Updates for you!

Does anyone read this thing?

Well, it’s been nearly a year since I updated this blog page so I figured I at least need to give an update. I am currently in the middle of the Clinical Herbalist Program at the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism. Recently I taught a couple classes though the Waterbury Public Library (see the new photos under the “Teaching” tab). We had one class at the library and an Herb & Mushroom walk at the Waterbury Reservoir; both were quite successful with roughly 20 people coming out for each.

So that’s the plan moving forward…I’ll start officially seeing clients in January 2018, although I am already working with people and have been for many years. I’ll be teaching more classes too, so if there is a specific topic you want me to address, please let me know. I’ve thought about leading plant walks but with the stated goal of having a philosophical dialogue with people while in the woods, sort of a Platonic ideal.

Pretty soon here I’m going to revamp this entire website, hopefully make it look even more professional and offer a whole section that is dedicated to specific herb and nutrient protocols. These protocols will be constitution specific and can be modified according to the individual. A wide variety of herbal extracts and products will soon be available to purchase, hopefully by next year this will be ready to rock.

All right my friends, thanks for your support. Enjoy the day.

Chuck distill


Holistic Physiology: Movin’ & Groovin’

Movin’ and Groovin’ Badge

  • Describe the layers of the skin and the functions of each layer
    • Focus: epidermis & its five layers, dermis and matrix, subcutaneous tissue

Our skin is a remarkable system of protection that is composed of multiple layers with a variety of functions. The skin is  composed of three layers, the Epidermis, the Dermis, and the Hypodermis.

Let’s begin by looking at the five layers of the Epidermis, which is our external protective barrier. We should point out the difference between “thick skin” which is composed of all five layers and covers the palms of our hands and the soles of our feet, and “thin skin” which is everything else and is only made up of four layers.

Stratum corneum – “horny layer” like “horny toad” (i.e. armored) this is the outermost layer of dead keratinocyte cells that protect us from environmental threats.

Stratum lucidum – “clear layer” The next layer is composed of a few layers of clear, flat, dead keratinocyte cells. This is layer that is missing in our “thin skin”.

Stratum granulosum – “Granular layer” contain living keratinocytes that are constantly making new cells that are moving up through the layers of the epidermis. The closer they get to the surface, the further they get from the blood and eventually they die and serve only as a protective barrier.

Stratum spinosum – “Spiny layer” – these cells contain filaments which help them hold together. At this level we are getting closer to the site of cell reproduction. The deeper you go, the younger the tissue. Important to note that the Epidermis is avascular, which means blood does not flow to these layers. This means that nutrition for the cells must come from below, pushes the old cells up and out.

Stratum basale – “Basal layer” is a single layer of columnar cells where new cell production occurs. This layer connects the epidermis to the dermis.

Come, Let’s Get Sun Burned” is a fun mnemonic device to remember the names of each layer of the epidermis.

The Dermis is the middle layer between the epidermis and the hypodermis. This layer is made up of thicker connective tissue that holds all the blood vessels, nerves, hair follicles, collagen and sweat glands.

The Hypodermis lies beneath the Dermis and is composed primarily of adipose tissue (fat) and sweat glands. This layer of fat keeps us warm, provides a form of energy storage, and is essential for the production of Vitamin D.


  • Describe the accessory structures of the skin and the functions of each
    • Focus: list appendages, differentiate between sebaceous & sweat glands & apocrine v. eccrine glands

Our integumentary system is not just our skin, but our skin appendages which include our hair, nails, sweat glands, and sebaceous (oil) glands. Each strand of hair is simply a tube of epidermal cells that is continually pushing new cells upward and outward. Our nails grow in the same fashion, generating new keratinocyte cells at the root of the nail, pushing older cells outward.

We have up to 3 million sweat glands, also referred to as sudoriferous glands, displaced throughout the body. Sweat glands are either known as eccrine sweat glands or apocrine sweat glands.

Eccrine glands are simple coiled tubes that are more abundant, found in our palms, forehead, and soles of our feet. They are responsible for regulating body temperature by bringing water to the surface of our skin where it evaporates and cools us down. The Apocrine glands are numbered only about 2,000 and are found only in the armpits and pubic region. The Apocrine glands secrete a combination of sweat, protein, and fats that when consumed by bacteria creates the characteristic body odor.

