Monday, April 5, 2010

Andrew Weil MD's Health Sense

While teaching a workshop in the Nagano prefecture, I was invited to pick wonderful, organic strawberries at a local farm. I'm surrounded by scare-eye balloons. Birds are kept at bay because they perceive the bright spots as the eyes of predators.
(Andrew Weil M.D. in Japan)

Andrew Weil MD Just Makes Too Much Sense

Since agriculture is ultimately all about the food we eat, today I'd like to discuss the subject in the above photo, Dr. Andrew Weil. He is an integrative medicine expert, who tries to integrate Western medicine with alternative medicine, emphasizing prevention. I read his book Eight Weeks to Optimum Health when it first came out back in 1997. Weil graduated from Harvard medical school and also had a degree in botany. He spent many years studying botany globally, learning about healing from plants. His mission is to reconnect medicine with nature. He is also a gardener and a cook. His premise is that the body has an amazing capacity to heal, if it is provided with the right conditions such as in nutrition, stress reduction and exercise.

Weil's comments on health reform at '09 Bioneers Conference
I listened to Weil's talk at the October '09 Bioneers conference. He said that we can't rely upon our politicians, so it is up to us individually to make changes. As related to health care "reform", he went on to say that vested interests control our politicians so that they cannot do what needs to be done. Most of what he said about why the health-care system is so wrong in this country, because of lobbying interests, could have been said about the financial industry and to some extent, the agricultural policies, too. I particularly liked his statement that, "We are not debating health-care in this country, we are debating health insurance." Obviously, he feels that health-care is what needs to be debated, before you can address costs and payments.

Other statements he made in his Bioneers talk regarding health-care:

"We are spending more and more money getting less and less results. We are managing existing disease caused by lifestyle, instead of preventing the disease through lifestyle choices and education. We are trying to use drugs to solve everything, when they are only part of the solution. We need to ban advertising of pharmaceuticals. The three big powers that don't want the status quo to change are: big pharma, medical device makers, and big insurance. Because the lobbyists are so powerful it's up to the people to make the changes. The economic crisis is opening minds to alternatives because one cannot afford to get sick today under the present system."

Prescribed drugs are overused
He is cynical about pharmaceutical drugs, and thinks that modern medicine has become synonymous with drugs. Patients aren't happy with their doctor if they are not given a drug and the doctor doesn't hardly ever see a patient without prescribing a drug. Yet, Weil said that if he were going to a remote island for the rest of his life and could take 12 drugs with him, they would be aspirin, morphine, etc. (drugs that have been around for many years and not our newer drugs which he feels often have many worse side effects than suggested.) Drugs are prescribed now at ten times the rate they were when he was growing up.

Lifestyle choices
Another major tenet of Dr. Weil's teachings is how lifestyle choices such as exercise and the food which we eat impact prevention of disease. He thinks education holds the key. Nutrition is his favorite interest. If there's one piece of advice to give people it's "Stop eating refined, processed and manufactured foods. Stop eating interiors of supermarkets or in convenience stores. It's not that complicated." The healthiest foods, the fruits and vegetables, are the most expensive because they are not subsidized the way that less healthy foods are. (Note the quote I've added to this blog's sidebar this month, by Michael Pollan, "Right now the food industry creates patients for the health care industry.")

Disincentives for prevention
Dr. Weil cited examples of fat taxes on employees having been shown to work well. Raising taxes on tobacco helped deter sales, so he feels that needs to be done with soda pop, which could raise all the money needed for health-care reform.

Our two dietary deficiencies
He believes that there are two main deficiencies in our diets: omega 3 fatty acids (take 2-3 g/d supplement such as flaxseed oil, and eat fish) and Vitamin D which prevents cancer and chronic disease. Amount=2000 mg/day. The sun is good for you. (See my commentary on Vitamin D and immune function, including flu prevention, which has always been on the lower sidebar of this blog in the "addendum".)

Moderate Exercise
You have to move your body. He feels walking is best.

Stress Reduction
We need some method of reducing stress. He likes simple breathing techniques which when implemented, are simply not compatible with stress. Breathe deeper. Breathe slower. Breathe quieter. Breathe evenly. When practicing this regularly, you gradually change your breathing habits.

In summary
Dr. Weil prefers low-cost, non-technological solutions for medicine. He wants to promote the human body's amazing capacity to repair itself, adapt and heal itself, even at the DNA level. He thinks that kids need taught, starting in grade school, about this ability of the body to heal itself.

His website is here for more detail on any of these subjects.
Another article I really like, which includes his thoughts: 'Alternative' Medicine Is Mainstream


On influenza pandemics :
Vitamin D may provide immune protection from viruses and influenza. The proposed theory is that the seasonality of the flu virulence may be caused by Vitamin D deficiency. There is evidence that people who get adequate Vitamin D get fewer colds and viruses in general. Vitamin D affects our immune systems in hundreds of ways on the cellular level. The influenza virus makes the immune system go haywire. That is why the most virulent strains, like the Spanish Flu, caused death in young healthy age groups with healthy immune systems. Their immune systems overreacted, causing cytokine storms mimicking pneumonia. The sun's exposure to our skin provides large amounts of Vitamin D manufacture, as compared to taking supplements, which can be toxic, so just 20 minutes a day including winter months might be your best health insurance policy. Plus, your bones will thank you for it.
--Kalpa (Posted 5/4/2009)

Epidemic Influenza And Vitamin D
On the epidemiology of influenza
Epidemic influenza and vitamin D.
The Age of Pandemics