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Sanjay Gupta MD

Increase Your Lifespan This Year By Quitting Smoking; Alternative Medicine for Kids; Should You Be Concerned If You're Getting Sick Too Often?

Aired January 10, 2009 - 08:30   ET


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN HOST: Good morning, welcome to HOUSE CALL, the show that helps you live longer and stronger. Keep in mind this is a show about you, not about me.
How about starting your new year by increasing your life span? That's my gift to you. If you're a smoker or you live with one, you're going to want to watch the show today.

And alternative medicine for kids. What you need to know about what works and what doesn't.

Then, this is a season to be sick. But when is it too much? When should you be concerned that you're getting sick too often?

First up, though, we're learning more and more about the dangers of smoking and what can happen to your body and to the ones you love as well. Studies just in the last couple of weeks show smokers both current and former may be at 50 percent higher risk at developing a heart arrhythmia known as atrial fibrillation. And they also highlighted something you may not have heard of, thirdhand smoke. Those invisible fumes and toxins that cling to clothing and fabric of smokers, well, they could be harmful to children.

Now, we all know that smoking is bad for your health. I think you got to know that by now if you watch the show. So instead today, we're going to focus on how great quitting would be for living a longer and stronger life. That's our goal on HOUSE CALL. Take a look.


GUPTA (voice-over): Quitting smoking isn't easy, but the good news is once you stop, the health benefits begin almost immediately.

OTIS BRAWLEY, DR., AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY: Within 20 minutes of one's stopping smoking, one's heart rate and blood pressure actually go down. 12 hours after one stops smoking, the carbon monoxide levels in one's blood decrease. About two weeks after one stops smoking, one's lung function actually improves. So one is going to be less short of breath and have more exercise tolerance.

GUPTA: But there is a down side, because nicotine works very much like other addictive drugs, altering the chemistry of the brain and the nervous system. A smoker is likely going to experience some withdrawals. BRAWLEY: They have shaking, you can have nervousness, even have some depression, increased appetite.

GUPTA: But experts urge people to hang in there, because the benefits of quitting only get more noticeable and could save your life.

BRAWLEY: Nine months after one stops smoking, the cough goes away. About a year after one stops smoking, one's risk of heart disease goes down. Five years after one stops smoking, one's risk of stroke decreases.

GUPTA: Brawley says ten years after quitting, the lung cancer death rate is about half that of a current smoker.


GUPTA: Well, now is the time to quit. You know that. And we know that 70 percent of smokers want to quit. We know this year 40 percent will try, but here's the problem. Only 5 percent are going to succeed. That's because, you guessed it, nicotine is addictive.

It would have to be for people that continue inhaling all the other components of cigarette smoke. Almost 4,000 chemicals in all, including cyanide, and the fuel used in welding torches as well. All these chemicals combined to make you sick, with heart disease, with cancer, diseases of the lung.

So now you know why quitting is essential. Let's get some help to get us there. Joining us is director of the nicotine dependence center at the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Richard Hurt.

Thanks so much for joining us all the way from London I should point out.


GUPTA: Thank you very much. You know, this is an important topic for the show, something we've been talking about for some time. We want to inspire our viewers. And I think one way to do that is to point out a little of your past history. You're director of this nicotine dependence program, but you were also a three pack a day smoker. You started in college. Is that right?

HURT: That's correct. And I stopped in 1975.

GUPTA: Well, you know, the big question that we get is, well, first of all, how did you quit? And what is the best way to quit? Is there such a thing?

HURT: Well, back in 1975, there was no medications. So I stopped using a group program. So the best way to stop in these days, this day in time, is to use counseling and medication. And you can get counseling through telephone quick lines or through your health care provider. And the medications, we now have seven different medications that can help people to stop. So we've got more things now than ever before.

GUPTA: Let's dissect that down a little. We received a lot of questions on this topic. Let's jump right into an e-mail from our inbox. Michael from California asks this. "I'm 26 and smoking close to five years. I want to quit, but I get major anxiety when I stop. Do you have advice?" Doctor, both anxiety, depression I've heard as well can be a problem, when people initially stop smoking. What's your advice for them?

HURT: Well, anxiety is one of the withdrawal symptoms we very frequently see when people stop smoking. Irritability, anxiety, frustration, those are all common withdrawal systems. And they're very easily controlled by using some of the medications that help to control nicotine withdrawal.

The nicotine medications can do that. And also, the other medications called Bipropreon (ph) and Brenoclean (ph) can help with withdrawal symptoms.

GUPTA: Did you have some of those problems when you tried to quit?