Sebaceous glands and the oil producing glands which are attached to hair follicles. The purpose of this oil is to keep our skin soft and moisturized. It also helps keep our skin waterproof and protects us against bacteria and fungi. Most people are aware the of sebaceous glands of sheep, the source of lanolin and cholecalciferol (Vitamin D-3).


  • List and describe the functions of bones

Bones are quite literally the framework that holds us together. There are typically 206 bones in a healthy human body and they enable us to do everything from simply walking around town to protecting our brain from serious head trauma. Because they are often compared to the framework of a building, the most common misunderstanding people have about bones is the idea that they are completely stiff and rigid, made of minerals, so they must be lifeless tubes of rock. Of course, nothing is further from the truth. Bones are specialized living tissue that need to be dense and strong but at the same time flexible and able to reconstitute itself upon breakage. Bones also play an important role in the storage of essential minerals, particularly calcium, which our muscles must have in order to function. Without a plentiful store of calcium to draw upon, we would literally grind to a halt.


  • Discuss the process of bone formation and remodeling
    • Focus: explain osteocytes, osteoblasts, osteoclasts and their roles in remodeling + the hormones in play

Our bones are essentially made of a dense, smooth layer of compact bone surrounding a porous, spongy bone tissue. The outer layer of our bones is known as cortical bone which make up about 80% of the mass of our bones. They are stores of calcium phosphate, known as calcium hydroxyapatite and other minerals that are also required for healthy neurotransmitter function. Inside our bones is trabecular bone, also known as spongy bone, where bone marrow is found. There are two kinds of bone marrow: yellow bone marrow which is made of fat, and red bone marrow which is where the generation of new blood cells takes place, known as hematopoeisis. When we are born most of our bones are filled with red bone marrow, but as we age the red bone marrow gets replaced with yellow marrow until only a small portion of our bones contain red bone marrow. As a side note, this points out the importance of using “blood building” herbs and foods such as Dang Gui, Rehmannia, Molasses, Beets, especially as we age. Ideally, we would start a healthy maintenance of our bones and blood by nourishing the pregnant mother before she is even pregnant, but then when the baby is born it is essential to allow the entirety of the blood to flow from the placenta into the newborn child before cutting the umbilical cord. Bastyr University has an article on the subject here: http://www.bastyr.edu/news/health-tips-spotlight-1/2014/06/whats-hurry-benefits-waiting-cut-umbilical-cord-after-birth

The structural integrity of the bones are held together by osteons, the weight bearing tubes that are filled with collagen fibers (lamellae) that run in a criss cross pattern. This cross pattern is what provides the weight bearing capacity of our bones. Inside these osteons are channels that allow blood vessels to run through them. It is essential for blood to flow to the bone because it is living tissue which contains specialized cells that need nutrients in order to continually remodel bones. Let’s take a look at the various cells involved in this process.

Osteocytes are the permanent resident cells that are found within the osteons. They are activated when the hormones calcitonin and parathyroid hormone detect low levels of calcium in the blood. If calcium is more needed, the osteocytes will respond to the hormonal signals to retrieve more calcium from the bone and bring it to where it is needed.

Osteoblasts are the bone making cells that “produce enzymes and osteoid, a mixture of collagen and other proteins to which hydroxyapatite binds” (Silverthorn, 743). They are stimulated by the thyroid hormone calcitonin, again demonstrating and important relationship between the thyroid and the health of our skeletal structure. On the other side of the coin are Osteoclasts, which are the bone breakers; they break down the bone matrix to allow for resorption of the minerals.

Through this ongoing process, the osteocytes sense stress, perhaps they detect a microscopic fracture. This triggers the release of osteoclasts which then release collagen digesting enzymes and an acidic hydrogen ion mixture that dissolves the hydroxyapatite. This process releases these components back into the blood where they can be used for other purposes. Once the osteoclasts have done their job, they go through apoptosis (programmed cell death), but before doing so they trigger the release of the osteoblasts to come in and remodel the bone. This is why it is so important for our bones to have regular stress put upon them; it actually strengthens them by encouraging this system of bone remodeling to take place.


