Dr. Elson M. Haas has been a practicing physician of Integrated Medicine for nearly 40 years, he is the founder and medical director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin in San Rafael. Dr. Haas is also the author of the classic preventive medicine text Staying Healthy With the Seasons and Staying Healthy With Nutrition, The New Detox Diet, plus a 2009 diet and recipe book, More Vegetables, Please! Other books are Vitamins for Dummies and The False Fat Diet.
TWIP: Welcome Dr. Haas, it’s great to sit down with you and catch up with what you are doing. Please tell our readers a little about your history.
Dr. Haas: It’s nice to talk with you and your readers again, too. I went to University of Michigan Medical School from 1968 to 1972. It was a time I call The New Renaissance or beginning of what is now 40 years of integrating the philosophy of back-to-nature with modern technology. I saw the conflict between the technological focus and the establishment of doctors and pharmaceuticals, and my belief that we need to focus on giving power to patients, educating them and providing choices. The assumption was, doctors knew everything and their patients didn’t know anything.
After med school and internship I began to embrace more natural health. Pioneers I met were Bernard Jensen, Paavo Airola and many local herbalists. I realized I needed to learn about health and healing. When I became a doctor in the summer of ’73 I thought, “What am I going to do with this now?” I looked in the mirror and realized I needed help with my own health, so I started to pursue that. I didn’t really have medical conditions I could treat per se, but I was overweight, and I had allergy congestion all the time, therefore, I began to pursue and look at people who were doing things differently.
One day I realized I had to do something about being overweight. I got motivated to go on a 10-day juice cleanse and it was very empowering. I remember feeling pretty bad the first couple days — headaches and irritable — but then the third day I woke up and could breath clearly through my nose. My body started to drop weight, and I let go of 20 pounds that first 10 days. Much of that was water weight initially; all my congestion and inflammation from getting off those foods. I write about that in some of my books, including Staying Healthy with the Seasons and later in The False Fat Diet, where I address food reactions and overeating, plus the whole congestion and overweight state so common today.
TWIP: What was one of your key discoveries during your cleanse?
Dr. Haas: I realized during my cleanse I didn’t really need as much as I was eating. It mattered what I put in my mouth, so I started making better choices in my foods. What I was reading at that time were books on natural health. None of them were written by medical doctors; as medical doctors didn’t really embrace that, other than maybe Henry Beiler in L.A. who was doing a vegetable soup detox called Beiler broth. I started to learn about the detoxification process and continued cleansing. I began to teach about it, and I hosted a group in the town I was practicing in. I started with a group of 30 people and guided them through the cleanse I had just done, and they likewise had phenomenal experiences.
When you get away from food for 10 days, like I did, you realize everything you put in your mouth becomes part of your body. So, it matters what choices we make. If I want my body to be healthy I need to feed it healthy foods.
TWIP: Was this revelation your inspiration to write your first book?
Dr. Haas: I wrote Staying Healthy With the Seasons to share my new knowledge with my colleagues and for my folks, who helped me get through med school. After a few years in practice, I still wasn’t making any money and they wanted to know what the heck I was doing. I decided to write a book that incorporated all the things I was learning, blending western medicine with eastern practice, nutrition, herbs, exercise, mind-body and life cycles. I think it was one of the first books by a medical doctor incorporating natural health care into practice. It is now coming up on its 30-year anniversary.
TWIP: How did your career progress after your first book?
Dr. Haas: In the early 80s I moved from my nice little home practice doing healing work, helping patients adapt and change, to a clinical practice with other doctors where I ended up taking over The Preventive Medical Center of Marin in San Rafael. And that is where I’ve been for the last 26 years. I have a great team of people and our mission is to provide the best quality healthcare to all our patients. We have everything from MDs and DOs, to an acupuncturist, a medical intuitive and a nutritionist. Today with the state of medical doctors’ practices and the amount of crisis care and fix-it medicine, there isn’t always time to be the educator, which is really important. One of the key messages in my new book is how to heal the healthcare system by focusing on prevention and education. I think we heal it from the individual consumer to the individual practice. This does not mean the doctor has to do it all. There are so many people trained to coach and motivate patients on nutritional changes and dealing with stress factors, that doctors need to think beyond themselves and what they alone can do for their patients. An integrated approach to healthcare, to me, means looking to understand the causes and what leads to the problem.
TWIP: Can you expand on your integrated approach to healthcare?
