: It is a good feeling to know that I established this on my own. I had to wait until it was medically necessary, but that's the way life is. My name is Barbara Aldridge 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, check out my podcast at Mothers, enjoy your day. Mom, I'll call you after the show. Join us next week for our special program on women's health. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. More news on CNN starts right now.