HURT: Well, it was one of the worst time of my life. In fact, people at work were begging me to start smoking again because I was so irritable that I was really hard to work with.

GUPTA: You know, I should point out, Dr. Hurt, you'll appreciate this. There's a new way people can reach us. It's a social networking site called Twitter. We're at On Twitter, we had this question. And it says this, "I'm going quit in two days. I'm going to do it cold turkey. Should I uses the patches or should I use the gum or wait to see if cold turkey works?" So here you have a specific case, doctor.

HURT: Well, I -- yes, I don't any cold turkey is a good idea. In this day and time, medications are very helpful in helping people to stop smoking. Counseling is very helpful to stop smoking as well. And you can get counseling again through the telephone quick lines by calling 1-800-quit-now or going to a new Web site. Call -- become an, which is an American legacy Web site, which is also very interactive and very helpful.

GUPTA: All right, let's keep going. We got a question now from our roving camera. Take a listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there a true connection between smoking cigarettes and cancer? We hear all of these stories, yes, no. It's genetic. It's -- is it?


GUPTA: You know, it's interesting, doctor, because I think a lot of people understand there's a connection between cigarette smoking and cancer, but there are people who get lung cancer who are not smokers. People who smoked their entire lives, they never get lung cancer. Are there people who are more predisposed to having problems?

HURT: Well, that's true. But we must be clear about this. Cigarettes were not a common product before the turn of the last century, 1900. So lung cancer was very uncommon before 1900. And it's now the most common cause of cancer deaths in both American men and American women. In fact, 30 percent of cancers in the United States are caused by cigarette smoking. If it were not for tobacco- caused cancers, we would be winning the war on cancer.

GUPTA: We're talking to Dr. Richard Hurt, all the way from London. We got to take a quick break now. But when we come back, we're going to have more of your questions with Dr. Hurt.

Plus, millions of United States adults are turning to alternative therapies like supplements. But are they safe for your kids? We're going to deep dive into that. HOUSE CALL's going to be back in 60 seconds.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSE CALL. A quick check of the medical headlines now. First, hopeful news for patients suffering from Parkinson's disease. A new study on deep brain stimulation or DBS finds procedure vastly improves motor function to about five more hours per day.

Now that's compared to other medications, which improve motor functioning for only one to two hours. Parkinson's used, as you may know, reduces the patient's ability to move, to walk, to perform everyday tasks. Study authors say deep brain stimulation is promising, particularly for people who don't respond to other medications or seeing the effectiveness of those medications diminish over time.

Also in the news, moms and doctors need to be patient when it comes to delivery. A large study published in "The New England Journal of Medicine" says moms to be who have had C-sections in the past need to wait until the 39th week of pregnancy before delivering via C-section, otherwise the baby's at increased risk for respiratory problems and other complications.

Delivering even as little as three or four days before the 39th week could lead to some adverse outcomes. A full term pregnancy lasts 40 weeks, in case you're curious. And the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends elective C sections at 39 weeks. However, as things stand now, one-third of the elected C sections in this particular study were scheduled one to two weeks earlier than that.

We're back in 60 seconds with more ways to quit smoking, including what can you do about secondhand smoke.

But first, answer this -- true or false? Kids become addicted to nicotine more quickly than adults? We'll have the answer just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) GUPTA: And before the break we asked, true or false, kids become addicted to nicotine more quickly than adults. The answer -- true. Teens can become addicted with a lower dose of nicotine than adults. And that addiction takes hold faster in girls than in boys. Something to think about.

We are talking about getting healthy in 2009. All this month on HOUSE CALL, we're helping viewers tackle their health goals. Next, we'll be showing you ways to -- easy ways to eat better and then bring you tips for busting stress as well. Everybody wants these things. That's what they're e-mailing us about it.

And we're going to end with how to stop overindulging, especially in alcohol. But first, we're answering your questions on stopping a deadly habit. Smoking. And with us is Dr. Richard Hurt. Here's director of the Mayo Clinic's Nicotine Dependence Center. Welcome back, doctor.

HURT: Glad to be here.

GUPTA: Let's talk about secondhand smoke for a second, because we talk a lot about people smoking themselves. We know people can get lung cancer from these toxins. What do you say to people who are -- around you that are smokers or that environment about how dangerous what they're doing is? I mean, how do you deal with that?

HURT: Well, we've known for a long time that secondhand smoke causes lung cancer and heart disease in adults, and causes asthma exacerbations, ear infections, and respiratory infections in children.

