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March 4th, 2010
04:11 PM ET

How can I reduce salt in my diet?

As a feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers' questions. Here's a question for Dr. Gupta.

From Jack, who lives in New Jersey

My doc says I need to cut back my sodium. What is the best way?

Answer:

I can tell you, Jack, first of all this may be one of the most important questions we answer. When it comes to sodium, we simply eat too much. The average American consumes about 4,000mg per day of salt in his or her diet a day, but as an adult, we really need about half that – 2,300mg per day. Simply cutting back on sodium could potentially save about 150,000 lives a year according to the American Medical Association.

Of course, that's easier said than done. Especially because salt is hidden in almost everything we eat. Frozen foods are one of biggest culprits. Even the "healthy" frozen dinners can contain as much sodium as a person needs in an entire day. A big reason manufacturers pump their products with extra salt is that it's a good preservative – makes the shelf life longer. Canned foods, cereal and pastries are also some of the biggest culprits of '”hidden” high sodium levels. That is why reading the ingredient label is so crucial when you're shopping at the grocery store.

A good rule of thumb when reading labels is try to find foods that that have fewer than 5 ingredients. That's really going to help you make healthy food choices overall. Specific to sodium, pay attention to not only how many grams are listed on the label, but also the serving size. One can of soup lists a sodium content of 500mg, but if you examine the label a little further, the can of soup could contain three servings. That means eating one can of soup can almost tap out the amount of sodium you should have for the entire day.

One thing that we do in our house is never leave crackers or cookies just sitting out in a big box. We portion high-sodium and snack foods out which is really important because it helps limit the mindless eating that's so easy to do. Also, I've found a lot of people cook with salt or add it to prepared food for extra flavor simply out of habit. If that sounds like you, Jack, one tip is to remove the salt shaker from your table – just get it out of there altogether. You'll most likely find you don't even miss it. You can also take a trip to the spice isle next time you're at the grocery store. There are several salt substitutes and other salt-free seasonings that will add flavor to your food, without increasing your sodium intake. Incorporating just a few of these small changes into your daily diet can dramatically change your sodium intake. And Jack, I'm willing to bet you hardly notice any change in taste.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


February 18th, 2010
02:17 PM ET

How do I pick a fish oil supplement?

As a feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers' questions. Here's a question for Dr. Gupta.

From Stanley in New Jersey:

“With all the different information available on the Web, how does one determine what to look for in a fish oil supplement?

Answer:

Stanley, I’m glad you’re being proactive about your health and considering fish oil. It’s actually one of the few vitamins and supplements I take and there’s plenty of scientific evidence to show it can be a powerful tool in preventing disease. Fish oil supplements contain omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce a person’s risk of heart attack and heart disease and protect against stroke, dementia and other cognitive problems.

The American Heart Association even recommends that people with high triglyceride levels take 2 to 4 grams of fish oil supplements containing EPA & DHA. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are the two fatty acids in fish oil thought to have the biggest benefits.

However, before taking any supplement you should speak with your health care provider. In the case of fish oil supplements, the FDA warns not to take more than 2 grams of fish oil per day. If you take high doses there can be side effects such as excessive bleeding or possibly an interaction with another medication you’re taking.

To get specifics on what you should look for when choosing your supplement I asked Dr. Brent Bauer. He’s the director of the complementary and integrative medicine program at the Mayo Clinic. He said he recommends three things to his patients:
No. 1 Go big. Look for large manufacturers, which will most likely have been in the business longer and are not a “fly-by-night” outfit you might solely on the Internet.
No. 2 Look for the seal. Companies including USP and NSF analyze supplements for the real vitamin level and for any impurities. The seal on the label tells you an independent company has reviewed the supplement.
No. 3 Check them out. There are groups that offer independent reports (for a fee) of different brands on the market.

I should also add that all the experts I’ve talked to say, if possible, it’s better to get your omega-3s from fatty fish such as salmon and tuna rather than from a supplement.


