What is Naturopathic Acupuncture?

Our article this week is provided by Henry McGrath – Academic Director at CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine) – who  trained in Shiatsu, Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine, in the UK and China. He has practiced Acupuncture since the 1990s, and is the author of various publications, including Traditional Chinese Medicine Approaches to Cancer.

In this weeks article  Henry takes us right back to the beginning of Acupuncture, when much disease was often caused by a simple lack of basic food, and by chronic overwork.  However in our society, by contrast, disease is often caused by an excess of toxicity.  Henry explains how this was one reason as to why CNM developed Naturopathic Acupuncture, in order to focus on reducing the level of toxins as part of the return to full health.


Acupuncture is part of a holistic approach

Right from the very time of its origins, around 2500 years ago in China, Acupuncture has always been part of a whole package of healthy living.  Rather than just focusing on the symptoms of disease, the Acupuncturist would always try to find out the cause.  In the famous book “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic”, the Emperor asks his Minister why people are not as healthy as they used to be, and why life expectancy is falling.  The Minister explains that people’s lifestyles are less healthy than they used to be: in the past people ate properly, and tried to live a natural lifestyle, in harmony with the natural environment. Nowadays, however, people eat too much rich food, and don’t rest properly.

One wonders what the Minister would make of our modern lifestyle, with its hectic pace, fast food and environmental pollution.

The Minister was clear that Acupuncture must be supported by changes in lifestyle, or it would only be limited in its effectiveness.  However, in the West, Acupuncture is all too often practiced outside this context, as a stand-alone technique, performed without any advice on lifestyle and other supporting therapies.

This is why some years ago, CNM developed ‘Naturopathic Acupuncture’.  CNM students are taught from the very start to consider the causes of disease, and to educate clients in developing healthier, sustainable lifestyles.

Traditional Acupuncturists placed great emphasis on the body’s own healing power.  Rather than forcing out illness using strong drugs, Chinese doctors tried to stimulate the body’s own innate healing power.  This approach is always followed by Naturopaths, too.

All CNM Acupuncture students are educated about the importance of nutrition.  Acupuncture works by addressing the “qi”, or “vital force”.  However, as the Yellow Emperor explains, qi is produced by the food one eats.  If the diet is poor, the Acupuncturist has much less qi to work with.  We find in CNM’s Acupuncture Student Clinic that clients who follow our dietary advice tend to get well really quickly, whereas those who ignore it get better more slowly.  In fact, those who do not change their diets often hit a kind of ceiling on their wellness: they cannot get beyond a certain point without dietary changes.  A good diet is one of the fundamental aspects of the Naturopathic approach.

Illness and wellness

Another key strand of Naturopathic Acupuncture is the promotion of wellness, not just the elimination of symptoms.  All too often health is defined merely as an absence of disease.  One feels unwell, goes to the doctor, and has a variety of blood tests and scans.  The results come back showing no abnormalities: the patient is told they have nothing wrong with them.  If the patient still complains of feeling unwell they are dismissed as a hypochondriac or a neurotic: perhaps the doctor will refer them for therapy or counselling.

On the other hand, according to the Naturopathic understanding, if a person does not feel well, then indeed they are not fully healthy.  Illness is not something to be suppressed, it is the body giving a signal that something needs to change. This is why we focus on promoting maximum health, rather than just on preventing symptoms.  Naturopathic Acupuncture promotes wellness, rather than just focuses on removing illness. Health is a journey, and with the Naturopathic approach we are always growing in wellness.

Naturopathic Acupuncture and the Environment

The Yellow Emperor talks of living in harmony with our environment, a message our modern world needs to hear. Our lives are intimately bound up with the ecosystem which supports us.  If we do not look after our planet, we will eventually become sick ourselves.  By eating organic, naturally produce food, we are minimising our impact on the environment, and at the same time making ourselves more healthy.  By cultivating a more balanced approach to life we heal ourselves and the planet together.  For example, by walking or cycling instead of driving, we become fitter, and reduce pollution.

