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Sanjay Gupta MD

The Aging Brain; Human Guinea Pigs; "Hot Cripple" Tells Her Story

Aired March 10, 2012 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Good morning. And thanks for being with us. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

This morning, I want to share a story with you that I latched on to when a producer showed me some films of these old medical experiments that were run by the Army. It's just astonishing.

As we decided to investigate, the story got stranger and stranger. Then, I met the men involved and I saw what those experiments did to them. I'm going to show you as well.

Also, I'm going to introduce you to a model and actress who, like a lot of young people that I've met, thought she was invincible. Life was great -- and then she got hit by a car and everything was turned upside down. How do you recover? She'll teach us. She'll join me in a couple of minutes.

But, first, this new report is calling attention to this crisis in America. I think we call it that. It's Alzheimer's disease. And the numbers are pretty alarming and on the rise.

This year, there will be an estimated 5.4 million Americans living with the disease. A lot of people are asking me about the numbers all the time. And there's a new report out, this report from the Alzheimer's Association, says that an aging baby boomer generation will cause that number to rapidly escalate.

I guess you could guess that. But they say specifically is that the number of cases will increase from 5.4 million to 16 million by the year 2050.

It's devastating. It's a devastating brain disease that, you know, essentially erases your ability to remember moments, experiences and even the people in your life. It destroys nerve cells in your brain that allow you to remember and to think clearly. And over time, it can wipe away a person's ability to carry out basic functions like walking and swallowing.

But, you know, the news isn't all grim. That's what we want to talk about. What's remarkable about this disease is that while there's no cure, we learned that some brain changes actually begin 20 years before any symptoms appear.

And therefore, there are things you can do, if you know this, to slow down its progression. I'm not talking about slowing it by months but potentially by years.

So, joining me to talk about this from Los Angeles, Dr. Gary Small. He's the director of UCLA's Longevity Center. He's also the author of this book called "The Alzheimer's Prevention Program."

Dr. Small, it's good to see you.

You and I have had a chance to talk about this before and you know how fascinated I am with this. You, yourself, had spent 20 years researching how to preserve memory as we age. And you say it is possible to stave off Alzheimer's disease.

As much as we talk about scientific developments, you say simple lifestyle changes make a difference, like exercise, for example. How so?

DR. GARY SMALL, DIRECTOR, UCLA LONGEVITY CENTER: We know that genetics only accounts for part of the risk for developing Alzheimer's disease. That means a non-genetic factors, lifestyle, choices we make every day, have a major impact on how our brains age.

And, in fact, physical exercise probably has the most compelling evidence that it can lower the risk for Alzheimer's. Now, we're not saying we can definitely prevent it in everyone, but the goal is to stave off the symptoms, sometimes for years. And for many people, that may mean never getting the symptoms during their lifetime.

GUPTA: I mean, that's music to lots of people's ears, I imagine. I think you and I talked last time about puzzles and word games and things like that. And there's some research that's been a little bi conflicting on this.

Do they improve your memory or are they actually helping to delay the progression of Alzheimer's?

SMALL: We know that brain games or any kind of mental stimulation is associated with a lower rate of developing the disease. So, most experts recommend that people remain mentally engaged and cross train their brain, train but not strain their brain. But there's not definitive evidence that doing crossword puzzles will necessarily protect your brain from Alzheimer's disease.

On the other hand, simple memory exercises have been shown to help people with their memory ability. And those benefits can be sustained for many year if people learn these techniques.

GUPTA: You know, one of the things that I started doing I think since you and I last spoke was acknowledging the stress that I'm under in my life and knowing that it was a challenge. Now, I spend about 10 to 20 minutes a day try to meditate. I feel better doing that.

But do you think I'm helping my brain? How does stress contribute to memory impairment as we age?

SMALL: Studies show that chronic stress can actually shrink the memory centers of the brain. And experiments with humans injected with stress hormones like cortisol show there's temporary impairment in learning and recall. We also know that chronic stress can lead to depression, which can increase a person's risk.

So, anything that we can do to manage stress better, to do simple exercises, breathing exercises, yoga, meditation and getting back to physical exercise, that's a wonderful way to manage stress. I often recommend people take a brisk walk every day with a friend so they get their cardiovascular conditioning, they're pumping oxygen and nutrients to their brain. And they are lowering the stress level by talking about their day.

GUPTA: I appreciate you talking about this. I think everyone thinks about this either for themselves or their parents perhaps at some point or another. So, some potentially optimistic news out there.

Dr. Gary Small, good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

SMALL: Thank you.