  • Describe the function and structure of skeletal, cardiac muscle, and smooth muscle

Although our bones are incredibly important, they would cease to function were it not for our skeletal muscles. Skeletal muscle is what enables us to move our bodies. Skeletal muscle surrounds bones (usually) and is attached to bone via tendons. However, not all skeletal muscle is connected to bone. Some skeletal muscle such as the obliques are connected to flat tendons; this is referred to as aponeurosis. The control we have over these muscles can be classed as voluntary, meaning we use our free will to move these muscles in order to carry out certain actions (walking, etc.) The skeletal muscle cells are unusual in that they are elongated with multiple nuclei throughout the edge of the cell. Skeletal muscle is striated, meaning the muscle is striped in bundles of fiber.

The Cardiac muscle is specialized muscle tissue so it is categorized as its own type. This muscle is exclusive to the heart and is involuntary in its control, meaning we do not have to consciously think about beating our heart, it will beat whether or not we actively move the muscle. The cardiac muscle cells are branched with 1 or 2 nuclei.  Cardiac muscle is also striated.

Smooth muscle surround hollow organs such as the stomach, instestines, bowel, etc.. Blood vessels are hollow in the sense that they are hollow so that blood may flow through them. Smooth muscle is in the walls of our hollow organs and blood vessels. These muscles are important because they help our stomach to digest, pump blood through our veins, essentially anything that involved movement. Smooth muscle control is also involuntary, therefore we do not have to consciously put effort into digesting our food. The smooth muscle cells are described as almond shaped and have only 1 nuclei in the middle of the cell.


Describe how muscles contract and relax

  • Focus: explain the role of sarcomeres, calcium, actin and myosin in muscular contraction

The sarcomere is the functional unit of muscle fiber that actually enables a muscle to contract.  This means it is the actual protein complex that is doing the work of movement. The striation on skeletal muscle fibers are actually the arrangement of myofilaments of actin and myosin. Actin filaments, together with Myosins, are responsible for a variety of cell movements. According to The Cell: A Molecular Approach. 2nd Edition: “interactions of actin and myosin are responsible not only for muscle contraction but also for a variety of movements of nonmuscle cells”.

Read more here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK9961/

According to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: “Myosins are a large superfamily of motor proteins that move along actin filaments, while hydrolyzing ATP. About 20 classes of myosin have been distinguished on the basis of the sequence of amino acids in their ATP-hydrolyzing motor domains. The different classes of myosin also differ in structure of their tail domains. Tail domains have various functions in different myosin classes, including dimerization and other protein-protein interactions”.

If we remember back to our discussion on ATP, we will recall that ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is broken down to generate mechanical energy in the body. This is yet another reason why it is important to nourish our mitochondria with nutritious foods and Qi building herbs. We can visualize these little Myosin proteins as being supercharged when we provide them with the right foods, herbs, and supplements.

Our friend calcium plays a crucial role in this process, like it does in so many other processes.  According to The Cell: A Molecular Approach. 2nd Edition:

“The contraction of skeletal muscle is triggered by nerve impulses, which stimulate the release of Ca2+ from the sarcoplasmic reticulum—a specialized network of internal membranes, similar to the endoplasmic reticulum, that stores high concentrations of Ca2+ ions. The release of Ca2+ from the sarcoplasmic reticulum increases the concentration of Ca2+ in the cytosol from approximately 10-7 to 10-5 M. The increased Ca2+ concentration signals muscle contraction via the action of two accessory proteins bound to the actin filaments: tropomyosin and troposin”.

Here we can see how maintaining proper levels of calcium is so important for both nervous system and musculoskeletal system. Not only is it essential that we have enough calcium present in the blood for the action potential to take place and trigger muscular contraction, but it is also critical that we have enough of all the other nutrient co-factors that ensure the proper transport of calcium. Without the proper co-factors we can take calcium all day and the calcium will not go where it is needed. This problem is twofold: 1) because the calcium is being deposited into the arteries, increasing our chances of cardiovascular disease, and 2) because our tissues and bones are unable to make use of that calcium, leading to muscle cramping, spasms, osteoporosis, etc. It is critical that we eat a vast array of mineral rich foods and good quality fats to ensure we are getting not just calcium, but also Magnesium, Potassium, Chloride, Vitamin D, Vitamin K-2, and many others.

