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Andrew Weil’s Seasonal Supplements

Dr. Andrew Weil has teamed with Innate Response Formulas to develop a series of seminars and a line of products for “seasonally appropriate integrative strategies.” Seasonal Therapeutics is a system for adjusting diet supplement recommendations according to the season of the year. To kick off the program, a one-day seminar was presented by Weil’s colleague Tierona Low Dog in Boston on August 25, 2012. It was approved for 8 CEU credits for DCs and NDs through the University of Bridgeport, a school that has ties to Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church and offers degrees in naturopathy, chiropractic, and acupuncture. It cost $129 to attend the seminar, but participants were given a product credit of $129 so they could apply their newfound knowledge by buying Innate products. 

In a video, Dr. Weil acknowledges that the best nutrition is obtained through diet but says it is essential to take supplements as insurance against gaps in the diet.  He recommends Innate Response products because they are formulated with whole foods and contain accessory compounds that have health benefits. They are claimed to be “food, not chemicals” and “potent healing solutions.” They describe their seminars as “research based programs.”  

A series of seminar programs will address seasonal issues:

  • Autumn: Season of Harvest: focuses on liver and GI
  • Winter: Season of Reflection: focuses on immune and mood
  • Spring: Season of Renewal: focuses on purification and allergy
  • Summer: Season of Vitality: focuses on cardio and joint health.

For the Autumn seminar:

Autumn explores the inter-relationship of the gastrointestinal, immune and neurological systems. By understanding how the GI system impacts immune surveillance and brain health, you will be able to help guide your patients to better health, starting at the core. Autumn is the ideal time to focus on the body’s natural detoxification mechanisms and improve gastrointestinal function in order to prime the immune system and shore up the body’s reserves. The best time to prepare the body for the rigors of winter is not during the winter season, but before. The Seasonal Therapeutics program will teach you how to:

  • Use evidence-based, targeted nutritional supplementation to restore integrity to the gastrointestinal mucosa, enhance digestive function, repopulate the microbiome, and optimize immune function
  • Utilize seasonal changes in the diet to assist the body’s detoxification mechanisms
  • Integrate stress management strategies that encourage the exploration of gratitude and meditation

The lectures cover:

  • Chronobiology: the connection between the autumn season and health
  • An overview of the multi-directional communication between the gastrointestinal, immune and nervous systems and how this impacts health
  • The multiple faces of the human microbiome
  • Nutrient and botanical support for optimal gut/immune/brain function
  • Clinical application of pre and probiotics
  • Differential use of bitters, hepatics, demulcents, and nervines
  • Nutritional support for phase I and II detoxification
  • Putting it all together: clinical pearls

Innate Response Products

Innate Response is working with Dr. Weil to formulate a new line of products, but these will not carry Weil’s name. Innate Response calls itself “the unwavering leader of whole food nutrition.” It uses the freshest raw foods, low temperature drying, meticulous juicing, technology for rapid nutrient delivery, and vigorous quality assurance. It currently offers well over a hundred different products.

 Its Cholesterol Response formula offers:

 a superior union of nutrients providing a broad range of nutraceuticals and botanicals that research has implicated to be effective in helping to maintain HDL levels already within a normal range and support cardiovascular health.

Um, if your HDL levels are already within a normal range, who says they need help staying there? And who says this particular mixture of herbs would do the job?

Other claims are similarly vague and meaningless. With over a hundred products, how are you to choose among so many offerings? For women alone, they offer Women Over 40, Women’s Flora, Women’s Greens, Women’s Daily, Women’s One Daily, Women +40 Greens, and Women’s Multi. And shouldn’t these women also be taking Cholesterol, Thyroid, Adrenal and other products? And which ones go with which seasons? I guess you have to attend the seminars for guidance.

The method of sales is confusing. The Innate Response website apparently sells only to medical professionals, but the same products are sold direct to the consumer on various other websites. I tried to compare prices, but the Innate Response site won’t let me even see prices unless I fax them a copy of my medical license, which I chose not to do.

Adrenal Response

Let’s look at the first product on their list in more detail: Adrenal Response

A botanical formula targeted at helping to support biochemical imbalances, cortisol levels in particular related to alterations in adrenal function. The use of non-stimulant plant adaptogens is a safe and effective method of modulating an individual’s stress response or hormonal perturbations. Crafted from a synergistic combination of botanicals, including Sensoril®, a patented extract of ashwagandha root and leaf, and rhodiola, an adaptogen.

