Return to Transcripts main page

Vital Signs with Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Diet Designed to Prevent Heart Disease Examined; Fitness Tracking Devices Assessed; CNN Anchor's Struggle with Amputation Profiled. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired October 03, 2015 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:08] DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, and welcome to this very special edition of "Sanjay Gupta MD" coming to you today from picturesque Malibu, California.

A couple years ago I was feeling a little lethargic, a little overweight, run down. What I needed was a reset button for my life, and I found it in what has become one of my favorite components of this job. For the last six years the CNN Fit Nation program has taken some of our viewers who needed a little kick in the pants and transformed them into triathletes. And this year is no different. There's our team right there.

But as we've always said, it's not all about them. It's for you as well. Namely, it comes in the norm form of three pillars of advice about diet, exercise, and sleep.

First up, your diet. Arguably this is the most important of these three pillars of wellness. You have probably heard me talk about this before, but I think of food as medicine, and I say this with good reason. The Cleveland Clinic's Dr. Caldwell Esselystyn says this really works.


GUPTA: Every month, a 77-year-old Esselystyn holds a day-long seminar attracting doctors and heart patients from across the country, like Sharon Kintz, a retired private investigator from Canton, Ohio. Kintz had a heart attack six months earlier after a coronary artery became completely blocked.

SHARON KINTZ: He said for someone who had what you have, the only warning you usually get is death. And at that point I really knew how lucky I was.

GUPTA: Like a lot of women, Kintz did not experience the classic chest pain, but rather fatigue and a pain in her jaw.

KINTZ: He said you're going to have to have open heart surgery. He said I can fix you today. I can just take you down to the OR and I can operate on you right now. My son was in there and he was ready to wheel me down to operating room because he was frantic. You know, it was terrifying.

GUPTA: What Kintz did next may surprise you. She turned the surgeon down cold, said no to open heart surgery, and decided to take a chance.

KINTZ: I bought parsnips the other day.

GUPTA: Using food as medicine.

KINTZ: I love these.

GUPTA: Like President Clinton, Kintz has given up the food she loves, like butter and cheese. She is betting her life on Dr. Esselystyn's diet.


GUPTA: You know Sharon.

ESSELSTYN: Yes. Doctors recommended she have an intervention. She is not doing it.

GUPTA: Is there a downside? Could she be putting herself at risk?

ESSELSTYN: No. I think that's an excellent question. In hundreds of patients, data now going back over 20 years, and more recent study about a decade, once they start eating this way you will make yourself heart attack proof. We know that if people are eating this way, they're not going to have a heart attack.

GUPTA: Esselystyn thinks heart disease is completely preventable no matter what sort of family history you have simply by eating right.

ESSELSTYN: It's a food borne illness. And we are never going to end the epidemic with stents, with bypasses, with the drugs, because none of it is treating causation of the illness.

GUPTA: You have some easy to remember adages about how people can decide what they should or should not eat.

ESSELSTYN: We know what they should not, and that is oil, dairy, meet, fish, and chicken. What we them to eat, we want them to eat those whole grains, whether cereal, bread, and pasta, beans, vegetables, yellow, red, green, and fruit. Now what particular vegetables do we want you to have? Collared green, mustard greens, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, parsley, spinach, arugula, and asparagus. And I'm out of breath.


GUPTA: Sharon Kintz survived a heart attack a year ago after a coronary artery became completely blocked. Now she is counting on the Esselystyn diet to keep her from having another.

DR. ADNAN ZAIDI, AULTMAN HOSPITAL: Thankfully your heart muscle function is normal.

GUPTA: Kent's cardiologist says so far so good with the diet.

ZAIDI: It's a difficult sell, but those that get on it have benefitted from it without question.

GUPTA: I asked Sharon Kintz to meet me here in New York City. You know, cooking at home is one thing, but eating on the road, eating on the run is quite another. As the old saying goes, if her diet can make it here, it can make it anywhere.