But more recently, we've learned that there are immediate effects on the blood vessels in non-smokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke. With five minutes of exposure, it affects your aorta. With 30 minutes of exposure, it affects your cornaries. So there's no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

And secondly, when you're trying to stop smoking, it's really to your disadvantage to be in a smoking environment. So having smoke- free environments is a very positive thing for people who are trying to stop smoking. Plus, smoke-free environments discourage young people from ever starting. So it's a really very good thing to have a smoke-free workplace.

GUPTA: Should we have all public places be smoke-free? Is that the position the Mayo Clinic has?

HURT: I don't think there's any question about that. In fact, whole countries are now -- I'm sitting in a country right now that does not allow smoking in the workplace. England, the other countries in Europe, France, other places around the world, are doing this. And very many, a lot of states in the United States are doing it too. It's a very healthy way to promote non-smoking. And it helps people to stop smoking, too.

GUPTA: Let's -- we got a short time left, but let's see if we can get one more question from our inbox now. Serena from Baltimore writes this. "I quit smoking. How do I get my lungs back?"

Let me say what you're probably going say, Dr. Hurt. Congratulations to Serena, I mean, someone who's actually able to quit smoking. You sort of just talked about this, but how quickly does your health dramatically improve after quitting?

HURT: Well, some of the lung function improves fairly quickly. The lung health study showed that within the first year, the forced vital capacity or the forced ventritory volume increases back up after you stop smoking and then assumes a normal aging curve.

So it depends on, for the answer to the question, it depends on how much damage has been done to the lung. Emphesemenous changes do no revert back to normal. They're permanent, but you have a lot of extra little air sacs in your lungs so that if you haven't damaged too many of them, you can live a normal and productive life.

GUPTA: Dr. Hurt, thanks so much for being with us from London. Safe travels to you. Lots of valuable information for our viewers. Thanks so much.

HURT: Thank you very much.

GUPTA: So if your resolution this year is to quit smoking and lose weight, you're going to be in for a challenge. I'm going to just be honest with you. Four out of every five people who stop smoking do gain some weight, but don't get discouraged. I have some easy tips on how to stay fit while ditching this habit.


GUPTA (voice-over): Quitting smoking and losing weight, both are good for you, but trying to accomplish both at the same time can be difficult.

ERICA BROWNFIELD, DR., ASSOC. PROF. OF MEDICINE, EMORY UNIVERSITY: Your metabolism in smokers who quit smoking actually go down. On average, most people who quit smoking gain about four to ten pounds.

GUPTA: So in addition to a slowing metabolism, studies show that people who quit smoking are more likely to gain the taste for sweet and salty foods and can replace an addiction to cigarettes with an addiction to food.

BROWNFIELD: People who smoke for different reasons, whether it's to reduce stress, to help with depression, after that is no longer there. So they use food as a way to help their depression.

GUPTA: And Dr. Brownfield says you shouldn't use fears of weight gain as an excuse to keep puffing away.

BROWNFIELD: There's no question it's more beneficial to stop smoking than to worry about the extra ponds you might gain afterwards.

GUPTA: So what can you do to avoid the post quit pounds? Well, comes down to the basics, of course. Exercise and eat healthy.

BROWNFIELD: If someone has decided to quick smoking in general, then they need to take that next step and change their whole approach to health with a new attitude.


GUPTA: There is, of course, a psychological component to quitting as well. But rest assured, there are plenty of support groups out there that can help you through that quitting process.

Now herbs and supplements, do you know which alternative therapies are considered safe for your children? We're going to have some tips straight ahead.

Plus, the term comfort food may conjure up images of cookies, chips, mashed potatoes. But believe or not, not all comfort foods are bad. We're going to have some healthy ways to give your body just what it's craving. Stay tuned to HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSE CALL. Nearly 12 percent of children in the United States use some form of alternative medicines. And not everything on the market is great for their bodies. So to help you filter which alternative therapies are child friendly and which are not, Elizabeth Cohen joins us with some tips -- Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sanjay, many people these days are using alternative medicine. Whether going to a chiropractor for a bad back or taking herbs, but many parents have wondered is alternative medicine safe and effective for my child?

Well, I talked to some people who are experts in this area. And they said, yes, there are several alternative medicine approaches that studies have shown work for kids. But not all of them out there are good.

So let's take a look at a couple that the experts I talked to said really have been shown to work and to be safe.

First of all, if your child has colic, which is miserable for both the child and the parent, chamomile tea can help according to these pediatricians. I give you the recipe, how long to steep it, how long to cool it off, all of that in my column this week.

Also, taking fish oil for asthma or eczema is sometimes effective. Again, I give you the dosages in the column. Also, St. John's Wort for teen depression. A lot of teens are on antidepressants these days. Sometimes St. John's Wort could work instead.

