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From Weight Loss to Memory Loss, How Well Do You Know Your
June 23, 2006 - - When should you begin checking your blood
pressure? Is your sunscreen really giving you the protection you think it
is? "20/20" teams up anti-aging guru Dr. Michael F. Roizen and heart surgeon
Dr. Mehmet Oz, authors of "You: The Owner's Manual" to debunk 10 body myths
-- from why you gain weight to aging and memory.
Here are the body myths we debunked with our health experts and the truth
Memory Loss Is Inevitable
A lot of people believe that we use only 10 percent of our brain. Is that
"It's not true. In fact, you'd be in big trouble if you only used 10
percent. The reality is that we use all of our brain, but we don't use it
all the time," said Dr. Oz.
"The brain was really hidden from us until we had new technologies that
could allow us either to operate on the brain, or to see what the brain does
when you're actually thinking or doing tasks."
Thanks to these advances, we can now see how
challenging your mind can keep your brain young. Suzanne, who speaks four
languages fluently -- English, Swiss-German, French, and German -- was
recently diagnosed with a brain tumor in the language center of her brain.
The problem is trying to remove the tumor without destroying her ability to
speak her languages. Her treatment will give doctors at UCLA a rare
opportunity to literally see how learning a language exercises the brain.
During surgery to remove the tumor, Suzanne,
at one point, was awakened. She was shown pictures and asked to identify
them in each of her languages.
An MRI lights up the part of the brain that
Suzanne uses as she speaks. This helps the surgeon avoid the language area
when removing the tumor. But the doctors discover something quite amazing --
each of Suzanne's languages resides in a different part of her brain.
The surgery is successful -- the tumor is
removed and Suzanne's knowledge of four languages is saved. Her case busted
a big brain myth -- that language resides in just one tiny area of the
brain. Because Suzanne learned her languages at different ages, her brain
stored them in different places -- showing that challenging your brain
creates new neural pathways.
"Just like you challenge a muscle to grow
it, well, the brain gets new connections," said Dr. Roizen.
And that busts another big brain myth --
that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Memory loss is not inevitable.
Want to keep your brain young? Exercise it.
Try learning to play a musical instrument,
doing crossword puzzles, learning a language -- even playing computer games.
"The data now indicate that an hour of games for 40 weeks
can make your brain equivalent, your brain's real age, 10 years younger,"
And one final brain myth: Does the size of a
person's brain have anything to do with their intellectual capacity?
"There is no correlation with the size of a
human brain and its intellect. In fact, Einstein was sort of a famous
example. His brain was about average size -- no difference between his and
almost any other brain," Oz said.
Slow Metabolism Makes You Fatter
We've all heard for years
that people who are thin have won the biological lottery. They look like
they can eat whatever they want without gaining a pound. We think they're
lucky to have a high metabolism.
"It's generally false that your metabolism
is the reason for your weight," said Oz. "And this has been looked at
To figure this out, we turned to Dr. Jim
Levine, an obesity researcher at the Mayo Clinic, who's studied the
metabolism of lean and heavy people, such as lean Kathy Strickland and a
heavier Dawn Campion.
"Dawn's numbers are actually higher because
we find continuously is that people with weight problems who have obesity
have a higher basal metabolism compared to people who are lean," Levine
Levine says most patients that come to his
clinic have a higher metabolism.
"Your basal metabolism is the calories you
burn to keep your body going, so if your body is bigger of course your basal
metabolism is greater," Levine said. "If your body is smaller your basal
metabolism is less."
Levine says the reasons behind weight gain
are simple. People who weigh more move less.
"People with obesity have a tendency to be
seated, a natural tendency to be seated for two-and-a-half hours per day
more," Levine said.
Levine believes people can combat obesity by
simply moving more. Even standing up at your desk can increase your
metabolism by 40 percent.
"We're talking about shaking up everything
we do because we have no choice in it," Levine said. "Obesity is collapsing
corporations in America, but much more importantly, it's devastating our
health and it's taking over our children. We have no choice but to do
something. We have no choice but to do something big."
Can Heartburn Lead to Cancer?
