Bethany Frankel said, “Your diet is a bank account. Good food choices. Those are good investments.” And Caroline Mace said, “What drains your spirit, drains your body. What fuels your spirit, fuels your body.”
Do you feel overwhelmed by all the information out there about living a healthy life? It sometimes feels like the healthcare system itself is overwhelmed and the cycle is in a never-ending tailspin. Thankfully, there are people who identified this problem decades ago.
My guest today is one such person. The inspirational Dr. Andrew Weil is a world-renowned leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine — a healing-oriented approach to health care that encompasses body, mind, and spirit. He is the founder and director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine focused on the reform of medical education.
In this episode, we discuss the relationship between the mind and the body, the foods you should eat for increased brain function and longevity, how stress in our relationships can affect our health, the biggest misunderstandings about inflammation in the body, and so much more. Without waiting any longer, let’s dive in with Dr. Andrew Weil!
After completing a medical internship at Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco, he worked a year with the National Institute of Mental Health, then wrote his first book, The Natural Mind. From 1971-1975, as a Fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs, Dr. Weil traveled widely in North and South America and Africa collecting information on drug use in other cultures, medicinal plants, and alternative methods of treating disease. From 1971-1984 he was on the research staff of the Harvard Botanical Museum and conducted investigations of medicinal and psychoactive plants.
Combining a Harvard education and a lifetime of practicing natural and preventive medicine, Dr. Weil is the founder and director of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, where he also holds the Lovell-Jones Endowed Chair in Integrative Rheumatology and is Clinical Professor of Medicine and Professor of Public Health. The Center is the leading effort in the world to develop a comprehensive curriculum in integrative medicine. Graduates serve as directors of integrative medicine programs throughout the United States, and through its fellowship, the Center is now training doctors and nurse practitioners around the world.
Dr. Weil is an internationally recognized expert for his views on leading a healthy lifestyle, his philosophy of healthy aging, and his critique of the future of medicine and health care. Dr. Weil writes a monthly column for Prevention magazine. A frequent lecturer and guest on talk shows, Dr. Weil is an internationally recognized expert on medicinal plants, alternative medicine, and the reform of medical education.
When Dr. Weil began his journey in the ’70s, “alternative” was things like Chinese medicine, chiropractic, and osteopathy — things most people in the medical industry knew nothing about. Dr. Weil’s keen interest in how the mind and body interacted led him to study medical hypnosis at Columbia University, as a suggestive state to access healing in the body. He even watched a film of a woman having a cesarean delivery with no anesthesia except hypnosis.
“She was told to sing row, row, row your boat and she was wide awake and in no pain. That’s just an example. You can take a good hypnotic subject and touch them with a finger and say, ‘It’s a piece of red hot metal’ and they get a blister, a real blister. That’s an example of how the mind and body interact — you can take advantage of that to access healing. I put all this together into this system, integrative medicine.” –Dr. Andrew Weil
Patients started showing up at Dr. Weil’s doorstep — even though that was in the middle of Arizona. Interacting with really interesting people helped him refine his system, and through the 1980s, he developed a large following in the general public, but hardly any attention from his medical colleagues.
That started changing around the early 1990s when a friend was named Chief of Medicine at the University of Arizona and brought a new dean too. Dr. Weil had some allies now to revamp an antiquated system — but he didn’t have total free reign. Although Dr. Weil wanted to start with a residency, the field of “integrative medicine” didn’t exist yet, so they advised him to create a fellowship first, which is what people do after residency to specialize.
With the green light, but no money, Dr. Weil put a think tank together to hammer out a basic curriculum to start advertising.
“We got four physicians who took a big risk to do this fellowship in this field that didn’t exist. That covered things that doctors should learn, like nutrition and mind-body interactions and herbal medicine, and the strength and weakness of breath. The main criticism I got was, ‘How [are you] possibly going to change anything by training four people a year?’ But over the years, we graduated about 35 people, and some are now in powerful positions in academic medicine. More importantly, we got to refine the curriculum and translate it to a distance-learning format. Now we have graduated over 2000 physicians from this very intensive training.” –Dr. Andrew Weil
Dr. Weil is working towards creating a world where no matter whether a patient visits a dermatologist, psychiatrist, or gastroenterologist, that doctor will understand the basics of nutrition, and mind/body medicine, and Chinese medicine — it will be an integrative experience.
After 50 years in the industry pioneering this integrative approach, Dr. Weil expands on what his experience has been on the common root causes of pain.
We all know symptoms like headaches or sore stomachs, but little attention is given to what causes them. I was curious whether lifestyle plays a part in most of the pain that Dr. Weil has treated over the years.
“In my clinical experience, more often than not, I find the root causes of problems not in the physical body, but more in the mental, emotional, or spiritual. John Sarno wrote one book called Healing Back Pain and another called Mind Over Back Pain and taught that almost all back pain is psychological. That’s not to say it’s not real, but the origin of this problem is mental. He used to require people [seeking treatment] to [attend] two evening lectures he gave in one week, and a great many people who did, their pain disappeared forever.” – Dr. Andrew Weil
Dr. Weil believes one of the great limitations of conventional medicine is it’s only focused on the physical body and it ignores this whole other realm.
It’s not just pain, Dr. Weil shares a story of two women both with systemic lupus, a major autoimmune disease. It can affect any system of the body, but usually, there’s joint involvement like arthritis, or skin problems like eczema or rashes. Incredibly, both of them were being treated by him at the same time and in their late thirties.
