Turning Point Acupuncture



Michael Barr MS, L.Ac., Dipl. C.H.


Mike found acupuncture and Chinese Medicine after a 20-year career in allopathic medicine seeking to improve care of his senior parents and their friends. As a member of the Comprehensive HIV Care Center of St. Vincent's Hospital in Greenwich Village, he witnessed first-hand both the life-saving potential (of) as well as the incentives to over-prescribe powerful and pricey pharmaceuticals. His SVH team's research has been published in major medical journals and presented at conferences in six of the seven continents.  As an activist and community organizer, he has been arrested in protests at the White House, the FDA, the NIH, New York´s City Hall, and at a kiss-in on Broadway and 99th Street. In 2005, inspired by the writings of Marcia Angell (former NEJM editor and Harvard professor of medicine) and Merrill Goozner (former director of the Integrity in Science project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest), he founded a non-profit watch dog group which advocated for greater transparency in the flow of money between drug companies and doctors and disease advocacy groups. After two years overseeing HIV clinics and lay caregiver education programs in Uganda, Zambia and Malawi for two Los Angeles-based AIDS foundations, he returned to the U.S. to study Chinese medicine.  More recently he has authored and presented Oriental medicine research as a member of the Society for Acupuncture Research, and he is a peer reviewer for the acupuncture journals The American Acupuncturist and  Meridians. He studied Oriental medicine at Samra and Dongguk universities in Los Angeles and at Pacific College  in New York.


In January 2007, a Turning Point client told her acupuncturist that she had entered a three month long weight-loss competition – a contest among friends that she really wanted to win. They had been working together for several years on general well-being and this competition presented the client with an opportunity to learn more about how both Western Medicine / Culture and Traditional Chinese Medicine dealt with the issue of weight-loss.

We all know the basic weight-loss mantra: “eat less, exercise more.” However, with the constant stress and instant-gratification mentality of modern life, this is much easier said than done. Many people treat weight loss as a short sprint and are also constantly looking for short cuts. Eliminating certain types of food (carbohydrates or fats) or intensely working out for a brief period of time will help you lose weight, but once you return to “normal” eating habits, the weight comes back and then some. We need to burn more calories than we consume in order to lose weight, but it’s also important that we eat the right kind of calories and establish a healthy diet that can be sustained interminably. Eating a menu based on the 40/30/30 plan, where the daily food intake consists of 40% complex carbohydrates, 30% protein and 30% fat, as well as consciously reducing high-glycemic index foods like candy and other sweets, is a good and manageable approach. Aerobic activity such as running, bicycling or swimming, should also be balanced with anaerobic activity such as weight-lifting for optimum results. Keeping food and exercise journals has also been proven to help with weight-loss and maintenance.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), obesity and excess weight in general are viewed as a result of unbalanced qi in relation to the spleen, liver and kidney. All three of these organs play important roles in dealing with stress, and when they become overwhelmed feelings of well-being, satisfaction and fullness are replaced by unease, agitation, slow digestion and poor metabolism. TCM classifies this state as one of "dampness." In addition to utilizing specific acu-points to encourage better flow of qi, it is also recommended that you reduce your intake of caffeine, alcohol and dairy, as these foods negatively impact the organs and increase dampness. Your acupuncturist may also prescribe certain Chinese herbs to help reduce the dampness and promote qi between treatments. Exercise is also suggested as a complimentary activity, but the TCM approach supports a more gentle approach, so as to not shock the system. Regular walking and yoga are two practices that have been found to be beneficial.

A 2003 study published in Experiemental Biology and Medicine found that a combination of the western and TCM weight-loss techhniques produced positive results. Over an eight week period, 55 subjects received auricular acupuncture treatment and kept food journals. The subjects were weighed four times a day and in the end, 64% lost weight. A control group that received "sham treatments" and kept food journals did not lose any weight, proving that the weight loss of the test subjects was not simply a self-fulfilling prophecy. Other studies have also found that accupuncture can have a positive impact on weight-loss, but more quantitative research needs to be done.

So what can you do with all this information? Turning Point recommends individual consultation with your acupuncturist, as everybody and every body is unique. In general though, a safe approach to weight loss incorporates both Western and TCM elements. Try to eat a glycemically balanced diet, and reduce your intake of alcohol, caffeine and dairy. Exercise at a level where you feel comfortable but also challenge yourself to reach for a higher general state of overall fitness. Keep a journal and make sure that you are open and honest with your acupuncturist about challenges and successes. The needles are not an instant fix-all. You need to be an equal partner in the process and work to address both your emotional and physical issues that have resulted in the excess weight.

