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Profile of Dr. Andrew Weil

Changing the face of medicine

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Profile of Dr. Andrew Weil

Andrew Weil is definitely changing the face of medicine. His familiar, white-bearded face has beamed at us from the cover of <i>TIME</i> magazine twice in the last nine years, most recently last October when his new book, <i>Healthy Aging</i> (Knopf, 2005) hit the stands.

Andrew Weil is definitely changing the face of medicine. His familiar, white-bearded face has beamed at us from the cover of TIME magazine twice in the last nine years, most recently last October when his new book, Healthy Aging (Knopf, 2005) hit the stands.

When asked about his sudden popularity and fame, Dr. Weil chuckled a bit. “Sudden? I have basically been delivering the same message for more than 30 years. The only thing that’s changed is that a lot more people are listening now.” Are they ever! Millions of people are listening, watching, reading, and surfing all things Weil. He has become the international poster boy for a new brand of medicine known as integrative medicine.

Delivering the Message

Dr. Weil enters millions of homes through popular TV programs such as Oprah, Larry King Live, and PBS stations across the US. Of course, his books are everywhere. His last five books hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list, and each book contained a wealth of well-written, practical holistic health advice for living better and longer.

While integrative medicine is not at all a new concept to alive magazine and its readers, it is nothing short of a revelation to millions of other North Americans who are embracing Dr. Weil and his call for change. His smooth delivery, plain language, and contagious laughter have opened the hearts and minds of readers and listeners to his simply stated principles for improved health and well-being. People are listening to his message, and they are changing.

But convincing and changing the medical establishment is an entirely different matter.

Changing the Way Medicine is Taught

Dr. Weil is an outspoken critic of the way conventional or allopathic medicine is practised and taught. He’s spent plenty of time in medical schools on both sides of the desk, as student and as teacher. A Harvard Medical School graduate (1968), he has long endured narrow-mindedness and what he calls the “incredible deficiency in nutritional education” that characterizes medical academia. “I’ve been teaching medical school for more than 25 years. Almost everything relevant to healing is not there, and most everything that is there is not relevant to healing.”

So he decided to change the curriculum. Dr. Weil moved to Arizona in 1975 and started practising integrative medicine. He began lecturing at the University of Arizona Medical School in 1977 and joined the faculty in 1983. Eleven years later, in 1994, he founded the Foundation for Integrative Medicine in Tucson, Arizona and became the Director of the Program in Integrative Medicine (PIM) at the University of Arizona.

Changing the Way Medicine is Practised

Dr. Weil has long been an advocate for the integration of so-called complementary and alternative healing methods with orthodox medical practices. He bemoans the state of orthodox medicine today. “In our enthusiasm for technology, I think we turned our backs on all of the simple, low tech, inexpensive methods of intervening in disease and maintaining health that were used by previous generations and that are very much part of ethnic medicine and various cultures around the world.”

Integrative medicine enhances quality of life by using minimally invasive, nontoxic treatments such as dietary modifications, herbal and nutritional therapies, mind-body interaction, energetic medicine, acupuncture, massage and body work, behaviour modification, and traditional healing methods. And it’s less costly than conventional medicine, in the long run.

“The drugs we have come to rely on are killing 100,000 people a year in hospitals. That, to me, is unacceptable,” Dr Weil recently told a rapt audience. “I think if integrative medicine did nothing more than reduce that number, it would be very worth supporting. The medical system simply cannot afford not to change to a more preventive, integrated approach.”

One way Dr. Weil is currently changing our approach to health is by changing our attitudes toward aging.

Changing the Way We Feel About Aging

Population experts say that we are about to experience a demographic boom of old people. While many other cultures in the world revere and respect elders, North American baby boomers have become obsessed with trying to mask the manifestations of aging.

Dr Weil, who is soon to celebrate his 64th birthday, thinks our time, money, and efforts would be better spent changing our attitudes and habits. Instead of battling the outward signs of aging and subjecting ourselves to a series of face lifts, Botox injections, and tummy tucks, Dr. Weil encourages us to embrace our aging and ease into it with grace and confidence.