Now the key to all of this is talking to your pediatrician, but how do you find a pediatrician who knows anything about alternative medication? That is actually not necessarily that easy to do. We give you two Web sites that will hook you up with pediatricians in your area, who know something about alternative medicine -- Sanjay?

GUPTA: Elizabeth, thanks. And as Elizabeth mentioned there, be sure to read the full list of tips on alternative treatment for kids. There's a lot of information there. You can visit the Web site,

So are you hungrier in the winter months? I know that I am. We have some tips on how to choose the right comfort foods without packing on the pounds.

Plus, dealing with strep throat. If you can't seem to shake this, I got some advice for you on "Ask the Doctor." Stay with HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: You know, when the weather turns cold, many people crave heartier and meatier foods. They can keep us feeling full and warm. Most people love their comfort foods, they call them.

CNN medical correspondent Judy Fortin now with way to keep those comfort foods more nutritious.


JUDY FORTIN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It may be chilly outside. So a steaming bowl of soup may be just what your body is craving.

JULIE SCHWARTZ, REGISTERED DIETITIAN: In the fall and the winter, as it's getting cold outside, we want heartier foods, foods that are going to keep us warm.

FORTIN: Registered dietitian Julie Schwartz cautions that certain comfort foods are high in fat, calories and sodium.

SCHWARTZ: The things such as mashed potatoes, which is just a classic comfort food, they can be made in a very healthful manner. You can cook potatoes in chicken broth. Use some of that broth as the moisture to add back into the potatoes. And they're very, very tasty.

FORTIN: Schwartz recommends making your own soup and stews and watching the salt. She says homemade breads can also be hearty and healthy.

SCHWARTZ: Using half whole wheat flour and half regular flour is the way to make it a healthier end product without a big change in texture or taste.

FORTIN: And watch how much food you put on your plate.

SCHWARTZ: It's about having three to four ounces of pot roast, not 8 to 12 ounces of pot roast.

FORTIN: Warming up without packing on the pounds.

Judy Fortin, CNN, Atlanta.


GUPTA: All right. Thanks, Judy. Up next, you've heard the stories. Terrible infections after operations. Sometimes they can be deadly. Now a viewer wants to know what's the cause of such infections? My answer in "ask the doctor." Stay with HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: Well, it's time for my favorite segment "Ask the Doctor." Let's get right to it.

Here's a question a viewer had for me. Janice from Kansas writes this. "I'm a 50-year-old female in the past three-and-a-half years has been treated for strep throat four times. Should I be concerned," she asks.

Well, Janice, great question and important question. Strep recurrence can happen when the bacteria that you had that's causing the infection is not fully eliminated. They can go undertreated, poorly treated, or completely untreated.

There are a couple of options. You might need a longer course of antibiotics. Talk to your doctor about that. Plus, having recurring strep throat is common in some people. After all, it's highly contagious. In fact, some families can keep giving it to each other over and over again. I know my girls, for example, has given my wife and I their colds. Just colds a little bit different. Those are viruses, but this can happen many times.

Now you can get strep throat any time of the year, but it tends to circulate in the late fall, winter and early spring. The strep bacteria can spread wherever groups of people are in close contact. That's why the infection spreads easily amongst family members and schools, child care settings. And you can pick up from your co- workers as well. If you get strep throat very often, make sure to talk to your doctor about your concerns and some possible treatment options.

We'll get to another question now from Linda in Louisiana who writes this. "Can you tell me what causes infections after an operation?" Well, post operation infection is a serious thing. It can be very serious. And while I wouldn't call it common, it does occur. It's estimated about three out of every 100 patients will get some sort of infection after their surgery.

Keep in mind hospitals can be very dirty places. That's a way to think about this. Lots of bacteria floating around. The most common source of the infection is bacteria getting into the surgical site. It can be from a non sterile environment in the hospital or dirty bandages, fluids that could accumulate under the skin, surrounding the incision that can build up and cause an infection.

So lowering your risk, stay on top of proper hygiene following the operation. Make sure do you this. Make sure to wash your hands often, change bandages, even your bed linens frequently. Keep near around a catheter, for example, if you have one dry and clean.

And if you notice any sort of infection, it's important to get it treated quickly. An infection could cause other problems such as organ damage and would certainly delay your healing. Make sure the people around you are following these rules as well.

Well, 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 And make sure to tune in next week as we continue to jumpstart your health with easy ways you can eat better and also stick with it in 2009. Send us our questions,

Remember, 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.