And 46th and Broadway, please.

Hi, Sharon, how are you?

When you cook at home, it's a lot more under your control. What's the most difficult thing when you're on the road?

[14:35:00] KINTZ: What I see here is pizza, which is not, because I'm sure there is oil in it. And that looks like pepperoni.

When I look up here I see pasta. So my question would be when I go in, do you have whole wheat pasta? And then my second question is can you prepare it without oil? And that's a not. But they have pasta and they have salad.

GUPTA: Do you think it can make you live longer?

KINTZ: I hope so. I hope I get to see you retire.


GUPTA: I hope you will live a very long time.

KINTZ: I hope I do, too. You know what, if I don't live longer, I know I'm going to live more of a quality life.

GUPTA: And Sharon Kintz is doing it using food as medicine.


GUPTA: Now once you've learned to fuel your body right, you've also got to keep it moving. And lately we're trying to figure out exactly how much we're moving. So up next the best fitness trackers money can buy. Stay with us.


GUPTA: If you're anything like me, you might like to track your exercise as an incentive to go harder and go further to your next workout. But what is the best tech to help you do just that? Well, we decided to bring along Christina Farr. She is the editor of KQED's health and technology blog, "The Future of You." Thank you for joining us.


GUPTA: Not a bad spot, huh?

FARR: I know.

GUPTA: It's how we do all of our television shoss.

FARR: Well, you can have me back any time then.

GUPTA: All right, I love it.

This is something I'm fascinated by. You can see I'm wearing my own tracker. As a doctor, I'm always curious how do you distinguish between fitness trackers and things that can serve as medical devices?

FARR: Pretty much everything you and I are wearing today, that is all for fitness. I have got a misfit. I've got a jawbone, a fit bit. None of them have been approved by the FDA which is the regulatory body that looks at medical devices. So you wouldn't really want to use these for clinical purposes. This is really just a fitness tracking.

[14:40:04] GUPTA: So is there value in terms of actually interfacing with your doctor or somebody who is actually thinking about your health, do these fitness trackers play any role then?

FARR: It depends on who your doctor is. If you have sort of a traditional doctor who is not used to looking at this kind of data, they might just ask you to put it away or ignore it. If you have a doctor who is interested and wants to talk to you about your steps and sleep, it might be useful to bring along some of these devices.

GUPTA: I think as a doctor I might like to actually see some of that info. It gives me some idea at least. I did find it very interesting, though, that all of these devices are out there and this study came out, this is your phone, the phone was actually as good if not better than most of these trackers.

FARR: It's amazing. I have been tracking my own steps today just coming from the airport. I have been wearing the fit bit and I have also have a jawbone and a misfit. And my phone, the health app on my phone is actually giving me very similar data as all of these devices. I've got about 5,000 steps, halfway towards my goal. So if you're not really thinking about buying one of these you can just use your smart phone and that is perfectly good enough.

GUPTA: You just have to carry it around all of the time.

FARR: Most of us do anyway, right?

GUPTA: Yes, I guess if you're exercising that's always been the challenge if I go for a run or something do I want my phone with me. But talk about some of these devices. You know, you have the one around your neck, first of all, let's start there, because it catches everyone's attention.

FARR: Oh, yes. This is a misfit device. And they specialize in wearables for women. A lot of them are very clunky and masculine and big. And it could overshadow your other accessories. This one I like because it is sort of stylish. And it looks sleek and it does steps. You just have to hit this button twice and it will just turn on.

GUPTA: It's a real piece of jewelry there.

FARR: It really is, yes. It's a fashion item.

This is one I just started using, and this one actually tracks your breathing rate. It can tell you if you're stressed or anxious, maybe need to calm down, take a deep breath.

GUPTA: So it must be looking at your diaphragm or getting a sense of your motion from your diaphragm.

FARR: Or your abdominal area, and it is picking up on every itty- bitty movement you make.

