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.
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:
- Has not had a positive impact onmy health, but maybe it is somethin I have to take for more than just a few months.
- 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.
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.
This article was originally published in the Science-Based Medicine blog.