Obesity is a legitimate epidemic in the
United States, and obesity contributes to greater numbers of people
suffering from heartburn. Here's the connection: If you are overweight, fat
pushes against the stomach, causing acids to rise up to the esophagus, which
is not designed to handle stomach acids.
Although, you don't have to be overweight to have heartburn,
you should know that heartburn can lead to something worse -- cancer of the
esophagus. Most people are unaware that heartburn (also known as GERD or
"acid reflux") is similar to over-exposure to the sun in that chronic
inflammation can cause the cells of the esophagus to change. Over time
people can develop "burn holes" in their esophagus, said Oz. "If you have
chronic burning of the esophagus, you develop tissue there called Barrett's
esophagus. That's the precursor of cancer," he told "20/20." And here's a
complicating factor in diagnosis serious esophageal problems:
over-the-counter medications work so well that people think they've
corrected the problem. "Although they neutralize it much of the time, they
don't neutralize it completely and sometimes you will have the reflux
without the pain," said Roizen. Television ads are very effective but they
won't help you diagnose whether your problem is more dangerous. Follow the
directions on those heartburn medications which say that if you're not
better after two weeks, it's time to see a doctor. And if you need to --
lose the weight.
Men Can Drink More Alcohol Than Women
This is not just a sexist
myth. Men are biologically better equipped to drink more than women.
"It's true not just because they're bigger
but because they have an extra enzyme in the lining of their stomach and
that enzyme, when it sees alcohol, begins to metabolize it immediately,"
said Oz. "So only about half the alcohol that they actually drink gets into
Women, on the other hand, don't have as much
of that enzyme in their stomachs. So more of the alcohol gets into the
bloodstream and they get drunk quicker.
That gender difference is even more
problematic, because while overall drinking trends are down over the past 20
years, many young women are drinking more than ever.
But the more a person drinks, the more their
body builds up a tolerance for alcohol, according to Oz. So they actually
begin to metabolize it faster.
"So women who are exposed to a lot of
alcohol, do begin to catch up to men in their ability to cope with the
drinks that they have," Oz said.
But before women get their hopes up that
excessive drinking will level the playing field, remember that men still
have the biological advantage.
Marijuana Gives You the Munchies
In movie after movie,
smoking pot soon leads to binge eating.
"Without any question, marijuana gives you
the munchies," Oz said. "And, specifically, you start to crave sweet foods,
The drug affects people's brains in a way
that actually makes food more appealing.
"It's not just a mindset," Oz said. "It
actually chemically alters the way you perceive food."
Ironically, this drug that gives people the
munchies may actually hold the key to controlling people's hunger.
"If we know what drug causes you to get
hungry and we can understand its mechanism, maybe we can block that
mechanism so you'll never get hungry," Oz said.
At 100 hospitals across the United States,
researchers have been studying a drug called rimonabant that blocks the same
hunger receptors that chemicals like marijuana stimulate.
"By blocking that chemical we may be able to
block your ability to crave foods," Oz said.
Results from seven years of testing the drug
Pat Robison, who took rimonabant for a year,
said it reduced her appetite, and she lost 15 pounds. On average, people
lost 20 to 25 pounds and took two to three inches off their waists.
Research on the drug is continuing.
A High SPF Will Fully Protect You from Skin Cancer
You know the drill --
summertime means sun and sun means sunscreen. We're a changed nation these
days, fully aware that those warm, enveloping rays can not only crease the
skin and age us, they can potentially kill.
But a sunscreen with a high SPF will protect us, right?
Not necessarily. Doctors say the idea that a high SPF is all
you need for full sun protection -- is a myth.
But Oz notes that a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 will give
you a lot of protection, but it's protection against only one type of sun
ray -- UVB rays.
UVB rays are the short ultraviolet rays that cause most
sunburns. A sunscreen with an SPF of 30 will do a fine job against them.
But there's another villain that you rarely hear about --
the longer UVA rays that penetrate more deeply beneath the skin.
They're responsible for a lot of your wrinkles, and both can
cause cancer. Much of what you buy today claims to offer protection against
both UVB and UVA. But it can be difficult to be certain.
Many products contribute to the confusion with unclear
labeling. The problem is, there is no FDA-approved measure of how well a
product screens out UVA rays. So what can you do to protect yourself against
Dr. Rachel Herschenfeld, a dermatologist in Wellesley,
Mass., says you've got to read the fine print.