For additional nutritional support of the adrenal gland, take in conjunction with Cortisol Response®.

  • clinically shown to strengthen the body from the deleterious effects of chronic stress
  • documented to help normalize the manner in which the body responds to stress triggers
  • maintains equilibrium within the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA)

What’s in it? Ashgawanda root, rhodiola extract, astragalus, American ginseng, sacred basil, and schizandra berry.

What research supports it?  One flawed study from India in a nutraceutical journal (JANA) that only looked at one of the ingredients, ashgawanda. JANA was a publication of the American Nutraceutical Association that was published irregularly for a  few years and discontinued in 2009. I looked for more information about the 6 active ingredients in the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.  It says “insufficient reliable information.”

A Rockwell Nutrition website also sells this product, and it has a research tab. Under that tab, they don’t even mention the JANA study. Their idea of “research” apparently is “add to cart” options and testimonials.

They offer two customer reviews that damn it with such faint praise that they made me laugh out loud:

  1. Has not had a positive impact onmy health, but maybe it is somethin I have to take for more than just a few months.
  2. I am taking this supplement per my physician’s order. I am taking many supplements so not sure of the exact effect of this particular one, but I have no problem with the taste, size of the tablets, etc., so will give it a good review.

Weil: Science vs. Intuition

Dr. Weil is not a reliable source of health information. It’s unfortunate, because so much of his information is good, but he promiscuously interleaves science-based facts with belief-based opinions in such a way that laymen have no chance of distinguishing his wheat from his chaff.

He got his MD at Harvard but, instead of doing a residency, he dropped out, experimented with drugs, and went to live on an Indian reservation to study with a Sioux medicine man. Then he went on to become “the father of integrative medicine” and establish an empire. He has openly promoted “stoned thinking,” alleging that thoughts experienced while under the influence of psychedelic drugs or in altered states of consciousness are as valid as, or more valid than, scientific evidence. Arnold Relman explains all this and more in his article, “A Trip to Stonesville: Some Notes on Andrew Weil (1998),” available online and well worth reading. 

Weil thinks his intuition trumps the results of clinical trials. For instance, he has seen improvement in children with ear infections after osteopathic manipulation (not surprising, since most ear infections resolve without treatment) and he continues to believe that cranial manipulation cures ear infections and to recommend that treatment to his followers even though there is no scientific evidence to support either its clinical usefulness or its fanciful underpinnings. 

He rejects much of conventional medicine. He has written:

I would look elsewhere than conventional medicine for help if I contracted a severe viral disease like hepatitis or polio, or a metabolic disease like diabetes. I would not seek allopathic treatment for cancer, except for a few varieties, or for such chronic ailments as arthritis, asthma, hypertension (high blood pressure), multiple sclerosis, or for many other chronic diseases….

I find it absolutely astounding that these words could come out of the mouth of a Harvard trained MD who is both highly intelligent and educated about medical science.

Some of his advice is frankly dangerous. For rheumatoid arthritis, he has recommended that patients avoid prescription drugs and experiment with a series of natural remedies to see what works best for them. Patients who do this miss out on the proven benefits of DMARDs (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs) that can prevent permanent joint deformities and disabilities when taken early in the course of the disease.

Weil has become famous and popular, so much so that the American Academy of Family Physicians has invited him to be the keynote speaker at their upcoming annual assembly. I wrote a letter of protest to the AAFP and other protests are in the works, from as far afield as the Dutch Society Against Quackery.

Weil and Supplements

Weil has been in the supplement business for a long time. He had an earlier partnership with drugstore.com to sell his branded products. That didn’t work out too well. In 2005 they sued him for breach of contract. 

In 2009, the FDA sent Dr. Weil a warning letter for FDA and FTC violations involving one of his diet supplement products, Immune Support Formula. 

He sells supplements on his website, where a handy “Vitamin Advisor” questionnaire generates individual vitamin recommendations (without regard to the season). It uses the word “vitamin” loosely to include all kinds of unproven supplements. Rather than just an “advisor,” it is a marketing scheme with links to put each recommended product into a shopping cart.