By choosing recreations such as walking, instead of just watching television all the time, we do the same.  It is a sad reflection on the modern approach to health that there is an epidemic of obesity among our children: this is no surprise given the amount of time many of them spend sitting in front of the television eating junk food.  How can we expect children to be healthy if they do not exercise and eat well?  And yet the modern way is to give them drugs such as Ritalin to calm down their hyperactivity, when often all they need is proper food and exercise.

As we increase our wellness, we are less attracted to junk food, excessive alcohol, and drugs.  Our culture of bingeing is another sad reflection of our sickness as a society.  When people are unhappy, unwell, frustrated, they want to block it all out with ‘bingeing’.

Naturopathic Acupuncture and the modern world

Acupuncture was developed in a very different world to ours.  Our pattern of disease is therefore often quite different to that seen in ancient China.  At the time when Acupuncture was developed, much disease was often caused by a simple lack of basic food, and by chronic overwork.  In our society, by contrast, disease is often caused by an excess of toxicity.  This is one reason why CNM developed Naturopathic Acupuncture, in order to focus on reducing the level of toxins as part of the return to full health. In our experience, modern diseases benefit hugely from an approach which includes a method of detoxification.

So what are these toxins?  They can include internally generated toxins, such as urea, or waste products of bacteria or yeasts.  They can also include external toxins, such as drugs (illegal or prescription), alcohol, caffeine, food preservatives, pesticides, cosmetics, environmental pollutants and heavy metals.

The Naturopathic approach focuses on clearing toxins from the body, using the body’s own organs of detoxification.  These organs include the lymphatic system, the skin, the kidneys, the lungs, the colon and the liver.  By getting these organs to work more effectively, the body will release toxins and return to health.

Naturopathic Methods of Detoxification

According to the ancient Chinese, detoxification is best carried out in the Spring.  This is the time for rejuvenation and renewal of life.  Naturopaths also follow this guidance, which is working with the laws of nature.  Winter, on the other hand, is a time of building up reserves and resting.

In such a short article it is difficult to describe all the methods of detoxification which are taught at CNM in great detail.  Here is just a brief summary of some of the main methods.

Fasting is an important method of detoxification.  This does not mean a total absence of nourishment, it means using juices and supplements which are easy to absorb and do not require much of the body’s energy to break down.  Such fasts usually last only one to three day: longer fasts must be done with great caution under experienced guidance. Those who have done such fasts report a feeling of ‘lightness’ and increased energy.  In the short term, as toxins are released into the blood stream, people may experience headaches, nausea, skin rashes, body aches, or other symptoms.  These will pass as the toxins leave the body.  Fasting can be supported by various herbs and supplements.

Coffee enemas are used to flush toxins out of the body.  Chemicals in the coffee pass into the haemorrhoidal veins and then into the portal vein.  Other compounds in the coffee stimulate the production of enzymes which break down toxins such as free radicals in the blood stream.  Colonic therapy can also be used, which passes filtered water into the whole colon.

Other detoxification therapies include saunas and steam baths; skin brushing; lymphatic drainage massage and exercise.

The exact types of naturopathic methods used will depend on the type of condition,  which is why it is important to have a good quality training programme such as that offered by CNM.

The ancient Chinese who developed Acupuncture believed that disease should be addressed through a wide range of interventions, designed to stimulate the body’s own capacity to heal itself.  In the modern world, we need to pay particular attention to the need to detoxify the body.  CNM’s Naturopathic Acupuncture course is specifically designed to combine ancient Chinese principles with the needs of today’s society, to produce maximum health benefits for all.  The aim is not to settle for getting rid of symptoms, but to promote a feeling of true wellness and vitality.


About the writer and CNM

Henry is Academic Director at CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine), where he set up CNM’s Naturopathic Acupuncture Diploma Course, available at three of CNM’s colleges, in London, Bristol, and Dublin.  For further information on CNM Diploma Courses, Short Courses or Postgraduate Courses in a range of natural therapies, call 01342 410 505 or visit  www.naturopathy-uk.com


If you have any questions regarding the health topics that have been raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time.

amanda@cytoplan.co.uk, 01684 310099

Amanda Williams and the Cytoplan Editorial Team: Joseph Forsyth, Simon Holdcroft and Clare Daley


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