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‘Heart’ author Sandeep Jauhar answers your questions

Sandeep Jauhar, author of our January pick for the NewsHour-New York Times book club, Now Read This, joins Jeffrey Brown to answer reader questions on “Heart.” Plus, Jeff announces the February book selection.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's time now for the latest installment of our "NewsHour"/New York Times book club, Now Read This.

    Jeffrey Brown has our conversation.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Heartbreak, heart attack, heart transplant, it's an organ that, yes, is at the heart of our health and emotional life and the subject of centuries of medical research.

    It's also the subject of our January book club selection, "Heart: A History."

    Author Dr. Sandeep Jauhar is here to answer some of the questions our readers sent in.

    And, first of all, welcome, and thanks for doing this for us.

  • Sandeep Jauhar:

    Thank you for having me.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Give us an overview of what you are after. You're looking at the heart as metaphor, as mechanics, as science. What are you — what were you doing?

  • Sandeep Jauhar:

    I have always been fascinated by the human heart, and so I wanted to write about it.

    And my fascination sort of stems from three reasons, really. One is that I have a malignant family history of heart disease. My grandfather, my paternal grandfather, died when my father was only 14, years before I was born. I never met him.

    And his death really affected my father and, by extension, all of us as I was growing up. So the family history played a role.

    I'm also just fascinated by the fact that the heart is just such an amazing machine. It's really the most amazing machine that nature has devised. It's a machine that pumps three billion times in a typical human lifetime.

    And, finally, I was just really fascinated — and I learned this more as I was researching the book — by the history of heart discovery. You know, the heart had never been operated on up until the end of the 19th century. It just — it's an organ that has unique challenges to surgical manipulation.

    It's always moving, and it's filled with blood. How do you operate on it? So that history was one I really wanted to explore in the book.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK. So, let's go to some questions from our readers.

  • Jenny Bencardino:

    What is your favorite heart metaphor?

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    A favorite heart metaphor. So, this is how you start the book.

  • Sandeep Jauhar:

    Yes.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    This is what I started with, heartbreak and heart — yes.

  • Sandeep Jauhar:

    Yes, right.

    I would say that — I mean, there are a number I can think of, but probably take heart.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Take heart.

  • Sandeep Jauhar:

    Take heart.

    And the reason why, it is sort of what my father — it was like his prescription for living. You know, after his father died, my grandfather, there was really no one leading the home back in 1950s India.

    And my father would go. And he started going to college. And he would walk home. You know, the family was indigent. And my grandmother would tell him (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE), which is take heart, have courage.

    And so, because it's so cross-cultural, I would say take heart.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK.

    Let's go to the second question.

  • Phalguni:

    How much does the emotional state affect the functioning of the heart?

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    The emotional state affect the functioning of the heart, a lot of people wonder about this.

  • Sandeep Jauhar:

    Yes.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And you write much about it.

  • Sandeep Jauhar:

    Yes.

    So, we know that the emotions affect the heart in many different ways. Acute emotional disruption can change the heart's shape.

    Why emotional stress would cause the heart the change shape, I mean, it's just — it's fascinating, and it's really a mystery. So there is no question that the emotions, acute emotional disruption can affect the heart, and chronic emotional disruption.

    We know that people in difficult relations with their children, with their spouses, who have a lot of occupational stress develop premature heart disease.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right, let's go to our next question.

  • Ron Heady:

    I'm wondering what you foresee as the next major challenge or barrier to overcome in coronary and cardiac medicine.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Well, so much of the book, of course, is about the decades, centuries of research.

  • Sandeep Jauhar:

    Yes, yes.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Yes. Where are we now? What's next?

  • Sandeep Jauhar:

    There is no question that we have — that cardiology is really one of the great success stories of the 20th century.

    For example, when coronary angiography was invented in 1958, the mortality from a heart attack was about 30 percent, in-hospital mortality. Now it's about 3 percent. How much lower can we go?

    I think, and I advocate in the book, that the next step in heart disease and in coronary disease is really focusing on the emotions, how we live, because that really is an area that's been relatively underexplored.

    It's just — it's so much easier for cardiologists to prescribe a pill to lower cholesterol than it is to lower social and emotional disruption. So, I would say that the next accept is really focusing on our emotional lives.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK. I think we have got time for one more, and it actually goes to this — some of these issues you were just talking about.

  • Mitzi Moore:

    What is one change to the standard American diet that would have the greatest impact in reducing heart disease?

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK. So, there's the question everybody wants to know, right? And you started with your own personal story.

  • Sandeep Jauhar:

    Yes. That's — so…

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    What should people do?

  • Sandeep Jauhar:

    In the book, I talk about when I learned that I myself have heart disease. And, you know, I was living a pretty healthy life. And I was exercising.

    And I would say that the best information we have at this point, to be perfectly practical, is to follow a Mediterranean diet. That's a diet that's rich in olive oil, in fruits and vegetables, a little bit of wine, whole grains, fish, kind of what Michael Pollan advocates, which is — his three prescriptions for a good diet is eat food, which means food that your mother or your grandmother would recognize as food, not too much, mostly plants.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right.

    As always, we will continue with our questions and have the full conversation on our Now Read This Facebook page.

    For now, Sandeep Jauhar, thank you so much for joining us.

  • Sandeep Jauhar:

    Thank you.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And let me announce our February pick.

    We're returning to fiction, with a tie to the Oscars coming up at the end of next month.

    "The Wife" is a novel by bestselling author Meg Wolitzer about a Nobel Prize-winning writer with a big secret. The film version came out last year, and the great Glenn Close picked up an Oscar nomination for best actress.

    Join us, read along, discuss the book and more with other readers on our Facebook page. It's all part of Now Read This, our book club partnership with The New York Times.

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