My daughter and I answered the questionnaire. My daughter is 27 and in excellent health yet it recommended she take a daily multivitamin, a daily antioxidant, a calcium/magnesium pill, evening primrose oil, milk thistle, omega 3, and 1000mg vitamin C, at a total monthly cost of $99.90. I’m 67 and have several diagnoses, yet it recommended considerably less for me: a daily multivitamin, calcium/ magnesium, glucosamine, and Weil Juvenon, at a monthly cost of  $65. We both cried caveat emptor and declined the shopping cart option.

As I explained in a previous post, I stopped taking a multivitamin years ago.

The Medical Letter summarized current science-based vitamin requirements as follows:

Supplements are necessary to assure adequate intake of folic acid in young women and possibly of vitamins D and B12 in the elderly. There is no convincing evidence that taking supplements of vitamin C prevents any disease except scurvy. Women should not take vitamin A supplements during pregnancy or after menopause. No one should take high dose beta carotene supplements. A balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables may be safer than taking vitamin supplements. No biologically active substance taken for a long term can be assumed to be free of risk.

I trust The Medical Letter’s unbiased panel of experts far more than I trust Dr. Weil’s intuition.

Conclusion 

Does the new Seasonal Therapeutics program offer any improvement on the old Vitamin Advisor? Where did the idea of different seasonal supplement requirements come from? None of this is good science. It is, however, very creative and savvy marketing. Will it improve the health of customers? Possibly. But without clinical testing, we can’t know: it’s a gamble. Will it improve the health of Weil’s and Innate Response’s bank accounts? That’s no gamble: that’s a certainty.

Posted in: Herbs & Supplements

Leave a Comment (22) ↓

22 thoughts on “Andrew Weil’s Seasonal Supplements

  1. kathy says:

    Four seasons = four sets of pills instead of just one = big spending. Marketing genius!

    Is it possible for a whole society to become hypochondriac? As opposed to individuals? Looking on from a country where clean water and enough food is the height of most people’s ambitions, all this preoccupation with supplements, GM, organic, Big Pharm, yada yada … it seems utterly weird to me.

    This endless, and increasingly complexicated, maze of supplements and remedies … much of it is to treat health problems that already have conventional treatments or which don’t exist outside of the bored and anxious minds of the sufferers. Is it a substitute for a real satisfying life?

    I am starting to get angry too, about the huge amount of money they spend to “treat” themselves, when I consider how many of my own people haven’t access to the most basic medical care. Sometimes I’d like to take these hypochondriacs in a bus and drop them off somewhere like northern Mozambique or West Africa, or even one of the townships of South Africa.

    ‘Scuse my ranting! But my ears were starting to steam.

  2. Guy Chapman says:

    The secret to successful exploitation of the worried well is to encourage them to increase the range and scope of their self-diagnosis to rake in as many product sales as possible. It’s well past time that the moral vacuum of the supplement industry was dealt with (I say we nuke it from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure).

  3. BillyJoe says:

    It seems that to “go natural” means to swallow lots of pills.
    Fresh air and exercise, organically grown fruits and vegetables….and a handful of pills!
    The dissonance is deafening.

  4. Janet Camp says:

    OR… eat my fresh from the garden kale/beet salad! The lacinato (dinosaur) kale can be grown with very little attention right up through the first really hard freeze (or year round in Dr. Hall’s part of the world). I keep one in the basement with a grow light through the winter (very seasonal!). The lacinato is much nicer than the curly kind, which tends more to bitterness.

    It won’t cure anything, but it’s a tasty way to get lots of vitamins and minerals with very few calories. Sadly, when I see people buying this kale (in hugh quantities) they tell me they are juicing it. That sounds really disgusting and a lot more trouble than just eating the stuff on a regular basis.

    Weill, of course, is taken absolutely seriously by millions as an absolute authority on all things “natural”. I’m not sure of this, but I would bet that supplements is really where the money is in the “alternative” health world. That’s what they are all (the various practitioners) selling in the waiting rooms and through their books and websites.

    We have to keep exposing them. Is this (and other) blogs enough? I was thinking that with the right marketing and website design, perhaps I could sell little kale plants and grow lights, publish a recipe book and have my own line of kitchen tools. You’d all do testimonials, right?

