Dr. Andrew Weil Still Works Wonders

By Lee Allen –

Dr. Andrew Weil Still Works Wonders Products Support Integrative Medicine

Time magazine is approaching its 100th anniversary and Tucson’s famous physician Andrew Weil has the unique distinction of having graced its cover. Twice.

Oft called the “Father of Integrative Medicine” –  the initially controversial concept involving the interconnection of mind, body and spirit  – Weil exploits made the first cover in 1997 asking “Can This Guy Make You Healthy?” and reappeared in 2005 with a more gentle headline “Living Better Longer.”

During his period of discovery, as he pitched a new way of thinking about healing, the man now known worldwide as Dr. Weil was soon named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World and one of the Top 25 Visionaries. CNN’s Larry King referred to him as “America’s Doctor.”

The only child of parents who operated a millinery store, the academically gifted student won admission to Harvard University where his personality emerged. A true child of the ’60s, Weil served as editor of The Harvard Lampoon, the campus humor publication, and wrote his senior thesis on the narcotic properties of the common spice nutmeg.

Feeling that further research was warranted, in his final year of medical school, Weil undertook a serious clinical study of marijuana, and later, while serving an internship in California’s Haight-Ashbury district, had numerous opportunities to observe the effects of hallucinogenic drugs. He ultimately accepted an offer from the National Institute of Mental Health to direct a study of psychoactive drugs.

In the early ’70s, he spent three years traveling throughout the Americas and Africa, studying the use of plants as traditional medicines for indigenous peoples. Calling him “Shaman, MD,” the New York Times magazine wrote: “For most of his life, he’s been an anti-institutional sort of guy – not a hippie exactly, but doing a lot of hippie stuff –  traveling, fondling plants, trying drugs and experimenting with meditation.”  Weil has merely acknowledged: “You’ve got to experiment to figure out what works.”

Weil knew in his heart integrative medicine worked

Now internationally recognized as THE expert on alternative medicine, medicinal plants and the reform of medical education involving those subjects, his acceptance came gradually and, often, begrudgingly.

Yet the Harvard Medical School graduate knew in his heart as early as the 1960s that integrative medicine worked. “But I never thought it would be possible to promulgate that program within the existing medical community,” he said.

“As far back as I can remember, I’ve been interested in plants (his bachelor’s degree is in botany) and curious about how the mind and body work together. But those things did not fit with conventional scientific ideas at the time.”

Indeed. The concept now known as IM – treating a person’s mind, body and spirit all at the same time – ran counter to the prevalent medical industry mantra of get-straight-to-the-problem-and-fix-the-disease. “I’ve always believed that reform would not be possible without an integrative medicine concept, shifting our energies from intervention to prevention.”

The www.WebMD page notes that “IM advocates were expressing a dissatisfaction with a healthcare system that often left doctors feeling rushed and overwhelmed and patients feeling as if they were nothing more than damaged joints and diseased livers.”

Weil said, “It wasn’t until the early 1990s, when the economics of healthcare began to go south, that things suddenly changed and institutions began to open up to what consumers were asking for – because integrative medicine offered the promise of saving money. I didn’t dream of being able to change medical education because all the institutions seemed totally closed and frozen that way. Yet when I saw an opening to make some big changes, I took it.”

Founder of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine

And it was the right path to take. The University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine recently celebrated its 20th year of promulgating Weil’s philosophies. “We’ve now graduated 1,300 physicians with intensive training and that number continues to expand. The world has finally awakened to this concept and it’s gradually becoming mainstream. There are textbooks in the field and half the medical schools in the country have joined an organization supporting integrative medicine. There’s less pushback and more acceptance now. Hardly anybody blinks an eye at the term integrative medicine anymore. There’s been very solid research in this area for almost 40 years that shows it to be both time and cost effective.”

Listed with Weil among the Top 100 practitioners of alternative medicine are other readily recognizable names like Deepak Chopra and Mehmet Oz.

At age 74, Weil is still an ardent champion of the mission with no plans to slow down or retire. “I want to make sure this center is on solid footing and that there are people to carry on that work. With an annual budget approaching $6 million, we’re getting close – but we’re not quite there yet.”

Weil has surrounded himself with quality co-workers who oversee all of the tentacles of a very large business octopus he has built to help fund the IM center and his nonprofit Weil Foundation. “We’ve given away more than $5 million over the last decade and supported some very strategic things that have had big payoffs,” he said with pride.

One reason Weil gathered together team members equally dedicated to his myriad causes is that in fact “I’m ambivalent when it comes to the business stuff. I got into the entrepreneurial endeavors as a way to generate a revenue stream for the center after I discovered that when I tried to do everything myself, it became impossible.”

Indeed. A decade ago when his string of commercial ventures began to appear, Bloomberg News was scathing in a report titled “Dr. Weil, Heal Thyself” that said “The health-guru-turned-celebrity is trying to prove you can simultaneously be an icon for social change and a fast-growth entrepreneur. So far, he’s off to a sputtering start.”

Best-selling author and health guru

Not exactly. That part of the empire is phenomenally healthy now, coordinated and supervised by Richard Baxter, Weil’s business partner since 1994. He said, “I inherited a decentralized organization and began the process of formalizing our business diversification. After-cost product sales revenue and licensing royalties from Weil Lifestyles are donated to finance the legacy of the center (which did close for a short time in the late 1990s because of a lack of funding and a hefty deficit).