"There are certain ingredients that actually provide
effective protection against UVA. The three most common include zinc oxide,
titanium dioxide and something called Avobenzone, or parsol 1789,"
She recommends using products with the first two
ingredients, especially for children.
But be careful if you're relying on Avobenzone. It degrades
quickly in the sun, so keep putting it on, or look for a stabilizer like
Helioplex, available now in just two products approved for sale in the
United States: Neutrogena with Helioplex and Aveeno Continuous Protection
Sunscreen. Outside the United States, look for products with the ingredient
Too much science? Well, this part's easy.
Stay in the shade during peak sun hours. When you do venture
out, apply sunscreen early -- at least 20 minutes before you go outside. Be
generous with it: use about four times what you think you need, and reapply
it all day long , especially, if you go into the water.
"There is no way to produce a sunscreen that is truly
waterproof. The best it can be is water resistant," said Herschenfeld.
It may sound like a lot of work for a little
sunshine in your life, but keep in mind, even with all the sunscreen, the
incidence of skin cancer is on the rise. Melanomas, many sun-related, have
doubled over the last 25 years.
But that doesn't mean you're condemned to stay inside.
"I don't tell my patients to be hermits. I tell them to put
on their hats and their sunscreen and their sunglasses and get out there,"
Nothing Will Age You Faster Than the Sun
You might think it's just
the sun that causes premature wrinkles and ages your body, but a growing
body of research shows your own anxiety levels can take years off your life.
"Stress is the greatest ager of all and it's
the only thing we know that causes an increase in arterial aging, heart
disease, strokes, memory loss & immune aging, infections and cancer," said
So how does stress attack your body? That's
exactly what Ronald Glaser and his wife, Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, have been
studying for 25 years. Their research actually began as a marital
disagreement. Janice, a psychiatrist, believed stress harms the body;
Ronald, a molecular virologist, did not.
"There were a lot of skeptics, and I was one
of them," he admitted.
And what better subjects to test for stress
than med students taking exams?
Early on in their research, the Glasers
exposed their subject to microbes via a vaccination.
"We found immune changes associated with
them taking the exams, and quite frankly, I was absolutely blown away with
that," Ronald Glaser said.
More than two decades later, the couple is
studying whether the stress of fighting with your spouse would slow the
body's healing. The researchers created blisters on the volunteers' forearms
and then stressed the couples by making them talk about their pet peeves.
All the while, the researchers analyzed their blood and tissues samples.
"We found that even a minor stress can
really slow how fast you heal," said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser. She also noted
that when couples argued, they took longer to heal.
Surprisingly, not all types of stress
actually damage the human body. Ironically, it's those nagging tasks that
you put off that'll drive you nuts and age you.
"For one nagging unfinished task, it puts on
about eight years on your life. So if you're 30, it makes you 38," said
According to Dr. Oz, the stress of a
specific event -- like blowing out a car tire on the road -- is "not as
damaging as one that's a nagging unfinished task."
Stresses of day-to-day life -- like a
demanding boss or pressing deadlines -- aren't particularly damaging either.
But major life stressors, like losing a spouse or a job can
have a significant aging impact.
"They really are hugely aging. The great
news is there are easy things each of us can do to ameliorate or modify it,"
Oz and Roizen say there are some simple ways
to de-stress and reduce your risk of major illness -- just by simply
bending, breathing and laughing.
Roizen also said friendships offer great
anti-aging, health-boosting benefits.
"One important element of staying connected
to the world is to maintain friendships," he said. "And we actually have
numbers on this. People who see six friends a month actually do better long
term. So, if you're gonna put a number in the back of your mind, try to
reach out to six folks that you care about every month."
Superfit = Superhealthy
For the majority of us, the
more we exercise, the stronger and healthier we are. But excess physical
activity is as destructive to your body as Mike Tyson's right hand.
Over-exercising can damage your muscles,
your bones and your joints, or it can mask other problems, because you think
you're invulnerable, even when you're not.