  5. CC says:

    Kale recipes? Sign me up! :-)

    It’s frustrating trying to tell friends that the Weil recommendations are quackery when they start with stuff like eating veggies and exercising and end with supplements and the naturalistic fallacy. “What? You’re saying that eating veggies is quackery?!” no, only the supplements… “but you agree he’s right about the veggies and exercising, he must be right about the rest too!”

  6. rork says:

    Actually, I worry I’m over-dosing on A at this time of year, cause I eat so much spinach and broccoli early, followed by zucchini, string beans, beats, carrots, etc. Since the tornado took the trees, I have a sunny garden that grows food like crazy.
    I see some people who seem to eat essentially no vegetables at all, and am a bit surprised they don’t end up worse off.

  7. Four Seasons of Supplements? What if you live in a region with little or no seasonal variation in weather? What if you move between hemispheres to avoid seasonal variations in weather? This doesn’t sound very individualized to me.

  8. Chris says:

    CC:

    Kale recipes? Sign me up!

    Cook a garlic clove in some olive oil, toss in chopped kale and cook. Do the same with a bit less, add in some other veggies like finely chopped onion and carrot plus thyme then pour on some egg for a veggie omelet. Put chopped kale into the water with potatoes, cook until tender, drain and mash for kale/potato mash (with on a little butter, not the the half pound of butter used to cook sausage which is what hubby’s Dutch grandmother did… he was slightly upset I slashed the butter to one tenth, but he still liked it).

  9. gziomek says:

    As a southern Arizona resident, I only experience two seasons: hot and a little less hot. I wonder if they’d change my season recommendations.

  10. CarolM says:

    My one and only experience with a self-proclaimed Health Guru was in Hollywood circa 1974. My mother had heard about him. He was supposed to be some sort of health and beauty advisor to the Stars. I went to his place on Franklin, this big old house, and he was quite overweight but kindly took me up the stairs, huffing and puffing, and handed me a bunch of bottles of pills out of his refrigerator. Free – gratis! They were nasty things, the kind you burp up all day, and I really didn’t know which ones to take when. My mother by this time was already gobbling down pills every day.

    Today I was in WalMart and there was a whole aisle of vitamins and supps…same thing. I was thinking “look at all this s—!” A clerk asked me if I need help. LOL! I mean, yeah buy one of each bottle and take every day? Ridiculous.

  11. mousethatroared says:

    Janet Camp “It won’t cure anything, but it’s a tasty way to get lots of vitamins and minerals with very few calories. Sadly, when I see people buying this kale (in hugh quantities) they tell me they are juicing it. That sounds really disgusting and a lot more trouble than just eating the stuff on a regular basis.”

    I’m not into juicing, but I have been kinda into green smoothies lately. I like greens a lot, but not so fond of many fruits (except bananas, which I love). I find I can fit in a couple servings of fruits if I blend them up with some spinach and a bit of frozen banana. Maybe I’ll try kale, but it might be too coarse.

  12. Quill says:

    Andrew Weil has always amazed me with his grandfatherly image of care and concern for the health of others, mixed with ruthless business plans to ensure his own financial well being.

    “Um, if your HDL levels are already within a normal range, who says they need help staying there? And who says this particular mixture of herbs would do the job?”

    Who says? Marketers! Quite brilliant of them, to create a whole new category of supplement-deficient people: the healthy. Think you’re healthy -now-? Your lab tests say all is ok? Well, maybe today, but not tomorrow! You must consume our products to keep what you already have! Use our stuff or lose your stuff!

    “I find it absolutely astounding that these words could come out of the mouth of a Harvard trained MD who is both highly intelligent and educated about medical science.”

    And he’s licensed to practice medicine by California and Arizona, with Arizona listing a long-ago internship at UCSF.

    http://www2.mbc.ca.gov/LicenseLookupSystem/PhysicianSurgeon/Lookup.aspx?licenseType=G&licenseNumber=17331

    http://www.azmd.gov/glsuiteweb/clients/azbom/Public/Profile.aspx?entID=1612976&licID=246470&licType=1

    Astounds me a doctor would steer people away from medications proven to relieve asthma and high blood pressure. But since he doesn’t sell them I suppose that could be one reason why.

