Dr. Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent at CNN and neurosurgeon at Emory University, has been researching and delving into the subject of longevity for years.
Along the way, he transformed his studies of new technology, age-old cultural practices from countries around the world, and medical research into a book and documentary, Chasing Life
, as well as another book, Cheating Death,
and several television series for CNN.
In this segment, Dr. Gupta joins Dr. Darria to share what he has learned from all this research on longevity.Click here for Part 2 of the interview.More from Sharecare:Get Younger in 5 Minutes a Day
RadioMD Presents: Sharecare Radio | Original Air Date: August 18, 2015
Host: Darria Long Gillespie, MD
Guest: Sanjay Gupta, MD
Sharecare. Helping you get younger; get guidance; get better care; get smart; get fit. RadioMD presents Sharecare Radio with Darria Long Gillespie, MD.
Dr. Darria: Hi, it's Dr. Darria here. Okay. Has Dr. Sanjay Gupta found the fountain of youth? What lifestyle changes can add years, if not decades, of quality living to your life; and, what role does your attitude play? We are going to get to all these questions today with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Chief Medical Correspondent at CNN, Neurosurgeon at Emory University and author of two books on this subject, Chasing Life, and Cheating Death. Sanjay, thank you so much for joining us.
Dr. Gupta: Thanks for having me, Dr. Darria. I appreciate it.
Dr. Darria: First off, I want to get into this topic. What's the background? That got you interested in the science of longevity?
Dr. Gupta: Well, I guess, in part, it was selfish. I think when I got married and my wife became pregnant with our first child, this was--my child's 10 1/2 now—some time ago. I think I started thinking about that more than ever at that point. Frankly, I don't know that I thought about that much before then. I think we all have sort of this veil of immortality when we're young and thinking about mortality is not something we necessarily want to do. But, I think once I started having kids, I started thinking about my own life and would I be around for them, primarily, because it was about them. And if I was around, what kind of shape would I be in? What kind of shape would my body and my mind be in? And so, I said I’ve got this opportunity where I can talk to the world's experts anywhere in the world. I can talk to scientists and let's really focus in on where we are with longevity. People talk about it. Let's put some substance around it. That was sort of my thinking around it.
Dr. Darria: You know, that's so funny. That must be universal for all parents. Ever since my daughter was born I think a lot about what I'm putting in my body, what's going to keep me around to be spending more time with her.
Dr. Gupta: Yes.
Dr. Darria: It's fascinating. So, when you did have access to any expert essentially in the world, where did you start or who were some of the best experts and cultures for this?
Dr. Gupta: I sort of broke it down into two buckets, Darria. I think one was, I wanted to make sure that we were talking to the scientists who were publishing in this area and who were peer-reviewed--talking to their peers about this and really see what the status of science was. That involved the journey on everything from suspended animation to hypothermia; looking at what is the real evidence behind statin drugs; how do we best treat heart disease--which is the biggest killer of men and women in the United States. It was very scientifically based and that was a major chunk of my own research but the other part of it was this idea--and I wasn't the first person to notice this--but the idea that there are countries around the world that had fewer resources and some health systems may not be as developed and yet they were living longer. What were they doing? What could we learn from these places? Dan Buettner, that you likely know, called them “blue zones”. I really wanted to find out what made the blue zones tick and what we could take from those blue zones and apply to our own lives. Again, I wanted to do this for me but I also wanted to make sure that I could share with anybody else who was curious about this.
Dr. Darria: Yes. That's been fascinating finding out those particular communities where they have this extreme longevity and health. So, I want to get into some of the lessons that you learned from those blue zones. First of all, starting with nutrition, what role did you find from diet and nutrition?