GUPTA: Most of these things, though, as you probably know end up in a drawer within a couple three months. People just don't seem to be sticking with it. Why is that? And what do you think can be done about it?

FARR: A lot of people say it's because right now we're still in the very early days of this wearable trend. So we're much more still in a data collection part of it and not in the insights part. So if you want to find out some concrete advice, things you can do to improve your health, a fitness tracker like this will not really do it. So I think you need something more than basic data. But I think that's the next phase.

GUPTA: It's got to give you some context for what you're looking at. And it will be interesting to see does it just go more and more? Do we start measuring all these different things or at some point do we say enough is enough? Who knows, who knows? But thank you very much for joining us.

FARR: Thanks for having me.

GUPTA: We have a lot more coming from Malibu today, but first, as promised, I want to give you some tips for what I think is one of the most important parts of the whole equation, getting a better night's sleep.

We don't get enough sleep in the United States. In fact, we're getting less sleep than ever. And I'll admit it, I'm guilty of it as well. In this country alone, tens of millions of prescriptions are written for sleep medications. People are taking these medications more than ever, and they're taking them in the hope of getting good sleep which sometimes they can help with. But keep in mind, a lot of times these types of pills, the effects can last much longer than you realize.

The best way to get a good night sleep is to make it a priority. Think about this and really think about the fact that you are going to schedule your time, you're going to schedule your sleep time, awake time. You are going to avoid caffeine and other stimulants later in the day. Ultimately if you exercise on a regular basis, which you should, maybe try and do that earlier in the day as well.

Put the devices away. The devices tend to stimulate the mind making it much harder to turn the mind off and actually get to sleep. And finally, practice something known as good sleep hygiene. They say you want to keep your room around 70 degrees or so. Make sure you can darken the room as much as possible. And obviously take away any stimulation that might keep you awake. So rule number one, don't sacrifice your sleep for just about anything. Do that, and you will likely live to 100.


[14:48:28] GUPTA: I'll tell you, one of my favorite assignments recently was getting to spend some quality time with my good pal Miles O'Brien. You probably recognize Miles from his many years as an anchor here on CNN. Last year when he was on assignment for PBS in Japan, a pelican case, this is sort of a camera case, fell on his arm and it resulted in something known as acute compartment syndrome. It's a very long story, but what happened in the ends was that Miles had to have his left arm amputated above the elbow. Just five months after his accident, Miles was on this 300 mile charity back ride across the state of Michigan, imagine that. And he invited me to tag along.

Most people watching could not imagine doing this 300 mile bike ride.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: I don't want people to get the wrong idea. This is not for everyone. This is -- everybody has their own path to ride, quite literally.

GUPTA: It's not a race. It's a ride. So we don't have to worry about time. We can bike at a comfortable pace, comfortable enough for us to talk. And on this beautiful summer morning, we go back to those dark days after Miles first lost his arm when he was in that hotel room alone and stayed silent about what had happened to him.

So those nine days when you say you didn't want to go there, what did that mean? You didn't think you'd come back?

[14:50:00] O'BRIEN: Yes. I didn't think I would be me again.

GUPTA: It was tough to ask this next question, especially to a close friend. But I had always wondered what was really going through his mind those first few days after his amputation.

I worried that you may have been suicidal at that time.

O'BRIEN: Well, I could see myself getting there, I really could have. You know, I could have easily just not come back. Honestly of course that stuff things cross your mind.

GUPTA: I was talking to my wife about it, and I said you didn't talk to anybody for a long time. We thought maybe you were thinking about it and didn't want anyone to know or talk you out of it.

O'BRIEN: Well, I needed to sort through those full range of options, and I mean the full range, on my own. But you know, I got through it, that's all I can say.

GUPTA: Look at you now.

O'BRIEN: And I'm back. I feel like I'm going to be 13.5 miles, a few more to go, but whether I do 300 miles or not, this morning, it was a beautiful July day. I feel very much alive. And I feel very grateful to be alive.

GUPTA: This is a privilege to be able to do this.

