Lotta Granholm-Bentley – Director of Center on Aging
Smith - Author/Resource literature on age-related
disease and healthy aging
Sally Smith: Welcome to Age to Age. I’m Sally Smith. Let’s talk.
We have with us, again, Dr. Lotta
Granholm-Bentley, Director of the Center on Aging here
at MUSC. She also does basic science
research and is involved in many cooperatives on aging, locally and
internationally. She has been kind
enough to talk to us about some of the factors affecting Alzheimer’s. We were speaking a moment ago about the
French paradox, which is that you can eat your sauces if you also drink red
wine and eat dark chocolate. The French
are a great example of a society that has remained fairly fit. We’ve talked about certain foods. A good, fresh diet is always good. I’ve also read that genetics are a big factor
in whether someone will develop Alzheimer’s or not, and, also, obesity. Tell us a little bit about this emerging
Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley: Well, it’s
interesting. There are several research
lines that would suggest that obesity is genetic. But if it is genetic, why has it increased
enormously in our country in the last couple of decades? In fact, the rate of obesity in children has
tripled over the last 10 or 15 years.
And, at this point, we can compare, for example, Japan. In Japan, the obesity rate is three
percent. Here, it’s thirty percent, and
it’s not showing any signs of slowing down.
And we’re right in the middle, in South
Carolina, of the obesity battle.
Sally Smith: What has
brought on that change, in your opinion?
Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley: Several different
things. We eat too much. If you look at the dinner plate in Europe
compared to the dinner plate in the United States, you know, at
restaurants, at our houses, and so on, the plates are much larger here. We simply eat too much. In Europe,
for example, they don’t have the doggie
bag when you go to a restaurant.
Their servings are just enough for an adult person. In fact, if you look at calorie intake, as
adults, we’re supposed to eat about 2000 calories a day. The average calorie intake is 3500 per
Sally Smith: Wow. So, you
wear the difference.
Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley: Yes. You wear the difference.
Sally Smith: And, of
course, exercise can cut down to some degree, but how much is required? I know in Spin class, which is the exercise bicycle, sometimes for a good hour,
a hard ride, you’ll use about 500 calories, but that’s hard exercise for one
hour. Most people are not doing
that. Exercise is important, but it’s
not going to take off the extra 1500 calories that you ate that day.
Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley: No. I think what we need to do is, actually, as a
society, move more overall. And I think
that the answer is not to go to the gym, and so on. The answer is to build it into our daily
activities. For example, when I grew up
we didn’t have school buses. I had to
get to school either by walking or biking.
There was no other choice. My
parents wouldn’t drive me. They also
biked to work. So I think, we, as a
society, as city planners, and educators, and scientists, have to build in a
moveable society to a much greater extent than we have been.
Sally Smith: And is this
partly why Japan, and France,
and other countries do not have the obesity problem?
Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley: Absolutely. I was in Kyoto for a conference, and if you looked on
the streets, they were biking and walking.
They don’t think it’s strange to have an hour walk in the morning to
work. Actually, because of the
pollution, they wear their mouth covers and put their sneakers on and walk to
work. It doesn’t have to be high-impact exercise. In fact,
there was a study in France
that showed that if you walk at a moderate speed for half an hour, three times
a week, you can actually cut down your risk for Alzheimer’s significantly.
Sally Smith: Wow, so little
can make some difference. What about how
we cook our food, in considering obesity?
Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley: Great topic. I’m a basic scientist, so I have a lab, and I
work with rats in my lab. Our basic
science is driven by the clinical research here at MUSC. We were working with an Alzheimer’s group, Jacob
Mitzer and David Bachman, who we’ve heard from in other interviews. What they found in their patients here in South Carolina was that
high cholesterol is a very high risk for Alzheimer’s disease. So we decided to test it in rats. We gave cholesterol, as well as trans-fats,
which are enormously dangerous, twelve percent, for eight weeks, tested their
memory, and they were what we call flatliners. They couldn’t learn. They didn’t understand tasks.
Sally Smith: Wow.
Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley: Then I started looking at
the literature and, indeed, it’s been shown that the trans-fats, particularly,
will increase your risk for memory loss, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, perhaps,
also, for Parkinson’s disease.
Sally Smith: You know, I
remember you telling me one time how terrified you were that trans-fats were
out there and being used. I know, now,
that New York
has said that nothing can be cooked with trans-fats, so now I read the packaging. Where are trans-fats out there in South Carolina? Is it still being used here in, say, fast
food restaurants? Where does a person
come into contact with trans-fats, is it a cooking oil?
Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley: Yes.
It’s everywhere, actually. You
can look at the packages and it might say 0 trans-fats, but it contains
processed oil, palmitate oil. It’s a new sort of replacement for
So, it may say 0 trans-fats, but they’ve just worded it differently?
Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley: Exactly.