Dr. Gupta: Well, it's such a huge topic, first of all. I’ll preface by saying that diet and nutrition, next to sleep, I think—sleep, obviously, is always going to be very important--but diet and nutrition is the most important thing you can be thinking about, really, with regard to the issue of longevity. How you fuel your body; what that fuel does to your body. All that sort of stuff makes a huge difference and it's very controllable. It's something that you can understand and start to incorporate into your lives. I will say, for example, in the United States several decades ago, we made a decision in the United States to become a country that focused on a low fat diet. There were a few studies out at the time--it was the early 70s--that said, high fat leads to higher cholesterol, super high cholesterol can lead to heart disease, and, therefore, we should focus on a low fat diet in this country. That's going to be essentially a billions of dollars decision to focus on that low fat diet. You can understand, based on what they saw at the time, but we now know that the reality is that so much of that fat was replaced with something that's probably even more harmful and that is sugar. I mean, it's in everything that we eat. You couldn't just take fat out of food without replacing it because the food would taste terrible. So, they replaced it with sugar and what happened over the last 40 years? Heart disease remains the biggest killer of men and women alike and child obesity rates are what they are. It's expected that one out of every two Americans will either be pre- or diabetic. In fact, diabetic by the year 2020. These are remarkable statistics. In other countries, to answer your question, I think that sort of conscientious decision to say, “We’re going to do low fat, low fat means healthy,” that wasn't a part of their culture. They continued to eat all sorts of different foods, a lot of them being real foods, whole foods and not much processed foods. That decision alone probably made a huge difference. Just the amount of sugar that was not in those diets as a result of the decision we made to take fat out so many years ago. So, that's simple one—not so simple for an individual to take advantage of--that's a societal sort of thing but it could make a huge difference.
Dr. Darria: And it's so true. It was with good intentions that we made those decisions about low fat but we are really seeing the consequences now and reversing that guidance about fat in our diet. What are some of the blue zones that exist and what are some particulars of their diets for a couple of them?
Dr. Gupta: There is a blue zone in the United States which is in Loma Linda, California. It's the culture over there that primarily infuses Seventh-Day Adventists and there’s lots of things about that culture that can I think likely contribute to longevity. But as far as diet goes, it really is focused on basically a no-meat diet or at least a very low meat diet. That's not, by the way, universal among all blue zones, that there are vegetarian or vegan diets but with that particular blue zone it is. What is interesting is that it's an extremely active community as well. So, the idea that these people are vegetarians, some of them even vegans, are still very active. They are athletes, they're getting the "protein" that they need in their diets to function. That's always one of the big criticisms you hear, "Where am I going to get my protein if I don't eat meat?" You look at these cultures and you see, first of all, you can get your protein and these people are doing it and are able to function at very high level. I spent time with a guy when I was in Loma Linda named Dr. Wareham.
Dr. Darria: I saw that.
Dr. Gupta: He's 100 years old.
Dr. Darria: He's a cardiothoracic surgeon, right?
Dr. Gupta: He's a cardiothoracic surgeon, who was operating up until very recently and, I will tell you, and you will all appreciate this, Darria. We were talking and I think, at one point during the interview, we were both trying to recall the name of a particular book. I'm 45 years old, he's 100 years old and he thought of it faster than I did!
Dr. Darria: You got schooled by the 100-year-old, didn't you?
Dr. Gupta: I did and we go through a lot. This probably happens to you where you're thinking, “I'm starting to forget things. Is this natural memory loss or is this something else?” It doesn't have to be that way. I think guys like Dr. Wareham show us that.
Dr. Darria: That's amazing. Yes, exactly, I saw the video of him. He just looked like he had such vitality when you were standing there talking to him. So, no or low meat is kind of one theme and getting your protein from more vegetable sources, I imagine?
Dr. Gupta: Absolutely. If you look at things like broccoli or spinach, per gram it has probably as much protein as chicken. Now, it's a much more water dense food so you're going to have to eat a lot more broccoli to get the same amount of protein, but the point is, you can get there through vegetables.
Dr. Darria: That's amazing and a lot of people don't know that. So, have you changed your diet at all based on this research?
Dr. Gupta: I have. I have changed my diet pretty significantly. I'm a triathlete and I was one of those people who said, “Okay. Am I going to hurt my performance by starting to reduce meat or even eliminate it?” And I have found that I haven't. In fact, what's kind of nice about things like triathlons is, I find that, at age 45, I'm actually having better times than I did when I was at 42. So, you can actually get better and that's a really, really gratifying thing. For us, we don't keep meat in the house anymore. We have three young children and it's not that we don't eat meat. We allow ourselves to eat meat if we go out from time to time. But we just don't keep it in the house. What we find is that our meals don't revolve around meat and that makes it a lot easier to just start to decrease the amount we take in.
Dr. Darria: That's amazing. That's a good point: no or low meat. It's also often less expensive than some of the other protein sources. I also didn't know that broccoli and spinach have that much protein. So, that's all we have for this one segment but I want everybody to stay tuned. We will be coming right back with Dr. Sanjay Gupta for more on longevity.