Dr Andrew Weil on integrative medicine

Andrew Weil is a medical doctor well known for his collaboration with beauty brand Estee Lauder's Origins line.

Andrew Weil for Origins is certainly one of his most recognisable trademarks, but he made a name for himself in the US as far back as the 1970s when he pioneered the philosophy of Integrative Medicine, a term which he also coined.

Dr Weil, 75, graduated from Harvard, and founded the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine in 1994.

His day job is as an academician at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, so he teaches and lectures.

Among the books he's written include Healthy Aging (2005) and Eating Well for Optimum Health (2000).

He was in Singapore recently en route from the US to Indonesia, to launch a Spa and Wellness with Dr Andrew Weil programme on the Seabourn Encore cruise last December.

How did you get into the skincare business?

About 12 years ago, the CEO of Origins came to see me.

She knew my work in Integrative Medicine and also knew I was trained in botany.

She asked if I would be interested in collaborating with Origins in developing new skincare products.

Although I didn't know anything about skincare products, I told her I could suggest ingredients that might be useful.

The first ingredients I picked were mushrooms; a number of species they could test for anti-inflammatory effects.

The feedback on Origins' Mega Mushrooms has been terrific and that's their best-selling product in Asia.

Since then, we meet several times a year to discuss new products, ideas and ingredients.

What do you do when you're not consulting for Origins?

I direct the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, so my day job is teaching.

I also write and give lectures all over.

We've now graduated about 1,500 physicians.

More than half of the medical schools in the US have joined a consortium for Integrative Medicine so it's a real movement.

What's the core belief of Integrative Medicine?

It's emphasising the body's natural potential for healing and making use of all methods that can promote healing, including conventional medicine.

We don't reject conventional medicine but also use natural therapies and a lot of lifestyle-based treatments such as dietary change, exercise, stress reduction and so forth.

When I started it in the 1980s, no one had heard of it so I got a lot of criticism but now it's very accepted.

It's much stronger in the US than anywhere else, and I think it's because our healthcare system is in worse trouble.

Our healthcare is in really bad shape and nobody can afford high-tech medicine.

So the appeal of Integrative Medicine is that it can lower healthcare cost and preserve outcomes.

How did you even start pioneering this idea?

I majored in botany as an undergraduate in college, and that was a lucky choice.

I was always interested in plants - something I got from my mother, which she got from her mother.

I always liked to grow plants, it gave me a connection to nature.

When I went to medical school, it was very shocking that the people who were teaching pharmacology had no knowledge of the plants where the drugs came from.

Medicine has gotten very separate from nature.

My studies in botany was one of the basis of the development of my philosophy in integrative medicine.

It was controversial at the time? How is it accepted now?

First I practised natural and preventive medicine with my patients, and then I came to use the term Integrative Medicine.

The general public paid attention to what I was saying but none of my medical colleagues were interested at all.

The main criticism against it is that it's unscientific.

There's a surprising amount of evidence and published research out there but most doctors aren't reading it.

The attitude didn't change until the 1990s when the economics of healthcare got so bad in the US.

It took a long time, and it was the economics that brought about the change.

It's really interesting that no amount of intellectual argument convinced anybody.

It was only when their pocketbooks got squeezed that they began to open up to these new ideas.

How have you practised it in your own life?

I'm constantly impressed by the human body's own healing potential.

If you give it a chance, it can correct itself. In my own life certainly, I used to be very allergic, and I don't have the allergies anymore; just from changing my diet. I've worked with so many patients over the years to reduce the use of medicines - and they've gotten better just using natural medicines.

I became mostly vegetarian - I do eat fish.

I grow my own vegetables and I cook for myself.

Lifestyle medicine is about common sense and using natural remedies.

My main exercise is taking my two dogs for a walk and swimming.

What are recent botanical discoveries you can share?

There's a plant that I just found in South America which has caffeine in it, called guayusa.

It is a very powerful anti-oxidant.

The Origins laboratory tested it and it scored much higher than any other plants we have tested.

But Origins is unable to use it because this plant is not on the government-approved list of botanicals in China.

Sometimes I come up with great botanicals but Origins can't use them in their products.

Because China is their biggest market, Origins has to conform to it.

How long have you had your beard?

I first grew it in the 1970s - so it's funny to watch it get trendy now.

I have to get it cut every two to three weeks.

I'm amazed at how fast it grows.

This article was first published on February 4, 2017.
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