Natural Health Products Hustle

Christopher Scipio

There was a time not too long ago when going to a natural health food store was a cherished adventure of mine. Back in the 70’s and 80’s when I was a kid the health food store was this lone tiny outpost in the community where the owner was certainly a holdout from Woodstock or some prophet crying out in the materialistic wilderness for us all to repent and find our way back to nature. It was really cool for me to go there and gawk at the Hippies, and Hare Krishnas and other “freaks” that would hang out there. I’d smell the patchouli and take in the funky hemp clothing and see the vast array of Birkenstocks.

The health food store was like a portal to an entirely other dimension. The products were usually in bulk bins or in plain wrappers or with nondescript labels. There was a minimum of packaging and processing. The natural remedies smelt, tasted and often even looked like the sources where they came from. The cheaply printed, usually self-published books were humble and sincere in a way that seems strangely quaint now and the owner spoke softly and patiently but with the passion of an evangelist.

Like Stevie Wonder says “I wish those days, would come back once more, I wish those days, never had to go, I loved them so”.

It’s been a long time since going to a health food store was regarded as a fringe activity. Now there are health food stores in the smallest of communities and there are even several big chains of health food stores that are far swankier than most mainstream grocery stores.

You have to have a pretty good income to shop in many of the heath food stores I’ve been to lately. But I guess it’s all a sign of positive progress. People are more interested in health foods and natural remedies than they have been in a long time.

The biggest change has been in the natural remedies. There are now scores of companies making innumerable brands of supplements and remedies. It’s a huge business now, virtually a gold rush and lots of people have rushed right into the market. Many of the old time supplement companies have been bought by food companies like Kraft and by pharmaceutical companies.

The packaging is slick and the form of the “natural remedies” is often so sterile and processed that there is little resemblance to the plants and natural materials they were extracted from.

Every day it seems that doctors and scientists point out that many of these “natural” products and remedies are either dangerous or have no therapeutic value, and in many cases, I would have to agree with them.

Once again, though, nature is not to blame. The natural world produces the most powerful and effective healing substances ever known. Natural medicine like natural living restores our vitality and grace in ways synthetic medicine cannot begin to touch.

What is to blame is simply greed and human arrogance. I’ll deal with the greed first.

With the natural health products gold rush has come a gold rush mentality. Often when vitamins and supplements and other natural products were independently tested it has been discovered that they either didn’t contain the medicinal ingredient promised or they contained it in much smaller quantities than stated.

Back in the day, natural health products companies were pioneers, mavericks and in my opinion, heroes. They weren’t there just for the money, frankly, there wasn’t that much money to be made. They were promoting an alternative to our love affair with chemicals and self-pollution. Now it seems that I can’t go anywhere without being bombarded with outrageous claims and dodgy marketing practices both on and off the Internet. They have people, including me at times, running from here to there bewildered at what one is really supposed to be taking for one’s health. The sad fact is that some of this misinformation out there has granted governments all around the world the excuse to start cracking down on natural health products. Here in Canada, they have even gone to the extent of banning Comfrey, although I don’t see how they believe they can ban something that grows in most people’s gardens.

The timing couldn’t be worse. The population is more dependent on prescription drugs than ever before and more people are dying or being harmed from the use of prescription drugs than ever before. Added to that is the sad reality that many people are also suffering from environmental and cultural allergens.

The other component to the natural health products hustle is arrogance.

Nature has been producing amazing medicines for billions of years. We have recently shown up on this planet with our oversized brains and undersized understanding and after what hasn’t even been a cosmic blink of the eye we have decided that we can do better than nature. We have decided that we can standardize nature.

Standardization doesn’t exist in nature; in fact, it’s against the laws of nature. Nature revolves around diversity. It’s the law of variation. Populations, whether they be plant or animal, with a good variation of genes are healthy and populations without are inbred. No two snowflakes are the same, no two plants are the same. That’s the way it’s meant to be. But of course, that wasn’t good enough for some of the natural health products companies. They decided that it was better to artificially manipulate and process nature to suit their own designs. After the gold rush started an arm’s race started over standardizing vitamins and supplements and remedies. Companies began to experiment with ways to extract more of certain identified compounds out of plants and minerals. In doing so they created their own arms race with different companies competing to see who could build the best natural health products Frankensteins. Their approach isn’t fundamentally different than the pharmaceutical companies’. It’s the same shit just different pills.

