The Inside Scoop

Katy Koontz

Holistic health pioneer Andrew Weil, M.D., has always been an out-of-the-box kind of thinker. As an undergrad at Harvard, he simultaneously served as editor of both the student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, and the infamous student humor magazine, The Harvard Lampoon. But Weil (the subject of this issue’s “Listening in With ...”) wasn’t a journalism or even an English major. His degree was in biology, with a concentration in botany. His senior thesis was on the narcotic properties of nutmeg. (This was 1964, after all.)

Once enrolled in Harvard Medical School the following year, Weil continued to push boundaries. He wasn’t there to become a practicing physician as much as to gain rigorous scientific training. His professional interest in mind-altering drugs included serious clinical research on marijuana—the first of its kind. (Did I mention this was the ’60s?) After graduation, Weil soon became an expert on the healing properties of all sorts of medicinal plants—not just the mind-altering kind—used by various indigenous populations on three continents. (For a while, he lived on a Sioux reservation to study with Lakota medicine man Leonard Crow Dog.) At a time when alternative medical treatments weren’t taken very seriously, Weil dove deeply into mind-body medicine and has barely come up for air since.

From his first book, The Natural Mind (Houghton Mifflin, 1972), Weil took a strong stand that rather than trying to master our bodies, we would be much healthier and happier if we recognized their innate wisdom and worked in partnership with them as much as possible. He eventually pioneered a new field he called integrative medicine that calls on lifestyle choices like nutrition, supplements, exercise, and stress reduction to help people stay healthy and prevent illness, while still relying on conventional medicine for what it handles best—acute health problems.

In 1994, a little more than a decade after joining the faculty of the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Weil founded a program now known as the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. It’s designed to change health care from the inside out by educating physicians, physicians’ assistants, nurses, nurse practitioners, psychologists, social workers, and mental health professionals in this discipline. As a result, major medical centers like the Mayo Clinic as well as respected medical schools like those at Georgetown, Duke, Columbia, and Harvard universities, to name a few, now have integrative medicine programs. Looks like Weil’s efforts to upend the field of medicine ended up righting it after all.

Katy Koontz, Editor