GUPTA: You know, I'll tell you, one country that has the lowest instances of Alzheimer's anywhere in the world is India. There's a lot of science to support the notion that certain spices in the Indian cuisine could help prevent diseases, including Alzheimer's.

And here's what I discovered while visiting one of the world's largest spice markets.


GUPTA: We're here in Old Delhi in the spice market. This may be one of the largest spice markets in all of Asia. Just look around you, all these carts and all these various stalls piled high with spices.

I got to tell you, just being here reminds me very much of my mother. Our house was always filled with the distinctly smell of spices everywhere. She cooked these tasty, delicious foods that are often served with a healthy dose of, it's good for you. That's what she always said.

Well, it turns out she may have been right. Science is starting to catch up with my mom.

Several examples of spices here that have health benefits, cumin, for example. Cumin is a very tasty sort of seed that is thought to ward off prostate cancer, help with indigestion and asthma as well.

When it comes to the star of the spice world, that title may belong to turmeric. It's got that golden yellow color, so distinctive. It is thought to boost brain power by warding off those plaques that can sometimes cause Alzheimer's.

There's also chili pepper. Everyone thinks that chili pepper, when they think of spices, they are very, very hot. I've had them. If they are too hot for you, you can get the beneficial effects of the peppers without eating them. They take these chili peppers, put them into a body cream, and use the active ingredient known as capsaicin to help reduce arthritis.

And, finally, ginger. Ginger is the staple of just about any Asian diet. One of the benefits of ginger, they can help reduce motion sickness.

So, just some of the health benefit of the spices that we see here. I think I'm going to buy some.


GUPTA: Yes, a little blast from the past there in Old Delhi. Lots of spices.

Up next, though, a story that quite honestly was disturbing and it's disgraceful. Everyone will find it disgraceful. U.S. soldiers intimidated, forced, coerced at the hands of the U.S. Army. We'll explain.


GUPTA: Under the microscope this morning, a story that is really just inexcusable.

Private Tim Josephs signed up for the Army fresh out of high school. That was back in 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War. He said it was the right thing to do.

Now, when the Army offered him a chance to volunteer at a base in Maryland, closer to his home in Pittsburgh, he took it. But what he didn't realize is that he was becoming a human test suspect in a top secret program that was testing chemical weapons.

The decision that he made, Josephs says, changed his life forever.


GUPTA (voice-over): When the 18-year-old Private Tim Josephs heard about the chance to volunteer at the Edgewood Arsenal Military Base in Maryland, he jumped at it.

TIM JOSEPHS, EDGEWOOD VOLUNTEER: It was like a plum assignment. And the idea was they would test new Army field jackets, clothing, weapons, things of that nature, no mention of any drugs or chemicals. When I went there, it just did not look like a military base. More like a hospital.

GUPTA (on camera): Describe it. What was it that you saw?

JOSEPHS: Everyone is in lab coats. Some military doctors, I guess, and some were civilian doctors. But you were well aware that you were a private and they were a captain and up.

And I expressed my concern right from the beginning. They took me aside and said, you know, you volunteered for this. If you don't do it, there's most likely prison and a dishonorable discharge.

GUPTA: You were intimidated?


GUPTA: Coerced?


GUPTA: Forced?

JOSEPHS: Forced.

GUPTA: You didn't sign up for this?

JOSEPHS: No, not at all.

GUPTA (voice-over): The tests began almost as soon as Josephs arrived at Edgewood.

JOSEPHS: Sometimes it was an injection. Other times, it was a pill.

GUPTA (on camera): They tell you what it is?

JOSEPHS: The drugs or chemicals were referred to as agent one or agent two. One test I was involved with, I was pretty much out of it all day. And that afternoon, I woke up with Parkinson's symptoms immediately.

GUPTA: So, you had tremor?

JOSEPHS: And aching in the limbs and arms. It's numbness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) over here in the corner. Lying down and looking at the wall.

GUPTA (voice-over): Dr. James Ketchum ran many of the experiments. That's him at Edgewood in this 1963 Army film. He's one of the few Edgewood researchers still living. Ketchum declined to speak with us on camera, but he described his work in this videotape deposition.

DR. JAMES KETCHUM, FORMER EDGEWOOD RESEARCHER: Generally, we were looking for intelligent, healthy, well behaved, patriotic volunteers.

GUPTA: In all, some 7,000 military volunteers or more were part of chemical tests at Edgewood from 1955 to 1975, like the one shown here in this Army film taken at Edgewood.

The military tested at least 250 chemical and biological agents during the Cold War, including potentially lethal nerve agents like VX and sarin, incapacitating drugs like BZ, tear gas, barbiturates, tranquilizers, narcotics and hallucinogens.


