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April 11th, 2008
10:51 AM ET

Let's talk about sex

By Val Willingham

Medical Producer

 

I've been reading a lot about sex lately. Not the stuff with nothing-to-the-imagination pictures or racy prose.  I'm talking health studies on sex. It's bad enough that we are bombarded 24/7 with details of Lindsay Lohan's exploits or Madonna's great sex life, but now serious medical journals are taking up the once-taboo topic.

 

But scientists say sex shouldn't be taboo.  Knowing how people conduct their sex lives is important, they say. It helps us understand that we're probably not so different from the rest of the world.  Just recently an article in a prestigious journal announced that the optimal amount of time for sexual intercourse was three to 13 minutes. (Read more about the study)  Seems therapists looked at 1,500 couples in 2005 and found the median duration was 7.3 minutes.  Women in the study were actually armed with stopwatches.  How romantic.

 

"There are so many myths in our culture of what other people are doing sexually," says Marianne Brandon, a clinical psychologist and director of Wellminds Wellbodies in Annapolis, Maryland. "Most people's sex lives are not as exciting as other people think they are."

 

Therapists I've talked to say your sex life is like your fingerprint.  No two are the same.  What works for some doesn't work for others. We spend so much time worrying about measuring up to Heidi Klum or Matthew McConaughey that we miss the moment. Analyzing sex and putting it under a microscope, to me, just takes the fun and passion out of it.

 

I realize sex studies will continue.  But wouldn't it be nice if the money they put into this kind of research could go to finding the cure for breast, prostate or cervical cancer?    Who cares if you go three minutes or three hours? If you wake up smiling, that's all that counts.  Put the stopwatches away, and get down to some real research.

 

What do you think? 

 

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. 

 


April 10th, 2008
10:44 AM ET

Delay aging by a decade

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Chief Medical Correspondent

I get up just about every day and extol the virtues of exercise, good diet and general healthy living to our global CNN audience. Most people understand that exercise is good for you, but for a long time, the question has been how good? Sure, it makes you look trim and healthy, but would it be more incentive if I told you that it not only will make you look younger, but you will actually be younger?  Watch Dr. Gupta's report on CNN.

That’s right, there is growing evidence, including a new study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine (read study) that shows maintaining aerobic fitness through middle age could delay biological aging by 12 years. Think about it. The way we measure age is pretty arbitrary, literally based on revolutions of planets. What is far more important to doctors is someone’s physiological age. After all, we probably all know 50-year olds who have the health of a 40-year old and unfortunately, vice-versa.

This particular study shows aerobic exercise, such as jogging, improves the body’s oxygen consumption and its ability to generate energy. That in turns leads to the slowing and possible reversal of the inevitable decline of our body’s function. We can, for all intents and purposes, become younger.

When I was researching material for my book Chasing Life, I also learned how important upper-body training is, for both men and women. Simply adding some upper body strength increased muscle mass, improved bone density and increased lung capacity – all important things to extend life. Do you have some other ideas? Forget for one second about simply looking younger - how do you think we can become biologically younger today?

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.


April 9th, 2008
12:51 PM ET

Hormones in milk

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Chief Medical Correspondent

Ever since we had our two daughters, my wife has been insistent on buying organic milk. She looks specifically for milk free of added growth hormone, or more specifically free of rBST, recombinant bovine somatotropin. It's more expensive, sometimes more than double the price, and I was never quite sure if it makes any difference. Still, I understand her concern.

rbST

Well, Wal-Mart does too apparently. The company recently announced that its store brand milk will come solely from cows free of artificial growth hormone, which is given to cows to increase milk production. They join Kroger, Safeway, Publix and Starbucks, to name a few. The change seems to be fueled mainly by public concerns rather than specific science.

As we investigated this story, I found that most of the peer-reviewed science out there does not support a link between hormones in milk and cancer, nor with early puberty in girls, which is a widely circulated concern. Common sense, my wife tells me should prevail. "How could artificial hormones possibly be good for a growing child?" she asks the way only a mom can ask.

Often times, I am left without a response. "But, the science..." I say in vain. But, she's already off to the grocery store to buy more.

