The Hippocrates Health Institute was founded in Boston in the 1960s by Lithuanian-born Ann Wigmore, a passionate raw-food and wheatgrass-juice advocate who claimed that a diet of “living” plants could cure pretty much any ailment. Nutritionist Brian Clement joined the institute in the ’70s. Clement, as director, and Anna Maria, his wife, moved Hippocrates to a verdant 50-acre property 10 minutes west of Palm Beach International Airport in 1987. Since then, celebrities from Ellen Page and Heather Mills to Coretta Scott King, Mick Fleetwood and Kenny Loggins have visited to heal, detox, lose weight, fight the process of aging and get a fresh perspective on life.

The Life Transformation Program consists of lectures, exercise, massage, bio-energy treatments, psychotherapy and more with a raw vegan diet fueling visitors throughout. It lasts for three weeks, although some, like me, choose to do one week at a time. Beyond the core offerings (starting at about $3,000 per week), add-ons like IV vitamin supplements and laser facials are available at an extra cost. But the highly recommended colonics, enemas and twice-daily wheatgrass “implants” are included in the price of the program — so they’re basically free — a price that still seems too high to me.


“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
—HIPPOCRATES, 400 B.C.

The retreat sits perfectly at the nexus of a number of growing health trends. According to a 2013 study by SRI International, a nonprofit research institute, wellness tourism now reaps $181 billion a year in the United States. And “complementary medicine” — from homeopathic cold cures to acupuncture — is used by half of all Americans, making it a $34 billion business. The country’s greatest medical superstars — Dr. Oz, Deepak Chopra, Dr. Andrew Weil — fill best-seller lists with books about alternatives to the clinical Western practice of medicine.

Can we really live healthier, happier and longer with the help of some Chinese herbs, Indian stretches and Thai massages? Dr. Paul Offit, chief of the division of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and author of Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine, has his doubts. I decide to consult with the doctor before making myself a test subject.

“If you go and use a light machine and believe that it’s killing invisible bacteria in your body, and if that’s helping you, great. It’s not going to hurt,” Dr. Offit says. “If you take a weed and rub it on your chest, face the East and pray to the planet Mars, and that helps, great. I mean as long as it doesn’t hurt, I’m all for it.”

Then, I list some of the resort’s more, er, exotic offerings.

“Are you really going to do this to yourself?” he asks, incredulously. “You’re a brave man.”