He was ahead of the curve in pioneering the field of holistic health and integrative medicine—and in rocking the facial hair that’s now de rigueur for hipsters everywhere. Author Andrew Weil, MD, founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona and the force behind a growing brand of wellness products and services, visited Naples recently for an event benefiting Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida. Weil discussed healthy aging, integrative medicine, the future of our health-care system, and food. The founder and co-owner of True Food Kitchen restaurants—which operates a location in Naples—emphasizes diet and nutrition as key to a healthy lifestyle. Turn the page for NI’s interview with the wellness guru.
NI: When and why did you begin studying natural and preventive wellness?
Weil: I have a lifelong interest in plants, something that I got from my mother, and which she got from her mother. That led me to be a botany major as an undergrad at Harvard, and that started me on a career interest in medicinal plants. I also have a longstanding interest in the mind and how the mind interacts with the body.… I had begun looking at alternative medicine when I was in college, so I had all of these interests that go back a long way. When I finished my medical training, I felt that I hadn’t learned anything about how to keep people healthy and prevent disease. I also felt a lot of what I was taught to do in the way of treatment caused too much harm. I just felt there had to be better ways.
How can people navigate the sea of conflicting health information out there?
First, I would recommend my books, website, and newsletter as sources of valid information. I change what I say as science changes. I also suggest people try to find a practitioner trained in integrated medicine. Our center’s website lists all our graduates, and they’re in all states and highly qualified to answer questions of that sort.
About the beard. When did you start growing it?
Thanksgiving Day of 1970. It’s become a trademark. I originally grew it because I started losing my hair at 16. My beard was very heavy, so I was always fighting to keep hair on the top and get it off the face, and I finally decided to let it do what it wanted. I got incredible criticism for it back in those days when beards were completely out of fashion. I finally watched it become so fashionable.
What’s something we can do right now to live healthier?
In the realm of nutrition, the simplest advice I can give is to avoid eating refined, processed, and manufactured food. It’s that simple. It’s causing all the problems. You want to eat whole, natural foods, as close to the way nature produces as possible.