At one point during the ride, the Go Pro we attached to Miles' bicycle falls out of place.

We've got to adjust the Go Pro quick.

O'BRIEN: I can't. Can you do it side by side?

GUPTA: Instead of stopping to adjust, Miles pedals up next to the car where our cameraman is filming so he can reach over and help him fix it.

O'BRIEN: Good? Already, cool. Man, inflight fueling, that was awesome.

GUPTA: It's a typical Miles moment. See the problem, adjust, fix it, but don't stop moving. There is a lesson here for everyone. With all of Miles' big goals, like finishing this ride, I realized it was really the little victories that get him through each day.

I learned so much on that bike ride, I will tell you. Miles finished that 300 mile ride, and guess what. He is here with me now in Malibu. You're going to do a triathlon. Amazing. How have you been doing?

O'BRIEN: I've been doing great. I'm kind of going one challenge at a time through my list. All of these things were things I did before. I always ran and biked and I did triathlons before. And I wanted to as best I could get back to the old me. It's taking some time, but I'm getting there.

GUPTA: We talked a lot about the fact that another way that you changed was you let love into your life in a way that you had not before. You let people give you a hand and thought of them as actually people who just love you.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it's been the most powerful thing by far that has happened to me. I -- it really is strange to say this, but this has made me a better person in so many ways. It has changed my relationships with my kids and my family. I am willing to let them in in a way that I wasn't because I was this guy who wanted to do it all on his own. Ultimately that's how I got my injury. I was a one-man band in the Philippines trying to do my think, not seeking help may as I should. And it's a very powerful and counterintuitive lesson for a lot of us who feel like if you seek out help that is a sign of weakness. It's the exact opposite. It's a sign of strength.

GUPTA: I'm lucky to have you as a friend.

O'BRIEN: It's good to be here. GUPTA: Yes, great to be here.

We'll be right back.


[14:57:31] GUPTA: We are back with SGMD. The reason we're coming to you from Malibu today is because of these guys. The 2015 Fit Nation six pack, six extraordinary people chosen from hundreds of applicants who are all looking to change their lives. I want to show you a look now to how they got here.


GUPTA: Erica Moore, Julia and Eugene Smookler, Chip Greenidge, Linda Garrett, and Robert Lyle, six participants came together in January to start their journey. They were new to the sport, and over the course of eight long months would learn to swim, bike, and run, all in preparation for the Nautica Malibu Triathlon.

With their newfound skills and the voice of their coach, April Gellatly, cheering them on, they headed back home to train. In May they came together again in southern California for a week of hardcore training.

JULIA SMOOKLER, FIT NATION TRIATHLETE: The experience has been amazing. Eating habits, we try to help each other out with that. Meal planning, we have been able to give each other the time to really support each other.

LINDA GARRETT, FIT NATION TRIATHLETE: I tried running today. It is a setback. I will finish the race. I will finish the race.

ERICA MOORE, FIT NATION TRIATHLETE: I really got in the zone and I really feel like I awakened the triathlete within myself.

CHIP GREENIDGE, FIT NATION TRIATHLETE: I'm going to do it. That's what I put my mind to do, and anything I put my mind to do, I do.

GREENIDGE: I can't believe I'm doing this.

GUPTA: And now it is game time. The half mile swim in the Pacific, 18 miles of biking on the Pacific Coast Highway, a four mile run, and then the finish line in triumph.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It feels great.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was incredible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I did it, I did it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can't wait to sign up for my next one, man.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a thrilling feeling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am so proud of my wife. Thanks CNN and Sanjay Gupta. You made it happen for us.


GUPTA: Can you believe it? They did it, triathletes. I can tell you, it feels really, really good. Look, no matter who you are, what you struggle with, where you live, we can help you hit the reset button as well. So follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, keep up with the latest when it comes to your health.

[15:00:00] It's time now, though, to get you back in the CNN Newsroom for a check of your top stories making news right now.