February 11th, 2010
05:09 PM ET

Why I returned to Haiti

CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is in Haiti on assignment. Shortly after returning home to the United States, he decided to return to Haiti. He describes his decision process and why he felt such a strong need to return to Haiti.


February 11th, 2010
09:48 AM ET

Disaster relief at any cost

CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is on assignment in Haiti. He reports on a relief fund that is reimbursing U.S. hospitals for caring for Haiti's quake victims.


February 10th, 2010
10:32 AM ET

Inside TB quarantine tents

CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has returned to Haiti on assignment. He reports that doctors treating Haitians are worried that drug-resistant tuberculosis could spread worldwide.


February 9th, 2010
11:55 AM ET

Survivor buried 4 weeks?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta has returned to Haiti on assignment. In this piece, he reports on a quake survivor who may have been trapped in debris for four weeks.


February 9th, 2010
09:34 AM ET

Returning to Haiti. Tipping the scales of faith.

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Medical Chief Correspondent

When I told my wife I wanted to go back to Haiti, she had the reaction I expected. “The girls really missed you when you were gone last time,” she said. “I am worried that you lost too much weight down there,” she added. And, “what about your safety, physical and mental well being?” she concluded. They were all the reactions I expected. The car was then silent as we were driving through our neighborhood on a rainy Saturday morning. In that quiet, we both realized something essential. I knew she was right, on all counts. And, still, she knew it was the right thing to do. She was the first to speak and break the silence. “Truth is, I would go with you,” she whispered. “I would like to help as well.”

Dr. Sanjay Gupta in Port-Au-Prince hospital.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta in Port-Au-Prince hospital.

I thought about that conversation a lot on the middle-of-the-night flight to Florida, a connection to Santo Domingo at 3 a.m. and then finally the early morning arrival in Port-au-Prince. She has seen the images on television of the unfathomable suffering over the last month, and she was affected by it in more ways than I realized. Over the few days I was home, we hardly talked about what I had seen in Haiti. I felt the need to protect her from those stories, some of which I may never share with anyone - and she was cognizant of the desire to not re open the emotional images. She also knew that while I was physically home, my mind never left Haiti.

Most of the time I was in Haiti, I was a doctor. With the cameras off, I saw patient after patient, most of them with head injuries and with no access to a neurosurgeon. Many of them needed reassurance, and a few needed emergent operations. As a reporter, I was able to help highlight the stark difference between most international aid, and medical aid. In short, the requirement for medical aid was immediate –measured literally in minutes and hours. If action wasn’t taken, and quickly, people would die that could’ve been saved. As a father, I held a lot of small hands and offered a soothing voice, to children whose parents had been lost.

So many times over the past month, I had my faith completely trashed as I saw unjustified loss of life and suffering. I saw amputations being performed without adequate anesthesia as nurses and doctors held down a patient while performing brutal operations. I saw the tears running down those same nurses and doctors cheeks while their faces were steeled with desperation, determination and a little anger at the awful position they were all in together.

But, I also had moments where my faith was restored. Small improvements in water distribution, a slow trickle of supplies turning into a river of good will, a rush of health care providers and private citizens with sleeves rolled up and grit on their skin. Like my wife, they all wanted to help, in any way possible.

If you look throughout the history of our own lives, there are a few occasions when we see something that galvanizes the entire world. In a world where there is too much bickering about politics, and too much fascination with pop culture, every now and then people simply come together. I returned to Haiti because I wanted to show the slow but inevitable medical recovery happening here. People should not forget what has happened and what will be necessary for a long time to come. I returned because I wanted to remind people of the relentless and extraordinary resolve of the beautiful Haitian people. I came back because the story I am telling is of the scales of faith being tipped here, just a little bit.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


January 29th, 2010
02:00 PM ET

Haiti babies' survival unsure

CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta was on assignment in Haiti. On Thursday he reported on the challenges facing newborns in earthquake-devastated Haiti.


January 28th, 2010
11:59 AM ET

What is the risk of HIV infection in Haiti?

As a feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers' questions. Here's a question for Dr. Gupta.

