April 23, 2011

USA: Health guru stresses aging gracefully over living too long .

MIAMI, Florida / The Miami Herald / Miami-Dade / April 23, 2011

Dr. Andrew Weil, national health guru now working on his 12th book about healthy living, believes people should seek to live well rather than trying to live too long

By Fred Tasker

The human body is designed to live far longer than 100 years, says Dr. Andrew Weil, national health guru. But that doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea. “At the moment, longevity appears to be fixed at about 120 years,” he says. “But few people make it. And most of them over 100 are not well.’’He suggests another model for a good life: “We should live long and well and have a rapid drop-off at the end.”

Dr. Andrew Weil in the kitchen of his ranch in Vail, Ariz. Weil Lifestyle

That’s the philosophy behind Weil’s life-long concept of “integrative medicine,” the use of conventional medical surgery and drugs along with holistic and spiritual methods such as meditation, hypnosis, herbs, diet and vitamins to slow aging and live a healthy life.

Because he believes in “graceful aging,” Weil is no fan of cosmetic plastic surgery.

“If people want to feel better, I wouldn’t stand in their way. But extensive plastic surgery to mask aging is the wrong path. We should accept aging and work on what’s important — maintaining health as we go through life instead of reversing aging,” he says during a phone interview from his home in Vail, Ariz.

Extending life through scientific attacks on major diseases and manipulating human genes can only go so far, the Harvard-trained doctor says.

“Tinkering with DNA at that level may have serious unforeseen consequences such as greatly increased risks of cancer,” he says.

Weil finds irony in the fact that, while some medical researchers are trying to use genetic engineering and manipulation of human cells to extend life to 120 or even 140 years, others are warning that the national epidemic of obesity means today’s young people may be the first generation with a shorter lifespan than their parents.

Poor eating, lack of exercise and stress are major problems, leading to inflammation in the body, he says.“Chronic, inappropriate low levels of inflammation are the root cause of most of the degenerative diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s,” he says.

Because of that, Weil bypassed the 2010 United States Department of Agriculture’s dietary pyramid and created his own, an “anti-inflammatory dietary pyramid” heavy on vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats, lots of spices, a hint of grass-fed red meat and a bit of red wine and dark chocolate at the narrowing top.

His pyramid includes unlimited amounts of Asian mushrooms but not regular button or portobello mushrooms: “They lack certain nutrients.”

Weil, who did scientific studies of marijuana at Harvard and in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, favors legalizing medical marijuana use and decriminalizing its use in general.

“Marijuana’s toxicity is negligible. Compared to most drugs used in medicine today, it’s extremely safe. Its medical potential is very great. The challenge is in coming up with a form for using it that’s acceptable,” he said.

Weil, who looks like Santa Claus’s younger, healthier brother, is everywhere in the media, regularly on Oprah, The Today Show and, until recently, Larry King Live. His program, Dr. Weil’s Guide to Healthy Aging, has appeared on PBS. He’s written 11 books, mostly best-sellers, on his “integrative medicine” philosophy, and made the cover of Time magazine three times, once as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Weil’s healthy living messages come at health consumers from all directions. On his website, drweil.com, followers can see his daily health feature, daily healthy recipe, daily Q & A, weekend health tip, anti-inflammatory diet newsletter, weekly heart health tip, women’s interest newsletter and his mind, body and spirit newsletter. They can follow his podcast and his blog, keep in touch on Facebook and Twitter and read his column in Prevention magazine.

He’s a one-man health conglomerate, with lines of vitamins, “integrative” footwear, organic olive oil, True Food restaurants in Arizona and California (heavy on vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free offerings) and a wellness program at the Miraval, Ariz., Resort & Spa.

Weil, 68, is founder of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, where he also is a professor of medicine and public health and of integrated rheumatology. He has a private practice in Tucson and also runs the Weil Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that uses $2 million a year from sales of health products to support training, education and research in integrative medicine.

Weil’s concept of “integrative medicine,” encompassing body, mind, and spirit, has evolved over a career of studying conventional medicine as well as alternative methods and drugs, both legal and illegal. Entering Harvard in 1960, Weil majored in biology, and was editor of both The Harvard Crimson and The Harvard Lampoon. On campus during the tumultuous 1960s, he encountered the local drug scene. He wrote his senior thesis on the narcotic properties of nutmeg.

He interned at Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco, which served the counterculture Haight-Ashbury district. At that time, he did a study on psychoactive drugs funded by the National Institutes of Health. Later, he traveled the Americas and Africa studying medicinal plants.

Relating to drugs in terms of their good and bad properties rather than their legality or lack of it, his books have gradually developed his concept of “integrative medicine.”

Lately he’s been working on the emotional factors of long life and good health, which he’ll detail in his next book, Spontaneous Happiness, due out Nov. 8.

Fred Tasker

E-Mail: ftasker@MiamiHerald.com

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