GUPTA: This Army film shows soldiers performing drills under the influence of LSD.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The volunteers (INAUDIBLE) have several times. Five minutes later, severe depression caused the medical officers to end participation in the test.

GUPTA: Volunteers were ordered not to tell anyone what happened at Edgewood.


GUPTA: Attorney Gordon Erspamer is suing the Department of Defense and the Department of Veteran Affairs on behalf of Edgewood veterans.

(on camera): What do you hope to get for them in an ideal situation?

ERSPAMER: They're going to get nothing for themselves out of this case other than perhaps medical care. They're not going to get money. They were mistreated. And they don't want to let it be swept under the rug and have everyone die and never see the light of day. That's why they're doing it.

GUPTA (voice-over): Tim Josephs has had Parkinson's-like symptoms on and off throughout his adult life. He was diagnosed with the disease in his mid-50s.

(on camera): Do you think that his Parkinson's was related to the tests that he underwent at Edgewood?

ERSPAMER: Absolutely. Those substances affect the same regions of the brain. Tim clearly had (INAUDIBLE) because gave him such high doses that he ranged from overdose with one substance to the anecdote back and forth. And he actually had to get Topam, which is a very powerful antipsychotic drug because he, in vernacular, flipped out.

GUPTA: At what point does an 18-year-old kid think this is for life? What they are doing to me is going to affect my health for the rest of my life?

JOSEPHS: Things were different then. You believed in your government and you just wouldn't think that they would give you something that would harm you intentionally.


GUPTA: I tell you, we wanted to talk about the lawsuit with the V.A. and the Defense Department. Now citing pending litigation, they declined to be interviewed on camera but did offer us this written statement instead. The Department of Defense said it, quote, "made it a priority to identify all service members exposed to chemical and biological substances."

And the V.A. says they have offered free medical evaluations to thousands of veterans.

Tim Josephs' case and the case of other Edgewood volunteers is now expected to go to trial next year.

Coming up, Hogan Gorman, a former model, former actress, young and healthy, and then suddenly, she got hit by a car. If you don't think it can happen to you, well, neither did she. She tells the story with a sense of humor and some brutal honesty as well. That's next.


GUPTA: You know, we all know people in their 20s or 30s who think they are invincible.

Hogan Gorman did as well, once upon a time. Eight years ago, she was chasing a dream in New York City, former model auditioning for acting roles. And by night, working in some of the city's hottest clubs.

Then, one day, crossing the street, she was hit by a car. She almost died.

But, you know, it's funny how things turn out sometimes. It launched her into this entirely new career as a writer. She has this book. It's called "Hot Cripple." You have to read this book.

Hogan Gorman is joining me now from New York.

Thanks so much. I really enjoyed the book. I really appreciate you talking to us about it

HOGAN GORMAN, AUTHOR, "HOT CRIPPLE": Oh, thank you. I'm glad you liked it.

GUPTA: I know it's been some time now, but what do you remember first of all about getting hit by that car?

GORMAN: Well, the car was doing the wrong way down the one-way street going about 40 miles an hour. My head took out the entire windshield and then they slammed on the brakes and I went flying about 10 feet.

GUPTA: You had injuries to your neck, your back, your knee. You have a severe concussion, long-term effects.


GUPTA: You were on your way to work. I know at the time you were trying to do various jobs. I mean, so how did -- what happened next? As someone who was so injured, what did you do to try and just live?

GORMAN: Well, I ended up on food stamps, Medicaid, Social Security disability. I had to borrow money from these loan shark-type people that loan people money against their settlements because I couldn't work and I had to survive and try to get better.

GUPTA: And I think I am reading -- it was your lawyer who suggested you sign up for food stamps and for Medicaid. I mean, why didn't you think of that? Was that something that had ever crossed your mind?

GORMAN: It had never crossed your mind. It had never -- I remember saying to my lawyer, well, isn't that for -- isn't Medicaid for old people?

GUPTA: Right.

GORMAN: He said, no, Medicare is for seniors. Medicaid is for poor people.

It was just not, you know, something that I knew a lot about.

GUPTA: You're an actress, you're a writer. Eventually, you turned this whole experience of yours into a play.

I'm just wondering, you know, from a human sort of resilient standpoint, you were really beaten down by what happened. How did you decide, OK, you know what? Let's shift directions and turn this misery into something else?

GORMAN: I had to figure out how to turn the lemons life had given me into lemon margaritas, so to speak. And the only way I knew how to do that, being an actress, was to, you know, perform it.