From Lise in Quebec:

How are you protecting yourself from AIDS while trying to help people in Haiti? I know AIDS was already prevalent there.

Answer:

Lise, thank you for the question. Whenever possible, all medical professionals here in Haiti are following normal medical hygiene protocols; we wear gloves and make sure medical instruments are sanitized even if in some cases that’s done with alcohol.

Just to be clear, HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is not easily spread. In fact according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the chances of a health care worker becoming infected with HIV from an open cut or even an open wound is no higher than approximately .3 percent.

We asked Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, about the AIDS problem in Haiti during this crisis and he said that “(AIDS) is the very least of the problems that health care workers will face in Haiti. The prevalence of HIV in Washington, D.C., is higher than that in Haiti and so you can make the case that an emergency room health care personnel who sees a lot of trauma in a general hospital in D.C. is at an even greater risk of getting stuck with a contaminated needle…than is a health care worker in Haiti”

In recent years, Haiti has shown some improvement in infection rates and antiretroviral use. As of the United Nations’ last report, Haiti has lower HIV/AIDS prevalence than the Bahamas. According to the World Health Organization, two thirds of HIV infections are in sub-Saharan Africa.


January 26th, 2010
06:08 PM ET

It's just survival

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

A couple of days ago, a man was stoned to death about a block from where we are staying in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I have been down here nearly two weeks covering the earthquake devastation, having arrived quickly the morning after it occurred. I didn’t see the stoning myself, but several of my colleagues described a man who had been trying to steal money and was met with swift and deadly citizen justice. A lot was made of this particular tragedy, and if you caught only that headline, you might be left believing the incident was in some way emblematic of what was happening all over the place. Truth is, even though I braced myself to see rampant lawlessness and mob hostility, I wanted to blog about what I have actually seen.

As I drove through the streets of Port-au-Prince, just 16 hours after the earthquake, I was met with stunned stares and unfathomable grief, as parents tried to dig their babies out of the rubble and older kids did the same for their parents. It was heartbreaking. And though we raced out with our first aid bags to help those we could, it seemed like we would never be able to make a dent in the suffering. There were people who died in this earthquake and those who lived – but there were also a large number of people somehow caught in between. They were alive, but terribly injured and dying. That is where we focused our attention. Terrible crush injuries of arms and legs. Degloving injuries, where the skin of the arms or legs was ripped away. And, people so malnourished and dehydrated that they could barely walk.

I expected to see those stunned stares turn to desperation, and that desperation turn to brutality. It didn’t. In fact, I remember driving by a water station that had finally opened on January 18th, five days after the earthquake struck. It stayed in my mind for two reasons. First of all, five days is a long time to go with little to no water, especially in Haiti heat. Second of all, there was no pushing, shoving or aggressive behavior. There were no armed guards and there was a tight line, with people waiting patiently. Some were even singing songs, while blistering away in the heat. I almost cried. A piece of my faith in humanity, which had been trashed by too many terrible images, was slowly restored.

A couple of days later, I was seeing patients at one of the hospitals in downtown. It was actually more of a tent city situated outside the hospital, where care was sparse and misery was thick. Helping care for wounds, evaluate injuries and even perform surgery – every single patient said thank you, in Creole, French and English. Thank you. When recounting this to a neurosurgery colleague of mine, he reminded me that we could often go months working at a county hospital in the states without ever hearing those two words.

Over the last two weeks, I have not seen the violence Haiti has been known for in years past. During this time, when lawlessness had been put to the test, it seems the people of Port-au-Prince stood tall, dignified and with respect for one another. Yes, there has been “looting” from stores of supplies. But, is “looting” even the correct term for people taking basic necessities for themselves and their families? Instead, it is just survival, and faced with the same situation, I would’ve likely been right there with them, wanting to preserve the lives of my wife and children.

Consider this a blog that went beyond a headline, and presented a reporter’s on-the-ground view of this very important issue. I won’t pretend that this is more than a slice of life in the aftermath of a terrible natural disaster, but it is my slice, and I wanted to share it with you. Thank you – for reading it.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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