“One woman had brain involvement and was psychotic as a result of [lupus], and the other woman had her kidneys involved and was near death in the hospital. The first woman with brain involvement had a religious conversion to some variety of fundamentalist Christianity in the hospital. The other woman fell in love and subsequently got married and both of them, the disease disappeared. I can’t always arrange for my patients to have religious conversions or fall in love, but to see that that’s possible, [makes me] want to find some way to flip that switch in the mind because it’s not in the body.” –Dr. Andrew Weil
Sarno’s teaching was about constantly re-telling yourself over and over “It’s not my back” and “my back is fine” thus he opposed any therapies directed at the back. He said you shouldn’t even do massage or acupuncture because it reinforces the illusion that the problem exists. There is a catch to this though.
“Tricky part is that the part of the mind that does this is the unconscious mind and you can’t directly access that. You have to trick yourself in some way. There are things you can do to make it more likely: you can meditate, do affirmations, hypnosis; you can see somebody who is a healer. These are all ways of somehow getting around whatever that gap is between where you think, and the part of the brain that connects to the body.” –Dr. Andrew Weil
It’s truly fascinating to learn how powerful the mind/body connection is. Taking all this into account, I wanted to know how Dr. Weil approaches treatment with a new patient.
I asked how Dr. Weil would approach someone having extreme stomach pain that’s lasted for days on end. How would he treat them to get rid of this stomach pain?
“First, I’m going to ask what you’re eating. [Stomach pain is] a good [example] because one of the worst categories of medications out there is these proton pump inhibitors, the acid-blocking drugs. These are really bad. Once you start taking them, it’s very hard to stop. When you suppress something like acid production in the stomach, what’s the body going to do? It’s going to try to produce more acid. So when you try to reduce the dose or stop, there’s an outpouring of acid. So you shouldn’t even get on them in the first place. But that’s a great example, I cannot tell you how many people I’ve seen put on these things without ever a dietary history being taken. Nobody asked them what they’re eating, how much coffee you’re drinking, are you drinking alcohol? Do you smoke? What’s your stress level? Often by addressing those things, you can deal with that. Then there are natural remedies like a licorice extract that increases the mucus coating in the stomach. For more serious stuff, a strategy [I use is to] introduce a patient to someone who has had their condition and is now well. That is a very powerful way to get their belief in the possibility.” –Dr. Andrew Weil
When you can see it with your own eyes that it’s possible, people get the message. For this reason, Dr. Weil can’t understand a glaring problem in our health system: There are national institutes of Diseases and Cancer, but nothing about health. What would Dr. Weil do if he were king for a day?
“I would create a National Institute of health and healing, and one of its missions would be to compile a national registry of remission. If you get diagnosed with something serious, you can contact this agency, and they will put you in touch with people in your area who have had your disease and are now well.” –Dr. Andrew Weil
What a powerful shift to create a health care industry focused on prevention and cures instead of just treating the symptoms.
Dr. Weil’s ideas might sound ahead of the curve, but this isn’t the first time in his career.
Dr. Andrew Weil has been advocating for integrative medicine for 50 years, and looking back, sees how he’s been ahead of the curve, and how he’s foreseen trends. For example, he was the first person to warn about trans fats 10 years before others. His hypothesis in the early days was that chronic inflammation was the root cause of many different kinds of serious chronic diseases, which fascinated him.
“When I was in medical school, I was taught that cardiovascular disease had nothing in common with cancer, Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s disease. Now suddenly it looks like all of these things are linked — they have a common root of chronic inflammation. I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about inflammation. Inflammation is the cornerstone of the body’s healing response, that’s good. It’s the way the body gets more nourishment and more immune activity to an area that’s injured or under attack. We all know it on the surface of the body — redness, swelling, pain, heat, but we aren’t aware of it internally. It’s potentially destructive, [which is why ] it’s very important that it ends when it’s supposed to end, and stay where it’s supposed to stay.” –Dr. Andrew Weil
If inflammation persists and outlives its purpose, it causes disease.
Too much inflammation makes you vulnerable to allergies and autoimmunity problems, while low-level chronic inflammation going on for a long time greatly increases risks of cardiovascular disease, or neurodegenerative diseases and cancers. The best thing we can do is learn how to contain it.
Factors that influence it are partly genetic. Stress and exposure to environmental toxins like second-hand smoke are also big factors. Diet also has a huge influence, which is something we can control.
Guys, you will surely find this episode fascinating and learn valuable information about how to listen to your body and not just live longer, but healthier too. Listen to the full episode for more wisdom from Dr. Weil, and don’t forget to share it with your friends.
I highly recommend learning more about Dr. Andrew Weil on drweil.com, which has a great deal of health information. You can also follow him on Instagram as well as check out his Matcha Tea business on matcha.com. For more information on where to find an integrative physician, visit the University of Arizona website too, and find one of their graduates throughout the United States as well as 20 other countries around the world.
If you enjoyed this conversation, please make sure to spread the message of greatness and inspire someone else in your life. It would be really great if you could also tag Dr. Weil, @drweil, and me, @lewis howes, on Instagram with a screenshot of this episode and your greatest takeaways from it.
I want to acknowledge Dr. Andrew Weil for the consistent relentlessness he has towards finding the information and providing it for us to find healing within ourselves. I acknowledge his openness, honesty, and his realness. I love to finish off each episode by asking my guest what their definition of greatness is:
“Greatness is whatever resonates with truth.” – Dr. Andrew Weil
It’s our job to continue to improve the quality of our bodies and our health. The tools are available for us. It’s time that we make conscious decisions to improve the quality of our life. It’s not easy. It’s challenging to stay consistent. That’s why it’s important to have accountability, to have tools like this podcast, to have friends who support you, and to have goals that you can aim towards. And I want to remind you if no one’s told you lately that you are loved, you are worthy and you matter, and you know what time it is: It’s time to go out there and do something great.