  • Explain the importance of a nerve supply and exercise in keeping muscles healthy
    • Focus: neuromuscular junction’s role in muscle stimulation (you will need to use OpenStax for this question)

A nerve supply is critical if we want to be able to move our muscles and feel what is happening to us. Dr. Doron Sher writes: “The sensory nerves supply the joint itself as well as the skin over the knee. Many muscles have both motor and sensory functions”. http://www.kneedoctor.com.au/Learn-about-the-knee/knee-nerve-supply-nerves-supplies-joint-feeling-movement-sensation-strength

Our blood vessels supply our muscles with nutrients that are required for proper functioning. Without a proper supply of nutrients our muscles will be unable to contract. This will cause cramping and eventually our vascular tissue will be completely unable to stimulate muscular contractions. This can be seen when a person is suffering from dehydration. Not only do they need water, but they also need to resupply their electrolytes to nourish their nervous system and muscles. Some of these nutrients include calcium, magnesium, potassium, B vitamins, and more.

All of these communications that take place between muscles and nervous system occur at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ) and would not be possible without the steady supply of nutrients described above. The NMJ is where a motor neuron comes into close contact with a skeletal muscle cell. It is here where a complex chemistry of communication is taking place. The exchange of calcium ions alters the electrical impulse on the neuron and releases neurotransmitters across the synaptic cleft, where they are absorbed into ligand-gated channels with receptors. This transmission of chemical information is what allows movement to take place.


  • Explain the importance of this module’s material in the study of herbal medicine

Clearly, a fundamental understanding of the bodies integumentary system is critical if we are to work with clients and have a comprehensive grasp on the science that is behind the protocol we are recommending. The better we are able to understand these complex ideas, the better we are able to convey they in a simple and easy to understand fashion for our clients and future students.

Of course having a strong skeleton is key. We must have a strong foundation before anything else. This is why it is essential that we start the nourishment of a human being even before conception by nourishing the mother and bringing out the best genetic potential in her (and the father) epigenetic makeups. By choosing the healthiest foods and the most specific herbs for the persons constitution, we can bring healthy children into the world with strong foundations.

It gets more difficult as we age to counteract problem that have been decades in the making, so it is important to communicate to our clients that they did not get their problem overnight and that it may take a long time to see improvement. We have to take into account whether or not our client has taken or is taking drugs and what potential nutrient deficiencies have arisen because of said drugs. In the case of osteoporosis for example, if a woman does not have access to quality foods or chooses to eat poor quality foods throughout her life she may become prone to low thyroid function, as well as osteoporosis.

It is quite true that malnutrition is the root of all disease. A lack of rich sea vegetables in the diet may potentially lead to an iodine deficiency, which then will reduce the amount of calcitonin the thyroid releases. This will greatly diminish the amount of osteoblasts that are able to generate new bone growth, thus osteoporosis. It makes sense that women would be more likely to experience nutrient deficiencies, considering they undergo blood loss on a regular basis. This, coupled with the lack of birth choices, lack of information, lack of critical thinking skills, and the poor food choices of 21st century civilization, can yield increased rates of anemia, low thyroid, bone loss, etc.



Holistic Human Physiology – Communication Badge

Communication Badge

Describe the major divisions of the nervous system, both anatomical and functional

    • Explain differences between central, peripheral, autonomic, sympathetic, parasympathetic and somatic NS.

The human nervous system is one of the most complex biological systems in existence. The evolutionary complexity of this system gives rise to emergent properties that we take for granted, such as consciousness and memory. Because of the complexity, it is helpful to break the system down into categories. Let’s take a look at the various divisions of the nervous system.

The nervous system as a whole consists of the Central Nervous System (CNS) and the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS). The CNS, which is what most people are aware of, consists of the brain and the spinal cord. This is where all the information in our bodies is integrated. This is likely why the brain is often compared to a computer, although it is much more than a computer.

The PNS, which is lesser known but just as important, consists of sensory neurons and efferent neurons. These neurons branch off from the brain and spinal cord and exist all throughout the body. They are constantly monitoring and evaluating the conditions of our internal and external environments, sending the information to our CNS where it is integrated and a response is issued.

