Review: Online Course for Natural Health School, Unit 1 Lesson 1–Or, in which I poke a bag of psychotic worms

I am a fairly scientifically minded person. In fact, I left one job and returned to school with the goal of entering a graduate program in some area of research. As I worked towards my second bachelor’s in biology, my interests narrowed from research to biochemistry to the study of how the chemicals from natural products–be they cone snail toxins or herbs–interact with the body to produce pharmacological results. I was mostly interested in herbs, as my grandmother was an herbalist, and whether or not herbs actually had a physiological effect on the body and how. As such, I started to study herbs on my own. This was a long process, and I’m far from finished, as grad school applications, homework, finals, and work-work kept getting in the way.

Well, graduation came and went, and I did not get into any graduate programs (a brief moment of silence for all those dollars lost in the application process). Broke and landing a job that only required a high school diploma, I decided to keep on keeping on by continuing my herbal and naturalism education in non-traditional ways. I couldn’t afford to actually pay for a high-quality correspondence or online course, so I searched online for free courses. The internet is a wonderful place, filled with people willing to share their sometimes-faulty knowledge (sometimes more than a little faulty). I knew a free online course wouldn’t be perfect, but I decided it would be as good a place to start as any.

The Natural Health School, found at, is one such place. The Orientation page of the program describes the instructor in more of an About Me style than an About the Course. Apparently the instructor is an MS, DC, and LAc, all letters which mean nothing to me in these combinations. (Pause and imagine me frantically searching Google) Okay, I think the MS refers to a Masters of Science, DC might mean Doctor of Chiropractic, and LAc either means Licensed Acupuncturist or a resin. I’m guessing the acupuncturist. Obviously, this instructor believes in alternative medicine, although saying you have a Master’s in science is like saying you didn’t get a Master’s in an art or in business–in other words, it’s far too vague to be of much use.

I’m fine with alternative medicine, as I know there’s more ways than just drugs to treat an illness, and this gave me hope that I would get quite a bit of what I was looking for, so I continued on.

In this blog, aside from reminiscing on my past, I aim to review Unit 1 Lesson 1 from the Natural Health School free online curriculum. This blog was supposed to cover the entire first unit, but as my handwritten notes cover 6 pages just on Lesson 1, I decided to take this unit lesson by lesson. I was hoping that learning from this site would give me a solid foundation on which to build, as well as to provide some points and data I could turn to when conversations turned to alternative medicine, herbs, and such, so that people would regard herbs in a new light instead of looking at me like I was half-crazy.

Alas, it was not to be.

This unit has some basic scientific info, scattered (and in some places blatantly splattered) with fearmongering, lies, and infomercialism.  I was originally going to do an overall review of the curriculum as a kind of, “Hey, look at what I did!” moment, but this curriculum has so frustrated and angered me at times that I’m going to review each unit after I finish them–in this unit, a lesson or two at a time (I could register for the curriculum in order to receive a “certificate fit for framing,” but after taking the first unit I don’t think I want to support this program in exchange for my soul *cough* I mean a shiny piece of paper).

Unit 1 Lesson 1 Focus: Background of everything you might wish to know.

Unit 1 Lesson 1 is a supposed introduction to herbalism.  It covers the basics, such as “What is an herb?” “What does synergistic mean?” and the like.  It also gives a first glimpse into what I’ll call anti-everything doctor related.  Hmm…that’s too long.  I’ll just call it anti-doctor.

The instructor quotes Hippocrates with a quote every single naturalist I’ve run across uses: “Let your food be your medicine, and let your medicine be your food.”  I’m all for that, and one goal I have in being a greener person is to change my eating habits to more closely reflect this philosophy.  This gives me hope.

That hope quickly comes against a snag: “Pharmaceutical companies often make the mistake of isolating an active from an herb, or extracting that active out of the herb without the herb’s other naturally-occurring ingredients; or even worse, of making and producing a synthetic copy of the active.  What nature produced–without the benefits of the synergistic interactions of the herb’s original ingredients–often resulting in negative actions or undesirable side-effects.” The instructor’s point is that herbs have “active” and “inactive” compounds, and sometimes the way that the active and inactive compounds interact with each other and in the body have a synergistic approach.

I understand synergy.  I worked in a lab that synthesizes natural proteins found in cone snails.  Cone snails are marine snails that have venom that they use to hunt fish.  The venom of the cone snails contains hundreds of different neurotoxins.  The synergistic effect of all those neurotoxins on the fish (and humans) is paralysis and death.  The individual neurotoxins, however, provide different results, some of them positive, such as pain suppressants and possible cancer blockers.

Plants are the same way.  Their total chemical components interact synergistically with each other and our bodies.  The instructor hints that the only correct way to take  medicine is with all its synergistic elements, and that everything pharmacies do is inherently flawed if not downright bad.  This is dangerous thinking, as it turns people away from potentially life-saving treatments (also, sometimes it’s best to not take plants whole.  Take foxglove, for instant.  It contains a powerful poison that, when extracted or synthesized and given in controllable and measured doses as Digoxin, is used in treating heart disease and muscular distrophy.  I certainly wouldn’t want to take foxglove, but I’d be willing to take Digoxin if it is the correct prescription medication for my needs).

To continue on, Lesson 1 continues by spouting facts (mainly without sources) about the cost of health care in the United States and the fact that we live in an unhealthy society.  While this is true, in this and other lessons the instructor hints that doctors and Big Pharma are to blame, that pharmaceutical companies are geared to hook you for life and that doctors and pharma treat only symptoms and doesn’t look at the whole person.  While it is true that life-saving medication is often needed when all else fails and a person’s quality of life is in the gutter, more and more doctors nowadays are teaching their patients about nutrition and good eating habits, exercise and sleep, and doing more than just pushing pills (in other words, more and more doctors are taking a holistic approach to medicine, which is what this course is supposed to teach).  Plus, sometimes, despite all the clean living they can muster, sometimes people just get sick.

Now, I think I’m being unfair in saying so many negative things about Lesson 1, so I’ll end on a good note.  This lesson had something interesting called an Online Health Assessment, which helps you assess which body system–be it circulatory, digestive, skeletal, whatever–needs the most help.  It also tells you what extremely expensive supplements you can buy to help aid in cleansing and strengthening that system.  Looking back at the Orientation page, I recognize that the online curriculum started as an educational source for a certain company’s supplement salespeople (if you can’t guess, I’m talking about a multilevel marketing supplement company.  Do with that knowledge what you will–I’ll address it in the next post or two).  I understood going into this that those supplements would be featured heavily, but I hoped another part of the Orientation would prove true–that when interest in the online course grew, the instructor updated the course to provide more knowledge that would be beneficial for people who weren’t interested in taking the supplements but were otherwise interested in improving their health.  This has yet to prove true (Crap!  I was going to end this on a good note).

Lastly, Lesson 1 provided a short video about dandelions and how to make dandelion tea.  I found this interesting and looked up the nutritional information on dandelion greens.  Surprisingly, they are extremely nutrient dense–they are a good source of folate, magnesium, phosphorous copper, dietary fiber, vitamins A, C, E, K, and B6, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, iron, potassium, and manganese.  All this information, spurred towards discovery by a three-minute video, makes me want to go out in the mountains in the summer and harvest dandelions (as they won’t be sprayed with pesticides up there) and use them in salads, green smoothies, and other dishes.  That video was a good way to end Lesson 1, and I hoped there would be more random moments like this (that hope is still there, but–as you’ll see in other posts–is waning fast).

Stay tuned for my review of the rest of Unit 1, and perhaps Units 2 and 3 (if I can stomach all the lessons).


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