I guess the good news is that the price of milk free of growth hormones will probably come down, given the movement and more offering of this type of milk. But, still, is it worth it?

Check out an AC 360 take on hormone-free milk.

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.


April 8th, 2008
09:44 AM ET

Alzheimer's: Another clue

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Chief Medical Correspondent

Wouldn't it be great to know if you were likely to develop Alzheimer's disease? I think about it all the time, especially when I forget something, lose my keys or lose my train of thought, which really seems to happen more and more lately. Truth is, everyone does that from time to time, and it often has no relationship to developing dementia. But researchers think they have found something that may serve as a warning sign. Depression. While it has long been believed that people with Alzheimer's become depressed because of the mind-robbing effects of the disease, there is now some evidence to suggest that it is, in fact, the other way around. Depression may be a risk factor for Alzheimer's.

After tracking 917 retired Catholic priests and nuns, researchers found those with symptoms of depression at the beginning of the study were more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. (read study)   A different study found that those with depression were 2.5 times more likely to develop Alzheimer's and if you developed depression before the age of 60, you were actually 4 times more likely to develop it.

The big question, of course, is why.  Well, after doing some digging, there is no easy answer.  However, consider this: People with depression often release lots of cortisol because of the stress of their depression, and it is believed that cortisol by itself could cause damage to the vital connections in the brain that are responsible for memory.

There is no question that as our population ages, more people than ever will develop Alzheimer's disease. Besides better treatments, one of the biggest goals for researchers is earlier detection. 

As a neurosurgeon, I am fascinated by this and I am curious:  If you know, or have known anyone with Alzheimer's disease, did you see any early clues that signaled future Alzheimer's disease?

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.


April 7th, 2008
01:05 PM ET

Caregivers at risk

By Yvonne Lee
CNN Medical Producer

My grandmother moved in with us when I was 13 years old, after a stroke left half her body paralyzed. She had been overweight for as long as I can remember, and had diabetes along with high cholesterol. With all these risk factors, it was a just a matter of time before she had a cardiovascular event.

I didn't realize that taking care of her would become such a burden to my parents. Just giving her a bath was an ordeal. She would shuffle and drag her left leg along the floor while grabbing the wall to get to the stairs. My parents would hold her arms and practically carry her up the steps to the bathroom.

"It was real hell," my mom said. "She could not control her body, and she's heavier than me."

Recently, a study funded by the National Institutes of Health  found that family members caring for cardiac patients had higher levels of risk factors for heart disease and were three to four times more likely to be depressed than those who provided little or no care. This adds to growing evidence that stress and depression may play an important role in the development of cardiovascular disease.

Family members make up 50 percent of those who provide primary care for these patients. My grandmother stayed with my parents for 15 years, with my grandfather moving in a few years after she did. It wasn’t something they could take a vacation from. My parents fixed her meals, massaged her limbs, made sure she exercised, and administered her medications.
 
"I lost weight while I was taking of her. I got frequent headaches.  I had anxiety all the time.  I couldn't invite my friends to my house because you don't know what Grandma is going to do," my mom  said.

I wonder if my parents would have benefited from knowing how to reduce the potential toll that care giving was having on their health.

Is your health being affected by caring for a family member?

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


April 2nd, 2008
01:26 PM ET

Finding Amanda

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Chief Medical Correspondent 

All day long, you have most likely been hearing and reading about autism on CNN and CNN.com. The numbers, the costs and even the cultural impact. But, what do you really know about it? Have you ever met someone with autism, and would you even know what to look for? These were things I had been thinking about for some time. In our documentary tonight, I will take you on a journey I found remarkable. Straight into the life of someone who has autism.

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Dr. Sanjay Gupta with Amanda Baggs

Amanda Baggs is 27, super-intelligent and witty. She lives on a beautiful lake in Vermont and is very skilled at shooting and editing videos. In fact, it was one of her videos on YouTube that first caught the attention of CNN. If I had met her only through e-mails and the Internet, I'd be telling you a very different story. But I was able to visit her in person. Tonight, you will see what I saw and hear some of my first impressions.

