Since the early ‘70s, Andrew Weil has been bucking conventional wisdom about healthy living.
Weil began his career with a bang -- or maybe just a puff -- in The Natural Mind, a book containing ideas that remain controversial today. Most famously, it endorsed the idea of "stoned thinking" (induced not only by drugs but also by hypnosis, meditation, etc.) and identified a bias in traditional studies about mind-altering drugs. The book was fortified by Weil's own experience studying and taking various psychotropic agents, and while it suggested that non-chemical experiences were healthier, it also bore open criticism of American drug policy. Weil continued his exploration of altered mental states with The Marriage of the Sun and Moon and From Chocolate to Morphine (coauthored with Winifred Rosen).
In his next three titles -- Health and Healing, Natural Health, Natural Medicine, and Spontaneous Healing -- Weil turned to illness and alternative therapies, educating readers on then relatively unknown options such as homeopathy, herbal medicine, cranial therapy and other unconventional approaches. The fact that Weil was a Harvard-trained doctor lent his writings credibility and popularity with an ever-widening readership, even as he earned a somewhat heretical status in the world of mainstream medicine.
Some of Weil's views might rile practitioners of traditional medicine -- he has suggested that certain conventional treatments do more harm than good -- but Weil has never advocated abandonment of the medical establishment. Rather, he promotes integrative medicine: an approach to health that embraces nontraditional healing methods and takes the mind and spirit into account when assessing and treating problems. In response to Dr. Arthur Relman's assault in the New Republic, charging that assertions in Weil's books that lacked scientific backing, Weil responded on his web site, "If I had dismissed the successes I saw with [cranial therapy, for example] as ‘anecdotes,' we would not be in a position to take the next step and gather the data that Dr. Relman wants to see. It is important to note that paradigm shifts, in medicine as in other fields, are not quiet affairs. They occasion much screaming and kicking." (To both of the doctors' credits, they engaged in a public debate at the University of Arizona following Relman's much-discussed critique, minus the screaming and kicking.) Whatever the future holds for certain alternative approaches, it is a testament both to Weil's popularity and the growing interest in his ideas that studies of such practices have begun to win funding and attention.
Eight Weeks to Optimum Health was the most complete synthesis yet of Weil's ideas about holistic health and also helped cement his status as a health guru. Unlike most "diets" that focused mostly on meal plans and magical eating formulas, Weil's program is about a balance of nutrients, herbs, exercise, and mental salves such as turning off the news or keeping fresh flowers around. In particular, Weil became a well known expert on the growing field of herbal supplements.
Recently, Weil teamed with Rosie Daley -- Oprah's former personal chef – to create The Healthy Kitchen. The book operates on a bit of push-and-pull between Daley and Weil, with "Andy" offering substitute ingredients to some of Rosie's recipes. As with Weil's other tomes, The Healthy Kitchen does not operate on draconian edicts, offering options for individuals instead.
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Weil is director and founder of the Program in Integrative Medicine of the College of Medicine, University of Arizona. Also, his Polaris Foundation advances the cause of integrative medicine through public policy, education, and research.
Weil's parents owned a millinery store in Philadelphia, and his mother fostered his interest in botany. "When you grow up in a row house, there's very limited opportunity to grow stuff, but my mother knew some things from her mother, who was the one with the real green thumb," he told My Generation magazine. "And she did introduce me to growing bulbs in the house, and we had a little plot of ground to garden. That stuff fascinated me. And I always dreamed about the day when I could have enough space to do it."
Weil's undergraduate focus was ethnobotany, which focuses on the uses of certain plants by various cultures and ethnicities. His thesis title: "The Use of Nutmeg as a Psychotropic Agent." Under a fellowship from the Institute of Current World Affairs, Weil traveled from 1971-75 throughout Central and South America to investigate cultural psychotropics and healing. Many of his findings from this time are collected in The Marriage of the Sun and Moon.
Weil lives in Arizona "by pure chance," he told HealthWorld Online. His car broke down in the mid-1970s, and it took so long to fix that he ended up staying in Tucson.
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