And so, I wrote a one-woman show. I had never written anything before, and I decided that, you know, I'd play 25 different characters, which is kind of schizophrenia and narcissism all wrap into one. And I put it up at the New York French Festival.

And I didn't know how it would go over. I didn't know if people would find my story boring. I had no idea.

But it turned out to be a big hit. And people would come up to me after the show talking about their only health care or welfare nightmares. And I ended up winning the French Festival, the best actress award there, which was kind of nice. So --

GUPTA: That's a pretty -- coming full circle.

GORMAN: Yes, that was the only way I knew how to process. Yes.

GUPTA: Yes. Well, it's a great book. It's called "Hot Cripple." It's title you can't forget either. Hogan, I don't know how long it took you to come up with that.

But, look, I appreciate you joining us. I'm glad you're doing much better. And good luck. Let's talk about sometime.

GORMAN: OK. Thank you so much. You have a good day.

GUPTA: You, too.

And up next, a doctor who is offering his patients a taste of his own medicine. Remember Dr. Scott Zahn? Last year, he took part in our Fit Nation Challenge. Well, this year, he decided to organize his own challenge. He'll tell us about it. That's next.


GUPTA: Hey, you know, you might remember Dr. Scott Zahn from last year's Fit Nation challenge. He joined our team in part to become a role model for his own patients. He shed 50 pounds in the process. He also dropped three medications.

And he's doing something else. He's inspiring those around him to try, too.

And Scott joins me now via Skype from Green Bay, Wisconsin.

You've got your own try challenge, Dr. Zahn, which I love. Where did you get the idea for that?

DR. PAUL ZAHN, 2011 FIT NATION TRIATHLETE: Well, we kind of stole it from you guys, what you did it and bringing it back home.

GUPTA: I think it's great.

And how hard was this? And this idea, again, of trying to get other people to join you to do a triathlon -- what was the reaction from your colleagues, your friends, your employees that are doing this with you?

ZAHN: Well, it actually wasn't that hard when they saw what had happened to me, the transformation that I had made. So a lot of people were very excited about trying it themselves. We had about 50 employees that had applied. It was hard to just pick some of them to be part of our 6-pack.

GUPTA: Why, you know, it's interesting because you try and get people, obviously, from around the country to sign up for this and we have people submit videos. Why did you hear from your coworkers that they were signing up for this? What seemed to be overreaching goal -- overarching, I should say, goal?

ZAHN: The stories that I heard locally were a lot of the same ones that you guys saw at the national, the lucky seven for this year, you know, wanted to change their lives, wanted to kind of restart things. They used to be healthy but weren't anymore, wanting to get off medications, lose weight, lead a healthier lifestyle.

GUPTA: You know, one of the things we talked about quite a bit is using this lifestyle as medication. You got off medications yourself, and I think a few of your try athletes have a history of heart disease or have heart disease.

How does that work out for them? What are they doing and what do you tell them as a doctor?

ZAHN: As a doctor, I tell them that it's something that they can certainly do. You know, look at me as an example, getting off of three medications and still able to stay off of them. The people, the 6-pack here, they're also having that same goal -- to get off of medications, to get off cholesterol medication and blood pressure medication.

And so far, with the weight loss they've seen, it looks like they're going on be able to do that, as well.

GUPTA: I appreciate you playing it forward, so to speak. Hopefully, other people who are watching can think about starting their own teams. Nothing better than keeping you more motivated than having a team of people who are pushing it along a little bit.

ZAHN: And it's always better as a team. If you have people going forward as a team, you support each other and you achieve your goals much better.

GUPTA: I'm proud of you, Dr. Scott Zahn. Appreciate it. You're a great role model for a lot of people out there. Good luck. We'll see you soon.

ZAHN: Sounds good. Have a great day, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Stress, you know, we al have it. But internalize it, that's the problem. That can have a negative impact on your body. This has been studied -- with headaches, heartburn, even high blood pressure.

So do you want to live life to 100? Find some time today to laugh, a big belly laugh. It will be the most memorable part of your day. And also, laughter is great way to relieve some of that stress. Studies show that even faking laughter has a possible impact on your stress in overall happiness. I hope that helps.

That's going to wrap things up for us this morning. But, you know, next week is a really big week for me. My first novel, "Monday Mornings," is being published on Tuesday. In it, I get a chance to pull back the curtains on medical mistakes at a hospital and how hospitals handle them. We'll talk about it right here next week, SGMD, Saturday and Sunday, 7:30 Eastern.

Time now, though, to get you a check of your top stories in "THE CNN NEWSROOM."