Dr. Andrew Weil, a leader in the field of integrative medicine, is being honored at The New York Botanical Gardens with the Garden’s first H.H. Rusby Award for distinguished contributions to ethnobotany and integrative medicine, and also for advancing the understanding of the importance of plants in clinical care. During the event, being held Saturday, May 18 at 1 p.m, Dr. Weil will offer perspectives on the power of plants to maximize well-being and quality. Below, Dr. Weil chatted with Beauty Insider on everything from how he came to use botanical remedies to the single most important advancement in herbals and botanicals to emerge over the course of his career.

Beauty Insider: What will your lecture cover at the NYBG?

Dr. Andrew Weil: I’ll be talking about my experience of combining backgrounds in botany and medicine, about what I learned from my mentor, Richard Evans Schultes, how I came to use botanical remedies in my medical practice and brought them into integrative medicine. I will also discuss differences between herbal preparations and pharmaceutical drugs and what place the former will have in health care of the future.

BI: How are herbals and botanicals changing the beauty industry? What role do you see herbals and botanicals having within beauty?

AW: True beauty is a reflection of good health; therefore, beauty and good health go hand-in hand, and both depend significantly on how well you treat your body. While I believe that following healthy dietary and lifestyle changes are the best ways to promote vibrant skin, well-designed skin care products can also contribute to healthy skin and a more youthful appearance. The fact that chronic inflammation is the root cause behind premature aging of the skin represents an enormous opportunity for botanicals. Many common skin problems including sensitivity, puffiness, extreme dryness, hyperpigmentation and wrinkles are the end results of chronic inflammation that might otherwise be imperceptible. Many herbals fit the bill. I’ve been so impressed with data on the anti-inflammatory capacity of select herbs and mushrooms that I helped Origins* develop an entire skin care line around them. The market for such products is tremendous and growing. I see a secure place for plant-based cosmetics in the future as research into the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capacity of specific plants and their topical applications continues.

BI: Do you see a way for a world so dominated by the quick and easy making way for the healthful, practical and efficient?
AW: Yes, and it’s already happening. Once a person understands that the dietary and lifestyle choices they make daily have a far greater impact on future health and appearance than even their genetic makeup, they become motivated. Local grocery stores reveal that shift occurring; increased interest and activity in healthy fare and organic products. Individuals are exploring exercise anew and effective means of stress management while also learning the proper use of vitamins, supplements and herbs. Increasingly, they partner with healthcare practitioners frustrated by a health care system that promotes medical intervention more than disease prevention. Many of these doctors have received training through the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine (AzCIM), which I direct.  The proper use of natural therapeutic agents, including botanicals, alongside other appropriate therapies is a core component of the curriculum.

BI: How can one take the first step towards this life style?

AW: Be sure to set reasonable goals that support your success. For example, follow my anti-inflammatory diet; commit to regular exercise of moderate intensity, such as a brisk 30-minute walk every day; explore healthy means of stress management beyond exercise including breath work, meditation and laughter; and partner with an integrative medicine physician who can help guide your care with an eye towards engaging and optimizing your innate healing capacity.

BI: What do you think has been the single most important advancement in herbals and botanicals to emerge over the course of your career?

AW: That botanical remedies are complex mixtures of active molecules, not equivalent to isolated compounds, and that their complex chemistry tends to interact more effectively with human physiology. Since my student days at Harvard in the 1960s, (degree in botany and MD) I’ve been skeptical of the prevailing belief in Western medicine that when a plant shows bioactivity in humans we must attribute that effect to a single, predominant compound. The “active principle,” is isolates, synthesized, made into a pharmaceutical. We forget about the plant. This state of affairs, while disappointing, is also understandable – research is much easier, isolating and synthesizing a single molecule can be worth billions of dollars to pharmaceutical companies, whereas whole plants offer little opportunity for profit. Faith in “single-molecule” drugs would be acceptable if they yielded better results; dilute preparations of the natural, whole plant often offer both health benefits and a degree of safety that put the isolated compound products to shame.

*All after-tax profits from the sale of Origins products go to the Weil Foundation, which Dr. Weil established to help promote integrative medicine. For more information, go to www.drweil.com
The 4th Annual Sustainable Cosmetics Summit is just around the corner. To be held May 16-18 at the Intercontinental New York Barclay Hotel, the Summit will host speakers including Horst Rechelbacher, founder of Aveda and Intelligent Nutrients; Gillian Briggs, Procter & Gamble Beauty Sector R&D Sustainability Leader; and Jody Villecco, Whole Foods Market Quality Standards Coordinator. A CEO roundtable with Rechelbacher and leaders from Weleda, Hugo Naturals, Desert Essence and Apivita is a highlighted event. Fees for the two-day conference and workshop range from $1,199 to $2,399 and include meals and receptions. For more information visit: www.sustainablecosmeticssummit.com.