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Andrew Weil

there’s a lot of very concise information that people easily can get about basic dietary theory. In my recent book, Healthy Aging, I think this is organized most tightly. I talk about an anti-inflammatory diet, but this is really a diet for optimum health. It is modeled on the Mediterranean diet, which I think is the best template to use for designing a healthy diet.

David: What do you think are some of the most important nutritional supplements that one should be taking?

Dr. Weil: I think that everyone should take a good multivitamin, multimineral supplement. I’ve been arguing that the government should provide one free to all school kids. I think that would do a lot to help correct micronutrient deficiencies, which are especially common in the poor population. I think it would improve school performance, and provide a lot of benefit. I think that people need to know how to read the label of a multivitamin bottle, so that they can tell whether it’s worth their money or not. I’ve given those rules in my book Healthy Aging, and they’re also available on my Web site. There are some fairly simple things that you look at on the label that tell whether or not this is a good product. The quality of vitamin supplements varies enormously and there’s not necessarily a correlation with price. And there’s just a lot of not well-designed products out there.

David: What sort of recommendations would you make to someone looking to improve their memory and their cognitive performance?

Dr. Weil:  I think, first of all, to use antioxidants, to avoid smoking, and to look at some of the natural products out there which may be useful for that. There’s a dietary supplement called phosphatidylserine (PS), which looks useful for memory. There’s a product on the market called Juvenon, developed by Bruce Ames at Berkeley, which has two dietary supplements in it that looks useful. Ginkgo biloba may be helpful. But I think a major piece of advice that I would give people is that education seems very protective. The more education you have, I think, the better your memory is and the better it stays as you get older. I think there are some kinds of education that are particularly useful, like learning another language, so I urge people to make an effort to learn another language. You don’t have to master it; it’s just the act of trying to learn it that seems very useful. And there’s one other thing–it looks as if a lot of the neurodegenerative diseases begin as inflammatory processes. So again, following an anti-inflammatory diet, and using natural products that have anti-inflammatory effect.  Turmeric looks especially powerful as a memory protectant.

David: What sort of recommendations would you make to someone looking to improve their sexual performance?

Dr. Weil: I think, first of all, one needs to analyze what the problems are, and access whether there is a physical problem that’s interfering, or whether this a psychological problem. So I would say to get help from an expert in the field. I think that Viagra and its relatives for men certainly are better than anything else that has been available throughout history. I think there are a number of natural products, like Asian ginseng, an Indian plant called ashwagandha, a plant from Mongolia called rhodiola, and arctic root. All of these have reputations as being sexual enhancers, especially for men. For women, I think the best thing we have is low-dose testosterone, and that needs to be given on prescription with some careful diagnosis, but it can be very useful.

David: What do you think are some of the virtues of aging and why do you think that it’s important that we accept the aging process?

Dr. Weil: I think it’s important because it’s inevitable, and there’s nothing we can do about it–despite what the anti-aging people have to say. It’s an inevitable universal process. So I think it’s important to get with it, and accept it. I also think that, while aging brings difficulties and problems, there are some things that get better as you get older. I think that you accumulate wisdom. You develop more authority. I think that certain aspects of mental function get better, such as pattern recognition. I think that in cultures where aging is valued, and not devalued as it is here, old people look different. They’re valued as major cultural resources, and sources of information, experience, and wisdom. And people look up to them for that reason.

David: What do you think are the primary causes of aging?

Dr. Weil:  Ultimately, I think it’s the Second Law of Thermodynamics–that disorder increases in systems, and that’s just the law of the universe. I think that on the cellular level that means the accumulation of errors in the DNA code. I think that one way you can look at living life is that it’s a perpetual struggle between oxidative stress and antioxidant defenses. The main source of oxidative stress is normal metabolism, and eventually oxidative stress wins, because of the fact that disorder increases. So I think that you can look on various levels as to why aging occurs. You can look at damage to DNA, damage to cell membranes, and oxidative damage, but I think the root cause is that this is a law of the universe.

David: What do you think are currently some of the best ways to slow down the aging process and age more gracefully with greater health?

Dr. Weil: My goal is not to slow down the aging process; it’s to reduce the risk, and delay the onset of age-related diseases. I don’t think it is necessary to get sick as you get older. One of the things that I worry about with the anti-aging movement is that if you’re obsessed with slowing down or reversing the aging process it distracts you from that other goal, which is, I think, the really important one. And to do that, I think, it means attending to all aspects of lifestyle. It means learning the principles of good eating, good physical activity, ways of neutralizing stress, using natural products to enhance health, and knowing what you can do on the mental level to protect your memory and other mental functions. So I think it’s working in all aspects of lifestyle, and I think we have a lot of that information out there about how to reduce the risk of age-related disease.

David: What role do you see the mind and consciousness playing in the health of the body?

Dr. Weil: I think it’s huge. This is an area that I’ve been interested in, I think, since I was a teenager–long before I went to medical school–and a lot of my early work was with altered states of consciousness and psychoactive drugs. I reported a lot of things that I saw about how physiology changed drastically with changes in consciousness. I just reviewed a paper from Japan; one of the authors is a doctor I know. This is a group of people looking at how emotional states effect the genome. They have shown, for example, that laughter can actually effect gene expression in patients with Type 2 diabetes. Now that’s really interesting stuff, and I think that this is the type of research that is generally not looked at here. I think that our mental states–our states of consciousness–have a profound influence on our bodies, and even our genes. And I think they have a lot to do with how we age.

David: What role do you think that spirituality plays in health?

Dr. Weil: Again, I think, large, but it’s hard to define spirituality. For me, I make a very sharp distinction between spirituality and religion. Religion is really about institutions, and for me spirituality is about the nonphysical, and how to access that and incorporate it into life. In Eight Weeks to Optimum Health I gave a lot of suggestions in each week about things that people can do to improve or raise spiritual energy, and they are things that at first many people might not associate with spirituality. But they were recommendations like having fresh flowers in your living space and listening to pieces of music that elevate your mood. Some of the other suggestions included spending more time with people in whose company you feel more optimistic and better, and spending time in nature. I think that I would put all of these in the realm of spiritual health.

David: When I interviewed Larry Dossey he told me about research that showed evidence for the health benefits of remote healing. What do you think of the studies done with remote healing that show health benefits from prayer?

Dr. Weil: I don’t know what to make of them. I think that’s really frontier stuff, fringy stuff, and I’m certainly open to those possibilities. I’m willing to believe anything, but then I really want to see evidence for it. And I think that the evidence that has been collected so far for these effects, at least in the experiments where people don’t know that these interventions are being done, that that’s such a challenge to the conventional model, that there really has to be very solid evidence for it. I’m open-minded, but unconvinced at the moment.

David: How have psychedelics effected your perspective on medicine, and what sort of therapeutic potential do you think that they have?

Dr. Weil: I think they’ve been a very profound influence. I used them a lot when I was younger. I think that they made me very much aware, first of all, of the profound influence of consciousness on health. I have published and described one of the experiences that I had that was very dramatic, and this was seized upon by some networks that put it all out there.

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