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Holistic medicine guru #AndrewWeil

January 16, 2012 , ,


By David Jasper / The Bend Bulletin, Published: January 15. 2012 4:00AM PST

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Best-selling author Dr. Andrew Weil — yes, the bearded man with the Colgate smile who has twice adorned the cover of Time magazine — is known for his efforts on behalf of integrative medicine, a holistic approach using both conventional medicine and scientifically sound alternative approaches in treatments.

Now, the Harvard-educated Weil, 69, sets his sights on improving our emotional well-being and dispenses advice in his new book, “Spontaneous Happiness,” published in November.

Kirkus Reviews calls it a “comprehensive road map for the prized path to true happiness” and “immensely beneficial information for those seeking a self-galvanized life lift.”

In his book, Weil discusses his own experiences with depression in his 20s, 30s and early 40s. He told The Bulletin in a phone interview last week about some of the ways he combatted it.

“Regular physical activity, changing my diet, taking supplemental fish oil and vitamin D, practicing meditation, limiting information overload” all had a cumulative positive effect on him, he says.

Weil believes Americans can be unrealistic about just what constitutes happiness.

“Absolutely. That’s most obvious around holiday time, but I think there’s a general cultural expectation that we’re supposed to be happy all the time, that our kids are supposed to be happy all the time,” he says. “That’s completely unrealistic.”

Perhaps not coincidentally, the diagnosis and treatment of clinical depression are at an all-time high, he says.

“It’s very alarming. Even if you remove whatever percentage is manufactured by the drug companies and the medical/psychiatric industry, you’re left with a lot of depression to explain. I think, in essence, it’s a mismatch between the life that our genes prepared us for and the life that most of us now actually live,” Weil says.

But with a large gray economic cloud hanging over the country, isn’t there an argument to be made that perhaps these are just depressing times?

“I don’t think that’s the reason,” Weil says. “I hear people say the economy and state of the world, but my parents lived through the Great Depression, which makes this one seem pretty tame, and they lived through World War II, which is probably the most horrific human experience in history. So I think things have always been bad, and they’ve been a lot worse than they are now.”

If that’s a depressing thought, take comfort in the fact we’re not alone. Depression, Weil notes, is high all across the spectrum of developed countries.

“The more people have, the less contented they are,” he says. “I think it’s a sum total of things like disconnection from nature, increasing social isolation, industrial food, information overload. I think it’s all these things.” Weil describes “industrial, food-like product” as being the refined, processed, manufactured foods that “have replaced whole, natural food in the diet” and are found most commonly in the middle of supermarkets and convenience stores.

Healthier foods can be mood-elevating, Weil says. Along with quality fruits and vegetables, “omega-3-rich foods are probably the single best thing for a positive mood.” These include oily fish such as sardines, salmon and herring,

Weil also offers these non-dietary tips to combat unhappiness: Spend more time with people who are happy, and be aware of the things you’re grateful for.

“In researching the book, I was surprised how much data we have on the power of gratitude to improve mood,” he says. “Simply making mental notes of things to be grateful for and jotting them down before you go to bed: Doing that for one week can boost mood for up to six months.”

A week of positivity reverberates for six months? That’s great, but what if we were to, say, skip the gratitude journal and whip up some margaritas instead?

“Alcohol’s probably the main one that people use to escape depression or escape unhappiness,” Weil says. “There’s a very high chance of becoming dependent on it. It’s just risky to rely on mood-altering drugs to get out of bad moods.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0349, djasper@bendbulletin.com

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