Despite the friendly invitations and our lively e-mail banter, Amanda would not look at me when I walked in the room and during my time with her. She wore sunglasses and sat in a wheelchair.  She could make some noises, but she did not speak. If it were not for a device that synthesizes words as she types on a keyboard, we would not have been able to communicate with her at all.

To be clear, Amanda is not typical of people with autism. At a young age she went to school and was considered gifted.  At age 14 her autism was diagnosed.  The diagnosis came late, though her parents and doctors say in retrospect, the signs were almost always there. She rarely made eye contact; she was sensitive to sound and never socialized well with children.  It was only after a child psychiatrist recognized it, that she got the diagnosis.  During Amanda’s teenage years, doctors, social workers and Social Security services who would provide her benefits analyzed her case and confirmed her diagnosis.

She taught me a lot over the few days we spent with her. She told me that looking into someone's eyes felt threatening, which is why she looked at me through the corner of her eye. Amanda also told me that, like many people with autism, she wanted to interact with the entire world around her. While she could read Homer, she also wanted to rub the papers across her face and smell the ink. If she saw a flag blowing in the wind, she might start to wave her hand like a flag.  She rides in a wheelchair because she has a diagnosed problem with her motor skills. But she also says balancing herself while walking takes up too much energy for her to also type and communicate. To an outside observer, the behaviors would seem eccentric, even bizarre. Because Amanda was able to explain them, they all of a sudden made sense.

In case you were curious, there is no possible way that I was being fooled. I checked what Amanda was writing and saying over and over again. I spent time alone with her, so she could not get any visual cues from other people in the room. It was Amanda, herself, communicating with me through this technology.

It really started me wondering about autism. Amanda is obviously a smart woman who is fully aware of her diagnosis, and quite frankly mocks it. She told me that because she doesn't communicate with conventional spoken word, she is written off, discarded and thought of as mentally retarded. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I sat with her in her apartment, I couldn't help but wonder how many more people like Amanda are out there, hidden, but reachable, if we just tried harder.

I am a neurosurgeon, who has spent a large portion of my life working in the field of brain disease and disorders, and Amanda Baggs opened my eyes about the world of autism.

Programming Note: Watch "Finding Amanda" an Anderson Cooper 360 special report with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, at 11 p.m. ET.

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. 


April 2nd, 2008
11:43 AM ET

Continuing to place the puzzle pieces

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Chief Medical Correspondent
 

Today is the first World Autism Awareness Day as designated by the United Nations.  First off, let me say that at CNN we have been preparing for this day for months, and have covered autism stories for years. Since I have been at CNN, I have been covering autism and I have committed myself to this area of reporting and investigation. If you ask most medical reporters, they will tell you the autism beat is sort of the third rail of journalism. It is so rife with controversy and passionate people on different sides of the issue. If you do stories on this topic, you will get criticized. Period.

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Still, perhaps because I am a neurosurgeon, I have been fascinated with the new brain imaging that allows us to peer deep inside the brain of a child or adult with autism and see the changes that may explain the mysterious symptoms. I will continue covering these stories. Maybe it is because I am a relatively new parent of two gorgeous little girls who jumps for joy every time they pass a milestone and grows a little concerned if they seem to be a little behind compared with their friends. Maybe it is because families from all over the world have sent their stories to me about their own family members with autism.

I have spent a lot of time as a doctor and a journalist with children that have autism. I have walked into those meetings with an open mind devoid of any preconceived notions about what type of person I was likely to meet and what may have caused his or her autism in the first place. As an individual, I find myself less dogmatic and more willing to listen to all sides. I have taken the time to read in detail the 16 best epidemiological studies that exist, as well as the more limited toxicity studies. I have researched studies from as far away as Portugal looking at the incidence of mitochondrial disease and its possible association with autism. I am a better journalist because of it and a better doctor as well.

 Truth of the matter, autism is a spectrum. It is hard to say for sure that someone has "serious" autism or "mild" autism. And, I hate those scales anyway. Truth is, I am not sure my daughter smiled socially at 3 months or she was just happy that I fed her. I am also not sure that her first word came right on schedule. I thought she said "daddy," my wife said it was "cat." We don't even have a cat. Every parent has likely thought about these same things at one point or another.