In his latest book, Healthy Aging, Dr. Weil reminds us that aging is about changing; it is a natural, continuous process that begins at conception. He writes, “To age gracefully means to let nature take its course while doing everything in our power to delay the onset of age-related disease. Or, in other words, to live as long and as well as possible, then have a rapid decline at the end of life.”

Changing Our Habits

Dr. Weil says his top two recommendations for preventing illness at any age, but especially as we get older, are “don’t smoke,” and “watch your weight.”

By classing nicotine addiction with hard-drug habits such as crack cocaine and crystal meth, Dr. Weil delivers a serious Zen slap to smokers. Calling it one of the hardest of all addictions to break, he views tobacco addiction as the single greatest cause of preventable illness.

He takes a softer approach to being slightly overweight. Noticeably a man of substance himself, his muscularity, agility, and flexibility are also clearly evident. His idea of watching your weight has nothing to do with going on a diet. It’s more about eating the right kinds of foods. An avowed “foodie,” Dr. Weil loves to cook and garden. His books always include recipes based on whole, unrefined natural foods, emphasizing an abundant variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Nurturing the mind and spirit through meditation, deep breathing, and mindful practices are equally important aspects of Dr. Weil’s healthy aging strategy. He also prescribes a regular exercise program that includes brisk walking and a gentle form of yoga.

Modern Medicine Man

Finally, here’s a medicine man who’s talking our language–the language of healing, the language of wellness, the language of resilience. Dr. Weil doesn’t ignore the fact that there is disease, sickness, and suffering aplenty in the world, but he’s putting them in their rightful place. Ultimately, his message is one of hope: He reminds us we are designed to heal.

Dr Weil’s healthy aging daily supplement program
SupplementDaily intake
vitamin C200 mg
vitamin E400 IU (natural mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols)
selenium200 mcg (organic, yeast bound)
mixed carotenoids10,000-15,000 IU
calcium (citrate)1,200-1,500 mg
omega-3 fish oil capsules (molecularly distilled)1,000-2,000 mg (if not eating oily fish at least twice weekly)
turmeric capsules (standardized for 95% curcuminoids)100 mg three times daily
ginger capsules (standardized for 8% zingiberene)100 mg three times daily
coenzyme Q1060-100 mg in soft-gel form; take with largest meal of the day
alpha lipoic acid100-400 mg (if prone to metabolic syndrome/pre-diabetes)
multiple vitamin and mineral with at least 400 mcg folic acid and 1,000 IU vitamin D. (Avoid formulations with vitamin A retinol and iron.)
Source: Dr. Andrew Weil, Healthy Aging (Knopf, 2005).

Dr. Weil’s favourite 11 tonics

Dr. Weil extols the virtues of natural tonics for conditions from cancer to stress. He recommends their use to increase the effectiveness of our body’s own healing system. Originating from a Greek word meaning to stretch, tonics “stretch or tone systems the way physical exercise tones our muscles.”

TonicUses and benefits
1. Garlic (Allium sativum)Anticancer agent. Eat it raw or lightly cooked.
2. Ginger (Zingiber officinale)Anticancer effect. Improves digestion and circulation, reduces inflammation, combats intestinal parasites.
3. Green tea (Camellia sinensis)Protects against heart disease and cancer; antioxidant, lowers cholesterol.
4. Milk thistle (Silybum marianum)Liver tonic.
5. Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous)Anticancer agent. Supports immune function.
6. Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)Protects against stress.
7. Ginseng (P. ginseng and P. quinquefolium)Increases vitality.
8. Dong quai (Angelica sinensis)General tonic for women.
9. Ho Shou Wu (Polygonum multiflorum)Increased sexual energy.
10. Maitake (Grifola frondosa)Immune enhancing, anticancer effect.
11. Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis)Builds physical stamina.
Source: Dr. Andrew Weil, Spontaneous Healing (Fawcett Columbine, 1995).
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