Health guru wows America but not his wife

Reading this article is bad for your health. But if you happen to be drinking coffee or a beer, and perhaps even eating a piece of meat, it might be as well for you to keep on reading. For the subject we are discussing here is Dr Andrew Weil, a super-guru of alternative medicine whose first commandment is: "Moderate or eliminate intake of animal foods, booze, coffee and news."

In recent months Dr Weil has become nearly as famous in the US as Tiger Woods. Two of his six books, Eight Weeks to Optimum Health and Spontaneous Healing, bestride the bestsellers' lists; his Internet site, "Ask Dr Weil", received more than a million visits last month; his video, CD and cassettes are selling like the Spice Girls; recent appearances on television drew record audiences.

Earlier this month, Dr Weil's smiling eyes, bald pate and Father Christmas- meets-Jerry Garcia beard dominated the cover of Time magazine. A child of the Sixties, Dr Weil, who has a Harvard medical degree, has built a business empire on the widespread American belief that death, like other kinds of unpleasantness, is preventable, and that voyages of self-discovery are preferable with a map.

Achieving optimum health, Dr Weil says, requires first that you rid your body and environment of pollutants. Coffee, alcohol and meat are out, and so is smoking. Avoid all oils save olive oil. Don't drink chlorinated water. To reduce stress, try going a day a week without news (TV, radio and newspapers), and then extend the news fast to seven days a month. Remove electric clock-radios from the vicinity of your bed, and buy a radiation shield for your computer screen.

On the positive side, nourish your mind and body by taking long walks every day and steam baths or saunas at least three times a week, eating plenty of garlic, ginseng and broccoli - to combat cholesterol, indigestion and cancer, respectively, visiting old or disabled people, compiling a list of friends who make you laugh and, if possible, visiting them, and engaging in deep yogic breathing which can assist those trying to give up smoking.

Dr Weil recently advised one smoker: "Sit with your back straight. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there throughout the exercise. First, exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound. Next, close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four. Next, hold your breath for a count of seven. Then exhale completely through your mouth, again making a whoosh sound, to a count of eight. Then repeat the cycle three more times."

Once you have reached the eighth week of your optimum health programme, you should reward yourself "with especially beautiful flowers". You might even give someone else flowers, for few things, Dr Weil teaches, are better for the achievement of wellness than falling in love.

Regrettably, Dr Weil and his wife, Sabine, have recently decided to split up. "The empire," she says, has killed the marriage.

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