Integrative medical physician Sandra McLanahan, M.D., has for many years been the nation's leading expert on the medical effects of yoga. Executive Medical Director of the Integral Health Center in rural Buckingham, Virginia, she also served for 20 years as Director of Stress Management Training for the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, where she was a crucial part of the research team led by Dean Ornish, M.D., which established, in studies published in The Lancet and The Journal of the American Medical Association, that heart disease can be reversed by a combination of a low-fat, high fiber vegetarian diet, yoga, meditation, and group support.
McLanahan is a 1968 magna cum laude graduate of Swarthmore College, received her M.D. from Wayne State University, and completed a residency in Family Practice at the University of Massachusetts. Aside from her work with the Integral Health Center and the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, Dr. McLanahan was among the founders of the pioneering Commonweal Cancer Help Program.
Her most recent book, Surgery and Its Alternatives, co-authored with her brother David McLanahan, M.D., a surgeon, is a unique and comprehensive guide for people facing the possible need for surgery, and is a must for their caregivers as well. The doctors McLanahan cover 200 different diseases for which surgery is sometimes necessary, describing the causes of each disease (including dietary and stress factors) and presenting alternatives to surgery as well as complementary medicine approaches that can be utilized along with surgery.
In this interview with Dr. Daniel Redwood, McLanahan, a 5th generation doctor, describes how her father inspired her ethic of service, how the incompleteness of her medical education led her to search for deeper answers, her work with Dean Ornish and the late Swami Satchidananda, the value of yoga, the best ways to deal with heart disease, and her vision of a truly integrated approach to health and healing.
For further information:
Sandra McLanahan, M.D.
Route 1 Box 1680
Buckingham, VA 23921
Daniel Redwood: When did you first consider going into medicine?
Sandra McLanahan: I had an amazing father who just passed away at age 91, who was very oriented toward service. (My mother died when I was four.) He came from a very wealthy family, but he gave it all up because he saw people starving during the Great Depression. He went all around the Midwest founding co-ops and credit unions, so people could pool their resources and come together in community. He had six children; three of them are doctors and one is married to a doctor. So we all wanted to be of service.
I got interested in biology and science because of its beauty. It's really been that which has brought me forward, the joy of life that I was given by my dad and his great dedication to service.
Redwood: What were the earliest influences leading you toward unconventional forms of medicine?
McLanahan: I got interested in that while I was in medical school. I began to see that so much of disease had a preventable aspect. I began to see that what medical school was oriented toward was simply drugs and surgery, and that it wasn't getting at the root cause of disease. Then I read a transcript of a talk by Swami Satchidananda in which he said we have a natural state of ease, and when we lose it we get dis-ease. And so the aim should be to maintain the ease, and thereby maintain the health. Nobody had said anything like that in medical school. So I went on a retreat with him my senior year in medical school, and started learning about natural approaches to health, because he had been trained as a naturopath and a homeopath in India, as well as in the science of yoga. Since then, which was 35 years ago, I have been studying these approaches. I went to India with him and visited the yoga hospitals, looked at the naturopathic tradition over there as well as the naturopathic tradition in this country.