Dr. Haas: One philosophy I have is, “How we look and feel is a result of how we live — primarily.” We have genetic factors; we have family and our early habits. But, everything we do — the food we consume, the way we think, our emotions — contribute to our health or illnesses. In reviewing your own life, or as doctors reviewing your patients, everything we do is suspect to contributing to disease.
My other approach therapeutically is “Lifestyle first, natural therapy second, and drugs last.” I know if I can motivate and support people to change their habits that will affect them now and for a lifetime. If I support them nutritionally and with natural therapies, vitamins, minerals, herbs etc. it is a less toxic and more natural treatment. Pharmaceutical Medicine has great value, and I couldn’t practice without some of the Western Medicine approach, especially in terms of diagnostic evaluations and treating acute conditions. If I have an injury, acute problem or problem that doesn’t respond to lifestyle changes and natural remedies, then I might need to use a drug, for example blood pressure problems. The main issue we have with the huge cost of healthcare is that we pay way too much for our services and our results are not that good; particularly in regard to long-term health.
TWIP: Would you share your ideas on how we can change the high cost of healthcare?
Dr. Haas: We do that by bringing personal responsibility into healthcare, by having rewards and penalties as we typically do with automobile insurance. Insurance companies need to build that in so when you are proactive you get lower rates. Some companies have incentives for employees to do proactive healthcare. For example, one company will pay more of your share on medical insurance if you stop smoking or lose weight, etc. When we make choices that alter our health outcome we need to be rewarded. The common belief system that many people have, in this country particularly, is “I can do whatever I want and the system will take care of me.” This is backwards; to some degree you are paying for things up front and the more you use the system the less you end up paying. I think we need to utilize and pay for proactive approaches because those preventive actions have been proven to save money in the cost of healthcare down the line.
TWIP: Thirty years ago schools offered health and gym classes where students learned at least some concepts of good nutrition. And now it seems few schools offer any kind of education on proactive approaches to health.
Dr. Haas: My work with children is now a huge focus for me. I have a new company called Season Studios, www.seasonstudios.com, with my long-time associate Bethany Argisle. We have three new projects for kids. My character is Dr. Sun, and I am bringing the message to children of the planet about health, nutrition and the environment with an entertaining educational approach. One project is called the AnatomiX ComiX, and that is a series of songs about the body’s systems, from digestion and heart to the muscles and bones. Kids learn more easily with music and song. In past decades students remembered so much more because they had fun with it. We have a couple other projects; one is called Count Broccula about eating your vegetables. The other is a book by my associate Bethany, called Blimps and Whales, A beautifully illustrated love story about the ocean and whales.
TWIP: One of the things we have been trying to do is to provide information for our readers so they can become more educated about their health. This way when they go to the doctor they can dialogue, or even realize that a certain doctor is not a good match for them. It is interesting that we are now talking about children and education. The government is trying to pass a bill that will mandate what types of foods children should be eating. I wonder what your thoughts are on that approach.
Dr. Haas: I think taking fast foods and sodas out of schools is essential. We can have treats but we must look at our basic diet, and children need to learn treat foods are special and an occasional thing, not a dietary staple. A diet of hamburgers, fries, milk shakes, cookies and cakes is actually composed of common treat foods. For many people treat foods make up 70 percent of their diet when at most it should be 10 percent. French fries and ketchup should not be your two main vegetables.
You can look at thousands of diet books, and find there are lots of controversial ideas about what the right diet is. Clearly, our ideal diet is the individualized one that works for each of us. A vital key is we need to maintain a high level of fresh food and eat more vegetables. In my recent cookbook, titled More Vegetables Please, it shows how to bring fresh vegetables into all kinds of meals for everyone in the family. A lot of people don’t eat vegetables because they don’t know how to make them taste good, and this book shows you how.
TWIP: What are some of the challenges we face in educating children, and adults, when adopting preventive medicine?
Dr. Haas: One of the challenges we have is the habits we develop when our bodies are strong and resilient in our teens, twenties, and even our thirties, will produce adverse consequences 10 to 30 years into the future. To reach 20 to 30 year olds and get them to realize what they do now will create health problems later is critical.