Professional athletes are not the only ones
at risk. From local marathons to your neighborhood gym, chances are you know
that person who's obsessed with pushing harder and working out longer than
"You always want to be the best at what you
do," said former track star and spokesperson for Bally's Fitness Nikki
Kimbrough. "So sometimes people tend to over-train, and that's not healthy
It's not just your joints that can be
affected. Experts say exercising for more than two hours a day can cause a
host of other health problems -- chronic fatigue, problems sleeping,
headaches, depression, gastrointestinal problems, difficulty healing, a
reduced sex drive, or disrupted menstrual cycle.
"Maximum health doesn't require maximum
fitness," said Dr. Michael Roizen. "You don't have to kill yourself to get
the huge wonderful benefits of exercise."
Roizen recommends 30 minutes of walking a
day, a half an hour of aerobic exercise 3 times a week, and lifting weights
for 30 minutes once a week.
And most important, listen to your body. If
you're hurting, slow down.
Cholesterol Is the Major Cause of Heart Disease
believed but absolutely false," said Oz. "Cholesterol levels are important,
but they're not the best predictor of whether you'll have a heart attack. It
turns out that honor belongs to high blood pressure."
Blood pressure can tear holes in your
arteries. The way the body repairs the hole is to fill it with cholesterol.
"If it's healthy cholesterol you get a nice smooth lining,"
said Oz. "But if you've got cholesterol that's sort of rotten, now the body
has to heal that. The body heals cuts by putting scabs on them and that scab
quickly builds on top of this and blocks off the artery."
And that blocked artery can cause a heart
At what age should we start being concerned
about our blood pressure?
Dr. Oz says you should start to check your
blood pressure at age 12.
"Certainly by age 20 you ought to know your
blood pressure," Oz said. "And you ought to check your blood pressure at
least every five years after that."
The optimal blood pressure is 115 over 75.
But fewer than half of all Americans have that. And if you get above 140
over 90, you're in the danger zone. You can monitor the numbers yourself at
the corner drug store, for free. And if your pressure is too high, the good
news is, hypertension can be reversed.
"If you're going to remember one number, if
you're going to focus and fixate on one number in your entire health
profile, it better be your blood pressure because that's where the money
is," Oz said.
How to lower your blood
1. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, nine servings a day.
2. Exercise -- even walk -- at least 30 minutes a day.
3. If necessary, talk to your doctor about medication.
There's a Wrong Way to Breathe
It turns out there's
actually a better way to take a deep breath than what you're probably doing.
"I would say less than one
in 10 Americans knows what a deep breath is because we were all taught to
believe that it's about straining our ribcage up," said Oz. "It's not. That
doesn't even feel good."
The key to deep breathing is to use the
stomach, not just the chest, according to Oz. Take in a breath and push out
the stomach. That pulls down the diaphragm, a strong muscle, which pulls
down the lungs, allowing air deep in the lungs. When you breathe out, pull
in the stomach. That moves the diaphragm up, pushing the air out of the
Oz recommends taking four seconds to breathe
in and four seconds to breathe out.
"That's a deep breath," Oz said. "That's one
of the best ways to cope with stress. It's one of the best ways to deal with
asthma, it's one of the best ways to get your lungs to truly fill with the
air we know is of value."
On June 10, rowers Jordan Hanssen, Brad
Vickers, Greg Spooner and Dylan LeValley set out on an incredible journey -
the only American team in what could be a grueling three-month long race
across the Atlantic Ocean in rowboats. There is no prize money - just the
chance to be the first Americans to do it.
It's a challenge that's
particularly important to Hanssen, whose father died of an asthma-related
illness and who also has a mild form of asthma himself.
Hanssen was diagnosed with mild asthma as
child. In a twist of fate, when he got to college, he discovered he had a
real talent for competitive rowing - a sport that demands extraordinary
"A rower's power comes from his lungs, and
so does everyone's power," Hanssen said.
But, Hanssen said, "I think I'm pretty lucky
to be in a position to row across the ocean. I think I was given the lungs
that my father didn't have. "
Right now the Americans are in the lead, on
their boat named the James Robert Hanssen - in honor of Jordan's father and
the gift of a healthy breath. [Click here
<http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=2109264&page=1> to read more about the
rowers' and their progress.]
Copyright C 2006 ABC News Internet Ventures
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