Physician and author Andrew T. Weil at India Today Conclave 2007

first_imgAndrew T. WeilANDREW T. WEILPHYSICIAN, AUTHOR & PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA Despite the undeniable advances in medical science in the past 100 years, we are facing a global crisis in healthcare today. And it has the potential to disrupt the economic growth surging through much of the world. The good,Andrew T. WeilANDREW T. WEILPHYSICIAN, AUTHOR & PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA Despite the undeniable advances in medical science in the past 100 years, we are facing a global crisis in healthcare today. And it has the potential to disrupt the economic growth surging through much of the world. The good news is that there are solutions to this predicament. But some of the most effective ones may require out-of-the-box thinking and the development of new paradigms in healing and healthcare. I firmly believe that India is uniquely positioned to address the health challenges of the future.The moot problem is the spiralling cost of healthcare. There are several reasons for this. First, modern medicine has changed the very nature of illness. The rolling back of infectious diseases, the primary cause of disability and death till early 20th Century, has left us saddled with chronic degenerative illnesses, that are much more difficult to treat and much more expensive. Medical advances are also enabling people to live longer. Never before in human history has such a large percentage of population been in the ranks of the old and the oldest-old. This, obviously, has enormous political, economic and social consequences. But the immediate effect is an enormous escalation in healthcare costs.In the US, the healthcare system is on the verge of total collapse. Smaller and community hospitals are going bankrupt. At one end of the age spectrum, there is a huge population of senior citizens. At the other end, there is a generation of unhealthy children, victims of morbid obesity, type-II diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Modern allopathic medicine has also become far too dependent on technology, which is inherently expensive. In addition, over 40 per cent of the population is uninsured. The problem is that the US spends money not on the promotion of health, but on the intervention of established diseases, a losing proposition. We need to spend money in ways that educate people about health. Our physicians are not trained in simple low-tech, low-cost interventions. A glaring omission is that basic nutrition is still not taught in medical schools. The total instruction I got in nutrition in my four years at Harvard was 30 minutes. The nutritional illiteracy of the medical profession allows the pressure of corporations that make food and the stupidity of governments that should be doing something in this area, to just run rampant over good sense.advertisementFor the past 35 years, I have been working to develop a new paradigm: ‘integrative medicine’. It is the intelligent combination of ideas and practices of conventional medicine and alternative medicine. It begins with the recognition that conventional medicine does some things extremely well. If I were in an automobile accident, I would not want to be taken first to the practitioner of Ayurveda or Acupuncture. If I have acute bacterial pneumonia, I would want to be treated with antibiotics. But in many kinds of other illnesses, and especially the diseases of lifestyle, allopathic medicine is much less effective. Integrative medicine may take longer to work and the effect may be less dramatic, but over time it can produce as good or better results. It also makes economic sense because it is simpler, natural and cheaper.DISEASE IS NOT NECESSARILY A CONSEQUENCE OF AGEING. WORK TOWARD DELAYING THE ONSET OF DISEASES. Integrative medicine means a true marriage, a system that draws on the best aspects, ideas and practices of all systems of healing. It is much more than simply bringing new therapies into the mainstream. Its main purpose is to restore the focus of medicine on health and healing and not solely on disease management. It also insists that people are more than physical bodies. We are mental, emotional, spiritual entities, active in our communities. Unless medicine takes those into account, it cuts itself off from large areas of intervention in which many kinds of disease can be modified. Especially, in mind-body medicine, which is now well researched with scientific foundation to it. Integrative medicine insists that we look at aspects of lifestyle, how people eat, how they exercise or don’t, how they rest, what they do for fun and how they handle stress. All of this is relevant to the equation of health and illness.Integrative medicine insists that the interaction between doctors and patients is very relevant to the healing process. One of the great tragedies of conventional medicine is that the amount of time doctors spend with patients has come down drastically. In some countries like Japan, this is even worse where doctors now see 30 patients in an hour and are called ‘two-minute doctors’.advertisementI feel strongly that integrative medicine is the way of the future. In North America, it is now an established movement. It is also quite strong in Scandinavia, China and in Japan. But I am fascinated by India. It is a unique example in the world, of a country in which a number of different traditional medical systems have had long illustrious history. At the moment, the integration of these systems has still not really happened here. But I can envision that it is in this country that models of integrative medicine can be developed both for in-patient and out-patient care. And that will serve as models to be replicated around the world.DiscussionQ. How does integrative medicine add to our knowledge of all those lifestyle risk factors that lead to chronic diseases like heart attack? Weil: In cardiology, the biggest omission is in the mind-body area. Recommendations are rarely made on how to change one’s mental health-something that has a very damaging effect on the heart. There are technologies-ancient ones like Pranayam and meditation or modern cognitive and behavioural therapies-that can efficiently show how to identify and change negative patterns of thinking.Q. What’s the key to a good diet? How do you manage yours? Weil: The problem in modern diet is the extent to which manufactured and fast food have displaced natural home-cooked food. Today the percentage of American families that sit down to even one meal together is astonishingly and depressingly low. For many, the idea of preparing a meal from fresh ingredients seems very old-fashioned. They either don’t have the time, or they don’t know how to do it, or find it too labour-intensive. I have always tried to show that it is possible to make foods that are delicious, healthy, easy and quick. I enjoy food, I grow a lot of my own food and I like to prepare food for myself and others. I grew up eating a mainstream American diet. But I became a vegetarian when I was 28. For many years, I was a lacto-vegetarian. And then for a variety of reasons I began eating fish. I am convinced that Omega-3 fatty acids are absolutely essential to optimum health. I do not eat meat or poultry. I eat some diary products. I eat fish and also take a supplement of fish oil. If you choose for vegetarian reason not to eat fish, I would really urge you to think about maximising your intake of vegetarian sources of Omega-3, like algae.Q. The goal of integrative medicine, you have said, is to live longer and live better. What’s the best way of ageing? Weil: Acceptance of the ageing process. The very concept of antiageing medicine bothers me. Ageing is a universal process, written into the laws of the universe. To set your goal as anti-ageing is to put yourself into a wrong relationship with nature. But if anti-aging is not the legitimate goal, then what is? I call it ‘healthy aging’. Focus on maintaining health. At any age, you should have the energy and capability to enjoy life. As people get older, diseases become more frequent. Are these necessary consequences of aging? My answer to that is ‘no’. It is possible to separate aging from age-related diseases. The legitimate goal to me is to work toward reducing the risk and delaying the onset of these diseases. There is a lovely term for it: ‘compression of morbidity’. You try to squeeze the time of disability and decline at the end of life into as short a period as possible. You live long and well and then have a rapid drop-off at the end.advertisementQ. Which form of Pranayam or meditation should we practice? Weil: The first principle of breath work is to try to make breathing deeper, slower, quieter and more regular. If done regularly, breathing would unconsciously tend to move in this direction.last_img

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