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Integrative Medicine

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Integrative Medicine

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Andrew Weil, a pioneer and world-renowned leader in the field of integrative medicine. After teaching and writing about natural and preventive medicine for over 35 years, Dr. Weil provides a unique approach to health care, which encompasses body, mind, and spirit.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Andrew Weil, a pioneer and world-renowned leader in the field of integrative medicine. After teaching and writing about natural and preventive medicine for over 35 years, Dr. Weil provides a unique approach to health care, which encompasses body, mind, and spirit.

"I have been writing books for 35 years and saying the same things about health and medicine. I think what has happened is that the culture has gradually caught up with me."

"My general feeling is that aging is a natural process that is universal. If you set yourself up in opposition to that, you are in a very wrong relationship with nature."

Dr. Weil, a best-selling author and international speaker, has appeared on the likes of Oprah and Larry King Live. I wondered about the source of his international acclaim and to what he attributes this interest by the general public.

Dr. Weil, in acknowledging and welcoming this interest, said, "I have been writing books for 35 years and saying the same things about health and medicine for that length of time. I think what has happened is that the culture has gradually caught up with me."

The Journey

During his 35-year journey to bring the message of integrative health to the general public, Dr. Weil has encountered many roadblocks. Among them, Dr. Weil identifies medical doctors as being one of the most difficult to navigate.

The good news, according to Dr. Weil, is that this is about to change. "I think for much of that time the general public was in agreement with what I was saying, but there was a lot of resistance from the profession. I think that in the past 10 years, this has been changing."

A Voice for Change

Dr. Weil has, in the past, commented that his medical school training included a mere half-hour of nutritional training. To address this shortcoming, he has set up programs to help educate medical doctors.

"It has been one of my commitments to train doctors. So, in my integrative medicine-training program, we always have a great emphasis on nutrition. During the second annual Health and Nutrition Conference for health professionals (Tucson, March 2005), I [made] a strong commitment to get this information into medical schools."

Children and Nutrition

On the topic of documented surges in childhood ailments and disorders such as ADD and childhood obesity, I asked Dr. Weil about his thoughts on children's nutrition. He expressed concern about the trend in North America for increasing consumption, by children, of refined and processed foods.

He noted that in addition to the increase in childhood obesity, "there are a lot of conditions that people currently do not think of as having nutritional roots, such as attention deficit disorder, when they indeed do."

I asked Dr. Weil about the risks to young children of prescribing powerful drugs to treat mental health and behavioural disorders. His response recognized the benefits these drugs can bring: "I think there is a subset of children who do well on Ritalin and other stimulants and they can be life-changing for them."

But Dr. Weil added, "I think ADD is vastly overdiagnosed and stimulant drugs are much too widely prescribed. One of the concerns I have is [of] children being put on high doses of time released stimulants and significant amounts of anti-depressants. The nutritional implications of doing this greatly concern me."

Nutrition from Fish

On the subject of healthy eating, I asked Dr. Weil about his views on ways to consume fish in a responsible manner. Dr. Weil recommended fish oil supplements for those who have difficulty sourcing quality, affordable fish products.

"My choice is still to use sardines, herring, and wild salmon when available. If we could get responsibly raised salmon it would be great; there is no reason salmon farming can't be done to produce high quality fish, but I think it will depend on consumer demand. The salmon would have to be fed high quality feed that does not have toxins in it and this can be done organically without giving them drugs or chemicals."

Diets and Nutrition

In his call to action statement at the 2004 Nutrition and Health Conference, Dr. Weil asserted, "The nation is in the grip of low-carb mania, the latest dietary craze." I asked Dr. Weil if he felt that this "craze" was coming to an end. He responded that, in fact, the low-carb movement was "beginning to lose steam. [But] I think these are nutritional phenomena that cycle every year, and I am sure there will be more."

As we discussed diet trends, I asked Dr. Weil if he advocated the "Mediterranean diet." Referring to a Mediterranean pyramid, Dr. Weil explained, "It includes a relatively small amount of animal foods - meat and fowl should be eaten only a couple of times a month with more consumption of fish and vegetable proteins (in the form of legumes). There is a small to moderate amount of dairy products, mostly in the form of yogourt and some cheese, as well as lots of high quality fruits and vegetables, whole grain pasta, olive oil, inclusion of red wine, and small amounts of sugar."

Anti-Antiaging

Dr. Weil has been quoted as being against the term "antiaging." In fact Dr. Weil has recently finished a new book entitled, Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical and Spiritual Well-Being (Knopf, October, 2005 release) which includes a chapter on antiaging medicine, "which I am very critical of.

"My general feeling is that aging is a natural process that is universal. If you set yourself up in opposition to that, you are in a very wrong relationship with nature."

The Future of Integrative Medicine

I asked Dr. Weil about his vision for integrative medicine 10 years from now. Responding that he believes economics will drive the future of integrative medicine, Dr. Weil said, "I think it is really going to be a mainstream phenomenon."

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