“Andy never wanted to be in the limelight for as long as he has. He would have been content to continue writing (he’s currently working on book number 14) and teaching and staying out of the business world – but to build revenue generators, he stepped up.”

By his own admission, Weil is a true Gemini who can appear comfortable in the spotlight as needed, but he doesn’t seek stardom. “Although it’s not readily apparent because of numerous speaking engagements and public appearances, I’m basically an introvert, shy by nature,” he said.

“I’ve reached the point in life,” he wrote in a Huffington Post Healthy Living blog, “that I choose to do only those things that make sense to me – a list of activities that has become much shorter than it was a few years ago.” One of the items on his short list is “pursuing a few carefully chosen projects that advance the cause of effective, affordable medical care for all Americans.”

A few projects? That would depend on how you define “a few” and if you allow those “few” to be gigantic in scope.

“It was with great reluctance that I allowed my name and face to be used on products,” he said, “and I take a lot of crap about that from people, especially within the academic world, that I sold my soul. I don’t get any profits from all these projects. I just get all the flak and none of the reward.”

Products ensure success of the mission

In a 2009 BizTucson interview with Weil, reporter Jane Erikson wrote, “The Weil brand was born, not of greed, but of necessity.” Ergo, a need that had to be fulfilled. If you’re the one who conceptualized and brought forth a new approach to healthcare, you must do what you’ve got to do to raise funds to ensure the success of that mission.

And how. In the more books/more money category, the New York Times best-selling author is currently at work on “Mind Over Meds,” his latest editorial undertaking focusing on our overmedicated society. Weil continues as editorial director of the popular website, DrWeil.com. He is the founder and co-chairman of Healthy Lifestyle Brands and the founder and co-owner of a growing chain of True Food Kitchen restaurants.

In the restaurant world, Valley entrepreneur and former Tucsonan Sam Fox has a reputation comparable to Weil’s as a nutritionist. After the two spent time together cooking in the doctor’s Tucson kitchen, they agreed that healthy food could be delicious. The two have now worked together to build 12 eateries to date. The menus feature dishes influenced by Mediterranean and Asian cuisine, the two healthiest food cultures in the world, with entrees that tend to adhere to the principles of the Dr. Weil anti-inflammatory diet.

“The concept clearly seems to work wherever it’s implemented,” Weil said. “The restaurants are always busy. We have a broad appeal to vegans, vegetarians and people who just want a great meal that’s good for them. Our commitment is that no matter how many locations are established, True Food will never become what one thinks of as a ‘chain’.”

So, with two eateries already in Arizona (Phoenix, Scottsdale) and five more on the drawing board for this year, the logical question is – where does Tucson fit into the future?  “What we’re doing elsewhere is exciting, but it’s still embarrassing we don’t have one in Tucson, and I get asked about that every week,” Weil said. “Tucson isn’t considered a large enough market to be one of the first 20 sites – but once we get there, I’ll be making a big push to establish one in the Old Pueblo.”

Weil name sells kitchen goods, skincare, vitamins, footwear

Other entities licensed by Weil Lifestyle range from skincare products, customized vitamins, pet food and footwear with after-tax profits donated to his many cause-based crusades. Internet researching of his myriad enterprises leads one down the informational rabbit hole It’s a biblical experience with one enterprise begetting another and all headed in the same health-focused direction.

Log on to www.drweilproducts.com and prepare to be overwhelmed at the variety of items designed to help promote a healthy lifestyle – from nutritional foods to kitchenware to personal care products. Weil and partner Origins Natural Resources (one of the Estee Lauder Companies) have worked together for over a decade now on a collection of proactive skincare treatments that combine therapeutic plants and herbs with wellness and lifestyle techniques.

In developing natural cosmetics like Plantidote Mega-Mushroom Face Serum, Weil relied on his past travels. “In East Asian medicine, a lot of mushrooms are used for their anti-inflammatory effects and the root of a lot of skin problems is inflammation.”  Bingo!

Attesting to product success and good marketing, the Dr. Weil Origins line is now available in more than 15 key global markets, 100 of its own free-standing retail stores, and more than 400 department and specialty stores throughout the U.S.

Weil beams at the many commercial successes – all means to an end. “The Weil Foundation funds advancement of integrative medicine and I believe the day is coming when all doctors will be routinely trained in the subject. The tens of thousands of health-wise consumers who buy Weil-endorsed products become a partner with me in bringing that day closer.”

Building the Weil World Empire came with a cost however. His former wife Sabine Kremp, mother of their daughter, Diana, had enough after eight years of being Number Two after his work. “The empire killed the marriage,” she’s said.

While “slow down” is not in his vocabulary, Weil may consider ratcheting down his writing. “The whole publishing business is in flux – and I’ve said about all I have to say. I don’t know for sure, we’ll have to see, but there are no pressing issues at the moment that would make me consider book 15.”

There’s also nothing planned along the lines of a sandy beach listening to waves crash while sipping an adult libation. “Not my idea of relaxation,” he said. “I prefer leisure activities like gardening and cooking. Besides, I can’t imagine not working in some capacity. It’s a central focus of my life and I get great satisfaction from that.”

An amazing trajectory of social change and success for a man who decided 40 years ago that it was an omen when his car broke down here and he decided to stay and make Tucson his home.

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