And in case you were wondering, the Turning Point client did win the competition. She lost 10% of her weight and has kept it off for over two years by following the program outlined above. This success has made her a firm believer in the effectiveness of TCM in general and regular acupuncture treatments in particular.

by Hector Mendez

The world is an interrelated system: changes in one part affect the whole. The sun and the earth feed the plants that feed the animals that feed the humans. This ecological universe is a delicate, symbiotic one. Whether we purchase organic or conventional food products has an impact on both our health and the land in which the food is grown.

For U.S. consumers, the terms “conventional” or “organic” refer to how farmers grow and process food. Conventional farming methods differ from organic ones in several ways: 1) Conventional farming uses chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth, while organic farming employs manure and compost to fertilize the soil, 2) Conventional farming sprays pesticides to get rid of pests, while organic farmers turn to beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption, or traps, 3) Conventional farming uses chemical herbicides to manage weeds, whereas organic farmers rotate crops, pulls weeds by hand, or mulch, and 4) When raising animals, conventional farmers use antibiotics, growth hormones, and medications to spur growth and prevent disease. Organic farmers feed their animals organic foods and allow them to roam.

The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements defines organic agriculture as an agricultural system that promotes environmentally, socially, and economically sound production of food, fiber, timber, etc.. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, however, the organic label is a matter of degree: 100% organic means that the product contains only organic ingredients. Certified organic means that at least 95 percent of the food’s ingredients were organically produced, but if the label reads, “made with organic ingredients,” then this tells you that the product is at least 70% organic.

So what should we put in our bodies? Many people believe that there is more to fear from the dangers of molds and insects than pesticides, especially in the amounts that are used; if you wash your produce, as you always should, the problem is solved. This view fails to take into account that pesticides get into the soil that in turn gets inside the food. Admittedly, the risks of long-term exposure to those residues are still undetermined, but several long-term studies support the fact that organic diets lower exposure to pesticides. Chemical fertilizers help promote plant growth by providing the soil with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Yes, the plants will grow with these chemical in the short term, but this method fails to take into account that the soil is a living ecological system that adds nutrients and antioxidants to the produce it grows. The use of manure and compost revitalizes the soil, which in turn supplies us humans with benefits that are otherwise lost.

Conventional growers believe that there is no meaningful difference between organic and conventional when it comes to nutrition and health. A study at the University of California Davis showed no significant difference between conventional and organic bell peppers, yet the same study demonstrated that organically grown tomatoes have significantly more vitamin C than conventional. Another study, from Newcastle University in England, showed organic milk contained 67 percent more vitamins and antioxidants, as well as more Omega-3s and Omega-6s than conventional milk. Organic foods do not contain any additives or preservatives, antibiotics or hormones and are not genetically modified. Science, in regards to organic vs. conventional nutrition, is in its infancy, but I think we can agree that it is a good idea to bypass the antibiotic and hormone buffet.

The biggest criticism of organic food is its cost. Organic farmers pay more for organic animal feed, and because they do not use chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the farming is more labor intensive. This also means their crop yield is usually lower. Conventional farming also uses every acre of farmland to grow crops, while organic farmers rotate their crops to keep soil healthy. However, when you take into account the true “cost” of food production from conventional farming, including replacement of eroded soils, cleaning up polluted water, health care for farmers who get sick, and environmental costs of pesticide production and disposal, organic farming might actually be cheaper in the end.

Within the organic camp, purists argue that food cannot be organic if it is not local. According to the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, food in the United States travels an average of 1,500 miles before consumption. How can a strawberry shipped from California to New York, requiring 435 calories of fossil fuel yet providing the eater with only 5 calories of nutrition, be organic? John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, referred to both a non-organic local tomato and an organic tomato from California as "an environmental wash," since the nonorganic one was grown with pesticides but the California one had petroleum miles on it. However, he conceded, "The local tomato will be fresher, will just taste better."

For food purists "local" is the new "organic". Probably the most “green” way to acquire your weekly provisions is through a local farmer’s market and/or Community Supported Agriculture programs. The food comes from small farms where the farmers are usually conscious of their impact on the earth and care about the food they’re producing. They also remind you that food originates some place other than a grocery store. It may be romantic, but it’s also effective.

The organic food market has grown 20% on average year over year for the past ten years. This has increasingly attracted agribusiness. As profits get higher the muddier the lines will become between what is organic and what is not. Agribusiness will lobby to gerrymander the distinction, leaving consumers to wade through the ambiguity of the government lexicon. It will then become even more necessary to be armed with food knowledge.

Unfortunately, we consumers can't know for certain about food's authenticity unless we grow it ourselves. When addressing the topic of organic agriculture, Sir Albert Howard, an English agronomist, stated, “We have to treat the whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal, and man as one great subject.” This intuitive statement should be embraced as an impetus to propel the continuing debate for food priorities in today’s modern and complicated world.