 As a journalist, especially one with my medical background, I feel responsible to keep the attention focused on this topic. I am delighted that CNN is presenting a worldwide investigation today. Besides the medical aspects, we will discuss the financial, the emotional (did you know the divorce rate has been estimated at 80 percent among parents of children with autism?) and the cultural aspects of autism as you see stories from South Africa, Qatar and many other countries. It is called Autism: Unraveling the Mystery, and I know we won't answer all the questions, but we will make a dogged effort to get at some of the answers – again, with an open mind and with the single purpose of finding the truth.

 We would like your help.

 Post a note here with your thoughts about how CNN should continue the worldwide investigation.

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.


April 1st, 2008
02:44 PM ET

John McCain's health

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Chief Medical Correspondent

Tonight, we are going to air a piece about Sen. John McCain's health. Truth is, it has been hard to get many details about the man, as his staff has not released his medical records since 2000. We know, as I'm sure you do by now, that if he wins, he will be the oldest president ever elected. He would be 2 years and 165 days older than Ronald Reagan was at the time of his inauguration. Though, I must admit, I love that his 96-year-old mother has occasionally been on the trail with him. He is making the point that he has good genes.

You have probably also heard McCain has malignant melanoma. Our research shows that if elected, he would not be the first president to have cancer. Grover Cleveland had cancer in his jaw. Reagan had both colon cancer and skin cancer, a less serious basal cell carcinoma, on his nose.  From what we have gathered, McCain has Stage IIA melanoma, which carries an average 10-year survival rate of 66 percent. Dermatologists say McCain's odds are better because the odds improve the longer you go without a recurrence.

If you see the pictures of his face, you will no doubt see a scar running down the left side and persistent puffiness of his left cheek. This is from the aggressive operation he had to remove the cancer as well as the lymph nodes in the area, as well as part of his parotid gland. When we show those pictures to independent doctors, some have told us an operation of that magnitude would’ve been done only for a much more serious and aggressive cancer than IIA melanoma. Other doctors disagree, saying McCain's aggressive operation may have been done out of an abundance of caution, where doctors removed more lymph nodes and other tissue than is normally done, because he is, well, John McCain.

Tonight, we will "show" you exactly what the senator had done and why. And, based on everything we know now, we will closely examine and dissect his health. But, the larger question I discussed with my staff today: Is this really important? How important is the health of  McCain or any of the candidates for that matter? Should the medical records be more forthcoming?

Programming Note: Watch Dr. Gupta’s report on Senator John McCain’s health on Anderson Cooper at 10 p.m. ET

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.


April 1st, 2008
08:37 AM ET

Navigating Emma's autism

By Phil Riley
CNN Senior Writer

My cellphone rings and I know it's bad news.

Only 8 a.m., but the school nurse needs me to take Emma home.

She's biting and scratching herself, and it's taking two adults to restrain her.

I can't ask Emma why she's so upset. She can't tell me.

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Emma Riley and her family have been struggling with autism

Emma is 11 years old. She has suffered from autism for a decade. Her family has, too.

It started in the 1990s, still the dark ages for autism.

The pediatrician said not to worry about Emma's development.

The psychologist who diagnosed her said to my wife and me, "Read this book."

It confused and scared us even more.

We've come a long way since then.

So has Emma.

She's more affectionate toward her family, more tolerant of changes in routine.

But challenges continue.

My wife and I've had to fight to get Emma in classrooms where we hoped she would thrive.

It's not always worked out.

Just like social interactions.

Typical kids don't want to hang out with a girl who doesn't share their interests or can't have a conversation.

No going out to a restaurant or church as a family.

Spouses spelling each other is good. Less time together as a couple, not good.

Guilt when you're not there for her brother.

Sleep deprivation.

But what most concerns my wife and me is this: How will Emma get along when she's an adult... or when we are no longer physically able to care for her... or after we're dead?

Recently I took our 14-year-old son, Conor, to a school admissions interview.

Later, he told me they had talked about Emma and he had said, "I've had to help watch out for her."

And Conor was asked how he felt about that.

His answer: "You learn to serve others and not just yourself."

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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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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