From taking Andrew Weil’s vitamin evaluation*, I am signed up for his email newsletter, which today included the above announcement of a “Mind-body wellness workshop” he is headlining along with Dr. Woo himself, Deepak Chopra (see “On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit“). The workshop promises to help participants
…integrate easy-to-master Ayurvedic healing techniques, which originated in India over 5,000 years ago, into your modern lifestyle.
(There’s the requisite argument from antiquity). And to
…reveal the easy-to-master, proven-effective Ayurvedic ways of tuning into and treating imbalances (the root cause of disease) without creating imbalances elsewhere in the body.
I’ve been critical of Dr. Weil in the past (see “Pseudoscience at the University of Arizona“), in part because he works at my alma mater. He gives a lot of good health advice, which serves to give legitimizing cover to the most profoundly nonsensical pseudoscience, up to and including homeopathy. It has been suggested to me that Dr. Weil’s rejection of the scientific method and embracing magical healing techniques are things of the past. Sharing a stage with Deepak Chopra suggests otherwise.
Is this just guilt by association? I’ll be honest, I love seeing their pictures side by side, but I want to stick to the principle of charity. Maybe Dr. Weil is there to talk sense in counterpoint to Chopra’s Ayurvedic nonsense; the only bit that specifically refers to Weil is relatively unobjectionable:
…Deepak will be joined by Harvard-educated, world-renowned leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, Dr. Andrew Weil who will reveal the secrets to support your natural healing ability. Tune into the wisdom of your body and leave grounded in the knowledge that your natural state is one of wholeness and vibrant health, which is achievable even in the midst of our busy, stressful, toxic world.
“…support your natural healing ability” sounds a lot like “boost your immune system” (which is bullshit) and “toxic world” sounds like you need a detox (which is bullshit) but most of it is just sort of background woo: “wisdom of your body” and “natural state of wholeness” could mean something no more objectionable than meditation and stress reduction. Does Dr. Weil actually advocate any of the hardcore nonsense the workshop is peddling?
Well…yes. Dr. Weil’s own website tells us that Ayurveda “…can be considered appropriate in most any clinical circumstance…” and “…can be helpful in the treatment of chronic conditions such as asthma, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, digestive disorders, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune conditions, as well as chronic skin disorders.” It talks completely uncritically about Ayurvedic diagnoses assessing “level of life-energy (prana)” (which doesn’t exist) and rebalancing the doshas or “unique pattern[s] of living force and energy that control[s] various activities of the body.” The only reservations about Ayurveda expressed on this page are that treatments “…such as purging and bloodletting, seem out of place in modern treatment” and “…contamination of various herbal preparations.”
On another page, Dr. Weil describes (again completely uncritically) the Ayurvedic cleansing program of panchakarma. The only reservation he expresses is that he’s “…not sure that it’s possible to undergo authentic Panchakarma here [in the U.S.].” He says,
In the United States, the foremost authority on Panchakarma is Dr. Vasant Lad of the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, N.Mex., (www.ayurveda.com) and that is where I would send patients and friends to try it. [my emphasis]
So, yeah, that sounds like an endorsement. Nowhere that I’m aware of (and certainly not on these pages) does Dr. Weil say that Ayurveda doesn’t work and couldn’t possibly work given what we know about the universe and biology.
* Turns out I need $147/month worth of supplements, even though my only health complaint is occasional migraines.