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Dr. Andrew Weil on maximizing health

Dr. Andrew Weil
Dr. Andrew Weil  

Artificial sweeteners and low-fat foods are found on every supermarket shelf and have become a multi-million dollar business, yet Americans are fatter than ever. Modern medicine has access to an unprecedented number of medications, diagnostic tests and equipment, but many people are seeking alternative medications and therapies to treat everything from acne to cancer. An increasing number of doctors are beginning to seriously examine what alternative medicines and therapies have to offer, and have begun to integrate these treatments into their practice.

Dr. Andrew Weil is director of the Program in Integrative Medicine and a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Arizona. He is also the founder of the National Integrative Medicine Council and creator of a monthly newsletter called Self-Healing. Dr. Weil is the author of eight books including "Eating Well for Optimum Health," now available in paperback.

CNN Moderator: Welcome to CNN, Dr. Andrew Weil.

Dr. Weil: Hello, everybody. I'm happy to be here.

From the chat room: What are your views of genetically modified foods? You advocate soy, but a lot of soy products are genetically altered.

Dr. Weil: That's a very complicated question. I'm not opposed to genetic modification. The real question is what are the long-term consequences of it, both for individual health and for the environment. At the least, I think we should know when we are buying altered foods. In the case of soy, I would certainly look for brands that declare that they are GMO free, meaning it has not been genetically modified.

From the chat room: Does Chinese medicine have much to offer Western practitioners in terms of new and alternative treatments?

Dr. Weil: Yes, for some conditions. It has a great emphasis on prevention. Many of the herbs used have unique effects for which we don't have good pharmaceutical drugs. Acupuncture is a unique therapy, which can be valuable for such diverse problems as back pain and acute sinusitis.

From the chat room: How good is flax oil for daily use, and what are its beneficial qualities?

Dr. Weil: Flax oil is a very good source of essential fatty acids, which we absolutely need for optimum health. In my own diet, I get these by eating salmon, sardines, and walnuts. But for people who don't want to eat fish, I often recommend flax oil or freshly ground flax seeds.

From the chat room: What was the Chinese herb you recommended for the lung?

Dr. Weil: It's called cordyceps, sometimes called the caterpillar fungus. It's an unusual mushroom often given to old people and debilitated people in China, but also widely used by endurance athletes because it increase aerobic capacity. You can find it in extract or capsule form in health food stores, or check out a website,

From the chat room: I've been under the impression there's no need to worry about mad cow disease here in the U.S. Is that true, even with fast food?

Dr. Weil: Probably. But there is a potential for mad cow disease to break out in this country. That's one of many reasons why I suggest that people reduce consumption of meat. I don't tell people to become vegetarians, but I think it's wise to decrease the amount of animal food in the diet.

From the chat room: What is your opinion about using the pill for treatment of acne? I am a 31-year old female who has never taken the pill. I have taken two 6-month courses of Clomid to get pregnant with my two children. Many thanks!

Dr. Weil: I guess I would be a little cautious about that, and would want to try some other measures first. In my experience, Chinese medicine is often effective with acne. It has both topical treatments, and herbs to be taken internally, so I'd like to see you work first with a practitioner of Chinese medicines before you go on the pill.

From the chat room: Is there alternative treatment for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) rather than a lifetime of Proton pump inhibitors?

Dr. Weil: Absolutely. Taking Proton pump inhibitors for months or years is not a good idea. I recommend a natural product called DGL, which is an extract of licorice, in combination with relaxation therapies and nutritional counseling. You can check my website for more details. The site is Ask Dr. Weil at It has a good search engine, and you can put in any treatment or condition that you want to know about.

From the chat room: I have pretty bad eczema on my forehead. It's been reoccurring for three years, and often pusses. I've tried the other medications and steroid creams, but it's been flaring up. I've also tried the gluten free diet. What should I do to get rid of it for good?

Dr. Weil: Try increasing intake of essential fatty acids through food, and take supplements of GLA in the form of evening primrose oil or black currant oil. Use the herb chaparral topically, as a lotion or salve, and also work with a hypno-therapist, because the mind-body connection can help you control the condition.

From the chat room: My wife is seven weeks pregnant and a Type-1 diabetic. How should she maintain level blood sugars and do you have any supplement recommendations?

Dr. Weil: She really needs to work with an obstetrician and a registered dietician, as well as her doctor who deals with her diabetes. This really requires professional advice and monitoring, so she needs to work with good experts.

From the chat room: What do you suggest for better oxygen uptake in the body?

Dr. Weil: Well, aerobic exercise of course. In addition, try taking co-Q-10, a natural supplement that improves use of oxygen by the heart muscle and other tissues. I recommend 60 milligrams of a soft-gel form once a day with a meal.

From the chat room: I am a first-year medical student and am curious about your opinion of naturopathic medical schools.

Dr. Weil: There are four naturopathic medical schools in this country. The pre-clinical training in them is good. The clinical training is not as good as that in regular medical school, and the naturopathic doctor degree (ND) is only recognized in fewer than a quarter of the states. Naturopathic students are healthier than medical students, and have more fun. I think there are many possibilities for productive collaboration between naturopathic physicians and medical doctors.

From the chat room: What is your opinion of methotrexane for autoimmune diseases?

Dr. Weil: Methotrexane is effective and generally less toxic than prednisone, but I'd prefer to see it used for shorter rather than longer-term management of autoimmunity. I suggest working with Chinese medicine, mind-body medicine, and other methods to reduce dependence on such strong drugs.

From the chat room: Will changing from generic oils to olive oil for cooking, frying etc., help to reduce cholesterol?

Dr. Weil: It might, and it's worth trying. Olive oil can often help reduce bad cholesterol levels without lowering good cholesterol, as some generic oils do. I try to use good quality olive oil for most of my cooking.

From the chat room: Ocular rosacea - any advice?

Dr. Weil: You might try a Chinese practitioner, because Chinese medicine is sometimes effective with skin conditions, but also keep informed about the latest treatments from conventional dermatology.

CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Dr. Andrew Weil.

Dr. Weil: Good bye, everybody. I enjoyed talking with you.

Dr. Weil joined the chat room by telephone from Tucson, Arizona; CNN provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the chat which took place on Thursday, April 12 at 10 p.m. EDT.

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