  13. Quill says:

    Ok, Dr. Hall, I couldn’t resist going to the “Vitamin Advisor” and seeing what all I “need” to “maintain my health.”

    Wow! I’d no idea I was in such bad shape. The “Advisor” recommends I spend $168/month (with convenient monthly auto-shipments) or $424/month for a handy 90-day supply of the following Weil-endorsed products:

    Daily Multivitamin
    Daily Antioxidant
    Ashwagandha
    Cordyceps
    Dr. Weil Heart Health
    Eleuthero
    Folic Acid
    Glucosamine
    Herbal Tissue Support
    Milk Thistle
    Omega-3
    St. John’s Wort
    Vitamin C, 1000 mg
    Weil Juvenon

    I must say that I was intrigued to see what was in the “Herbal Tissue Support” as this is the first time I’ve heard tissue needs special support: Holy Basil, Ginger SBSC, Green Tea, Rosemary, Turmeric, Hu Zhang, Barberry, Chinese Goldthread, Oregano and Scutellaria Baicalensis.

    I am pleased to see that I’ve already been “supporting my tissue” by cooking with basil, rosemary, oregano and turmeric and drinking a lot of green tea. But thanks to Dr. Weil I can just order his stuff and rest assured that I’m getting my tissues supported. What a relief! Who knew that all one needs to do to “ensure” health and “support” all one’s vital systems is to have a Visa or Mastercard and receive monthly vitamin packs from Dr. Weil?

  14. NYUDDS says:

    @CC. My daughter/chef says the best kale recipes come from New Bedford and this site has the original recipe plus many variations in ingredients, probably according to their grandmothers! Anyway, celebrity chefs like Emiril Lagasse, who still says the best kale is in New Bedford, continues his attempt to make it as good as he remembers it growing up there. He’s still trying!
    http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1848,128185-241194,00.html

  15. Narad says:

    He has openly promoted “stoned thinking,” alleging that thoughts experienced while under the influence of psychedelic drugs or in altered states of consciousness are as valid as, or more valid than, scientific evidence.

    Ah, fake Indians. This is why psychedelians need an appropriate epistemological structure.

  16. Kultakutri says:

    I have a rather old book on herbs, written by real MDs and botanists, which has little nasty crosses next to names of plants one should better avoid and nice little essays on, say, how foxglove is cute on its own but in case you have heart problems, hurry to the doc to get digitalin in neat standardized pills.
    However, the less poisonous stuff has comments on how to use it at home and I guess that I’d better fish said book up as mint ice cream or basil syrup are teh nom. And when it promotes stabilizing of my life energy, improves my immunity – there’s never enough rash and astma, I’m telling you – and what else, a linden blossom tisane seems to be much cooler than just a cold remedy which probably doesn’t work but smells nice.

  17. Kultakutri says:

    … and, I forgot to add, saves $194 per month.

  18. Scott says:

    @ Kultakutri:
    It’s true, herbs and other plants really do heal better than some widely-accepted medical treatments. Give me some fresh basil, oregano, tomatoes, and garlic and I’ll provide a medical treatment much superior to acupuncture, chiropractic, or reiki!

  19. cloudskimmer says:

    Every time I read great articles like this one, I wonder how those mentioned would answer to the charges. I just sent a link to this article to Dr. Weil and also to Dr. Low Dog, who teaches the seminar. They are both MDs, but don’t seem to practice real medicine. I won’t hold my breath waiting for a response. In searching for their websites, it was great that one of the top sites was this one; this may help people who are honestly questioning, and steer them away from these quacks.

    It was surprising that Dr. Weil managed to get a license to practice medicine. Alas, even a Harvard education isn’t enough to prevent being sucked in by pseudoscience. Anyhow, it’s really annoying that he’s using the Harvard link and the MD to conduct himself so unethically. I’m sure that money has clouded his judgement, and he will never reform. I would never wish for a serious disease to befall anyone, but it would sure be interesting to see how he would respond to a cancer or heart disease diagnosis, and how long he would survive if he clung to his alternative medicine preferences.

    Kale is great, but there are many other leafy greens–and broccoli–which have great nutritional benefits and stir-fry nicely. So-called super foods are worth-while, but so are a lot of others that haven’t been accorded such status.

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