We don’t standardize wine. Can you imagine if we made it so that every year the Chablis from all over the world tasted the same and had the same exact chemical signature?

It’s a bit of a mockery that in the same health food stores where people are being encouraged to return to eating unprocessed organic fruits and vegetables there are shelf loads of natural health products that don’t smell, look or taste like the plants and minerals they come from, and are produced by high-tech extraction and processing methods. These natural health products are the equivalent of eating at MacDonald’s or having a TV dinner.

Some people will always prefer synthetic to natural, man-made to organic. Not all these products are bad, not all of these products are unhelpful. It’s the state of consciousness behind them that concerns me the most. Instead of investing the time and money to more fully investigate the natural medicines all around us, these arrogant and greedy companies prefer to remake nature in their own images.

Despite the fact the most of the world is water and that most of our bodies are liquid, they have fallen in love all over again with the pill and here we go living in the “Valley of the Dolls”.

Like the holdout owners of those health food stores back in the day, I am speaking out to anyone that will listen. If we believe in the adage from Hippocrates “Let medicine be thy food and thy food be thy medicine”, then let’s treat medicine like food and keep it as natural and organic as possible without the unnecessary intervention of technology. Let’s keep all the diversity and variance that nature has designed. Let’s use whole botanical and other extracts instead of isolating single compounds like the drug companies do.

I don’t have any suggestions on how to compel these companies from marketing snake oil to the public. I do however have some suggestions on how individuals can empower themselves in this precarious environment:

1. Don’t Put Your Faith in False Gods

Don’t put your faith in pills or associations or initials after someone’s name, or in white lab coats or government decrees or rumours or advertising or peer pressure or even in what I have to say.

Use your own judgment. Use your intuition, challenge all premises and go within. Your own body is the Great Healer, Nature is the Great Medicine. Look around you, there’s medicine all around you. Go to the source. Use medicines in the simplest, most natural forms possible. Don’t look for packaging, look for healing power. Don’t let anyone or anything intimidate you. You have the intelligence and intuition to learn about natural healing.

2. Don’t Be Lazy

Health isn’t something you can go to a store or an office and buy. Health is a state of consciousness and a lifestyle. In many ways, health is a state of grace. Unless you are living in the state of grace of being in harmony with yourself, your relationships and your environment then you cannot experience real health.

3. Embrace Real Healers

There is healing energy everywhere. In a loving mother nursing her child. In lovemaking on its deepest levels. In a crowd’s euphoria over their team’s victory. In dancing to music that resonates with your soul.

You know what that energy feels like, so when you go to see a naturopath or homeopath or traditional healer or physician or minister or reiki practitioner; any healer whatsoever, if you don’t feel that loving/healing energy from them, if you don’t feel that they deeply care about you, move on! You won’t find true healing without the true healing energy.

But when you do find a true healer, embrace them. Embrace the magic and respect the healing.

4. Make Your Own Medicines

If you haven’t read my essay “Why I Love Making My Own Remedies”, please do read it.

Never making your own remedies is like never cooking for yourself. No meal is better than one prepared with love. And whenever someone cooks with love they think about the love they share for the people the food is intended for and that love finds its way into the food. And that loving cook is going to be very selective about the ingredients that go into that meal and that loving discrimination finds itself into the meal, and so too is it with making your own remedies.

If you never made your own tinctures I encourage you to do so. If you don’t know how to, email me and I’ll send you directions on how to do it. It’s inexpensive, it’s fun, it’s empowering. There’s no downside whatsoever, so do go out and experience the joy of making natural remedies. Your body will feel the difference too.

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Christopher Scipio
Homeopath/Herbalist
Holistic Viral and Immune Specialist