I would avoid processed oil. The
fact is that the fast food industry is probably the biggest crook here. But, we have cookies, corn flakes, all kinds
of cereals, precooked waffles, anything can contain it, and we really have to
be careful about what we feed our children.
The interesting thing is that trans-fats came about
after World War II. There was a way to
actually process vegetable oil to give it a longer shelf life. Actually, to make margarine, you take
vegetable oil and make it solid at room temperature. And we never really tested its toxicity. We don’t know what it does to humans.
I see. It got under the wire.
Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley: It was before. Testing is now very rigorous.
When I heard you speak of it one day, it was, in very small amounts,
seriously damaging. You were saying that
you were terrified your son might be, inadvertently, getting these trans-fats,
and they were something like lead paint, or something that could permanently
damage you. Is this right?
Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley: Absolutely.
I read somewhere, actually, that the children of today will have a
shorter life span than their parents, us. And this is the first time ever, since the
cave age, through famine, through world wars.
It’s so fascinating how basics come up every time as the way to go. I mean, you look at how our parents grew up
with fresh vegetables cooked a certain way, olive oil, that sort of thing, then
to this processed food, fast food chains, all of this, and look what it’s doing
to us. It’s changing our whole future
and society, and how do you reverse that?
I read in the paper that they’re revamping the cafeteria programs for
the schools, fewer soda machines, and things like that. But it’s sort of overwhelming. What would you do for South Carolina? Would you say no trans-fats like they did in New York City? Is that something that might ever happen?
Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley: Absolutely.
We can take small measures actually.
One by one, we need to change the culture, especially in the southern
states. I’ve done it. My son was on the swim team and they were
having swim meets, and the parents were in charge of the concession stand. And what do you think they served? On a hot summer day, they had chips, coke,
soft drinks, and candy. So, I kept
nagging, like the mother that I am, and this summer, two summers since then, they
are having watermelon, blueberries, and grapes.
I’m so happy that I could change one little swim team. They were listening to me. I think it’s the job of scientists, who are
showing the hardcore data, to tell the public about the dangers of all of this.
My husband is a pediatric surgeon here.
There’s much discussion about gastric bypass surgery. I’ve looked at it quite a lot in
articles. Some people think that it
should be like a public health service.
Some of these children are two and three hundred pounds at 10 and 11
years old. It’s not just about Alzheimer’s. They’re not going to live long enough to get
Alzheimer’s. They’re going to be dying
of stroke and diabetes, and a myriad of other horrible things that come with
Obviously, education and self-restraint is the key,
preventive behavior, and each person should be responsible for themselves. But isn’t it amazing that a whole section of
childcare has become how to surgically
deal with their obesity? I find that
obscene, really. I’m not saying that it
isn’t necessary, in some cases. But it’s
ridiculous that our society cannot, you know, have the smaller portions and
walk to school. It’s not like somebody
has made us obese.
Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley: It’s appalling. And I think there are many different things
that can be done. I’m active in a soccer
program here called Charleston United.
What we try to do is bring after-school programs to children who have no
sports. There is nothing for them to do
after school. The only thing to do is go
over to the fast food restaurants, to meet there and eat. Another problem with trans-fats is that the
body can’t process them. So, you eat,
but the body doesn’t get what it needs, and it’s hungry again.
Oh my. You’re not satisfied?
Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley: You’re not satisfied, so you keep eating
more. I think it’s our responsibility,
as a society, to take care of this problem.
Well, I mean, it gets into a lot of other things, like television,
unlimited access to television, to video games, to computer games. I mean, those parents need to take the role
of yanking some of that and let kids play, read books. A lot of things are slowly changing, not just
our physical size in this more sedentary society. It really all comes back down to American
society. The whole foundation it was
made on was the assumption that people would exercise personal
responsibility. You know, to have
healthcare, and all these things, fix our problems, when, really, an awful lot
of them, if we think about it with an open mind, are of our own making.
Dr. Lotta Granholm-Bentley: We’re also giving the food industry, the fast
food industry, the power to advertise directly to our children, for example,
I’ve seen the Reese’s chocolate cereal advertisement that always ends with, part of a good breakfast. How can the government allow this? This needs to change. In Europe,
you could not do that. It’s like saying
cigarettes are great for you, part of a good breakfast. There’s no difference.
When it comes to your health, you’ve got to take personal
responsibility. This is just fascinating
about obesity. And, unfortunately, I
think it’s going to be a topic we talk about many times to come. Thank you, Lotta, for being with us. And thanks to all our listeners for joining. We welcome your suggestions on our
website. This is Sally Smith, Age to Age, saying good-bye and wishing
you courage and joy on your journey. We
are all connected.
If you enjoy
listening to Sally Smith, you can buy her book, The Circle. It’s the story of how she personally
responded to her mother’s journey with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a wonderful gift of hope for anyone with
a parent with dementia. Just click on
Sally Smith’s name under the Health Professionals tab on the Podcast home
page. All profits support research at
the Center on Aging. Thanks.