We also need to bring this concept into our healthcare system so people realize these important choices begin early on. When I write about Nutrition and Bone health, I tell people healthy bones begin in childhood. It doesn’t start at 45 when you have low bone density and you start taking calcium. Healthy bones come from regular exercise, diet, avoiding excess proteins, and consuming no excess milk as it doesn’t really build bones, although it does provide calcium. There are many misunderstandings people have; reaching young people and getting them to realize what they do now will affect them 20 years later is a good start. If we keep going the way we are going, health expenditures are going to bankrupt our entire society.
TWIP: I agree with you. What’s interesting is the trend in certain sections of society where people are trying to get healthy. But it seems a lot of people, as we mentioned earlier, still believe the system will take care of them. Where do we start teaching the general public healthy lifestyle habits and get them interested enough to take charge of their own personal health? Because as you said, the healthcare system will bankrupt us and we won’t be able to help anybody.
Dr. Haas: On two levels, it is already happening if people are open to being educated through TV shows like Dr. Oz and Andy Weil, and my philosophy and work. You only have one body and if you don’t treat it with love and take care of it, it will not take care of you. To me the lifestyle habits we need to adopt are diet and nutrition, getting proper sleep, learning to manage stress and deal with our emotions.
We need to re-motivate doctors and build in financial support for doctors (or their staff ) to take the time to support people to improve lifestyle habits. At the beginning of any chronic disease, like high blood sugar, if people become more proactive with lifestyle changes, they can reverse those issues. If we start earlier reaching the doctors and the consumers, and motivating the insurance companies to support people (with care and financial backing) up front to save money down the line, then we can keep people out of hospitals and urgent cares.
We need to reach everyone. We need to come back to the original meaning in Latin of doctor, which is to teach. In China, the doctors teach and guide people to live in harmony with nature, the cycle of the seasons and how to maintain their health.
TWIP: Do you believe there is one diet and nutritional formula that benefits all of us?
Dr. Haas: It is different for everyone. Some people are much more sensitive, and need a different kind of diet. Even with a husband and wife; women tend to need more concentrated food as they get cold easier. Men need more fresh fruit and vegetables. Our body is an end result of all the things we do with it and to it. If we want a different result then we may need to make some alterations. I believe in what I call Transformational Medicine, which is to start with somebody at Point A, where they are. This is the symptoms and problems they have, their energy level, their weight, and their goals. And then look at where they want to be, Point B. Do they want to lose 10 pounds, have more energy, or reduce a symptom? Then, how do we get there? If their goals are loftier, like they want to loose 50 pounds or they want to reverse heart disease, well that may take more, if it is even possible.
It is really important to me that I engage my patients in the process. I am cooperating with people to be on their team to help guide and support them to improve their health. Most medical practices are managing chronic diseases. I do some of that, but I prefer to evaluate and monitor people to improve their health and vitality.
TWIP: With what you just said, tell me the five things the majority of people need to do to point them in the direction of changing their health as it is now?
Dr. Haas: Here are the five things that I focus on for my health.
- I focus my diet around vegetables. Most people will benefit from eating 50 percent fresh vegetables, then some protein and complex carbohydrates.
- Drink plenty of water. One to two liters a day. If you are trying to lose weight drink a couple glasses of water about 30 minutes before you eat. That will hydrate your body and you won’t have as many cravings or tend to eat as much.
- Get regular exercise. That includes aerobic activity to build endurance, gaining strength from weight training, and stretching for flexibility—all this leads to an overall sense of well-being and mood elevation.
- Do not eat too much after nightfall.
- Take time to eat and chew your food well.
Lastly, I do a lot of detox programs in my office. It is one of the most rewarding things I experience. I do a three-week plan where I get people off five key overused foods and substances: sugar, caffeine, alcohol, plus wheat and dairy products. I have them do an elimination diet, and they start to drop weight and feel better. They are eating mostly steamed vegetables and a little bit of grain and fruit in the morning. Some people can fast, and my books talk about that, but many people cannot. However, everyone can clean up their diet.
One of my messages for myself and others is “Enjoy more from Less.” For example, you don’t need to eat a whole dessert; the first bite is 80 percent of the experience of the flavors and the richness. When we take time to eat and enjoy our food, we don’t eat as much, we are more nourished, and we digest it better. With this, we could get rid of half the digestive problems people have if everyone would just take more time to eat and chew our food.
TWIP: Dr. Haas this has been quite interesting and we are looking forward to your continued input in the months to come on Total Health Online. From everyone here at TWIP we wish you the best in health in 2011!
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