The PNS can be further divided into a Sensory Division and a Motor Division. The Sensory Division is where the body picks up on specific information, for example, feeling cold. The Sensory Division send this information to the CNS where is it processed and then Motor Division will act in order to correct the problem (put on a sweater). The Motor System consists of two parts. First, the Somatic Nervous System, which is the voluntary part of our nervous system. This part allows us to actively get up, find the sweater, and physically put it on. The other is the Autonomic Nervous System, which is the involuntary part of the nervous system. This is the part that keeps our heart beating, our lungs breathing, and our organs functioning.

The Autonomic Nervous System can be further classified into two more systems: the Sympathetic Nervous System and the Parasympathetic Nervous System. Most people know the Sympathetic Nervous System as the “fight or flight” system that enables us to respond to perceived threats. For example, when the police car gets behind you, your heart rate starts to increase, your palms sweat, you become afraid because there is the possibility that you could be pulled over. This is the Sympathetic Nervous System doing its job. Although it may not seem very useful in the modern world, it has an important purpose of helping us react instantly to the predators that our ancestors would have faced in a wilder world.

After the police vehicle pulls off the road and you are no longer being followed by a predator, the Parasympathetic Nervous System kicks in, sends your body the information that it no longer needs to be on high alert, decreases the amount of stress hormone flooding into your bloodstream, starts the process of calming you down.

  • Differentiate between the structure and function of the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions in the autonomic nervous system
    • How do these neurons differ? Look at neuron length, neurotransmitters used, and overall function.

Sympathetic and Parasympathetic neurons are two sides of the same coin in that they are both critical to communication, but they are performing different jobs and doing those jobs in different ways. The role of the sympathetic neurons is to stimulate the body to action, when we must have a “fight or flight” response, it is the sympathetic nervous system that is working. These neurons are much shorter in length and faster acting, relaying a vast amount of information at a rapid pace. In the sympathetic nervous system acetylcholine communicates the message between the pre- and post-ganglionic neurons. On the other hand norepinephrine is the neurotransmitter that signals between the neuron and the muscle.

Parasympathetic neurons have a very long preganglionic neuron and a short post ganglionic neuron, whereas the Sympathetic neurons have a very short preganglionic neuron and a very long post ganglionic neuron.

The parasympathetic neurons, on the other hand, are longer and operate at a slower (relatively speaking) pace. This system is responsible for the “rest and digest” function that allows us to recuperate from stress, decreases our heart rate, allows our digestive system and other organs to function properly, and more. In the parasympathetic nervous system, acetylcholine is the neurotransmitter at both synapses.

As one might imagine, sympathetic neurons produce stimulatory neurotransmitters while the parasympathetic neurons produce calming neurotransmitters. The amino acid Glutamine is used in GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid) which is calming to the nervous system, or Glutamate, which is excitatory to the nervous system. Both are necessary for vital function but too much of one or the other can result in problems.

  • Describe the general structure of a neuron, and name its important anatomical regions
    • Focus on dendrites, axons, Schwann cells, myelin sheath, nodes of Ranvier

Neurons are cells that are slightly different in structure and function because they are designed to transmit information via chemical and electrical impulses. They are similar to other cells we have looked at in the sense that they have a nucleus, endoplasmic reticulum, and a Golgi apparatus that secretes a variety of chemicals. They are different in that they are some of the longest lived cells in the human body, they are considered irreplaceable, and they have a high metabolic rate; i.e. need a steady rate of glucose and oxygen in order to function properly.

Another aspect that makes the neuron different from a typical cell is that from the main cell body, known as the Soma, are multiple dendrites that extend outward and “listen” for information that is being received from other neurons.  Also from the Soma is also a protruding segment known as the Axon, which is essentially a transport channel that can be a variety of lengths depending on where it is in the body. Some Axons are very short only extending a small distance, while others are very long, extending the length of your spine or legs.

The Axon is covered in what are known as Schwann Cells (some axons may have as many as 500 different Schwann cells!). A Schwann cell is unique in that it wraps around the Axon many times. In this process of wrapping itself around the Axon, the Schwann cell is actually building up layers of Myelin Sheath that are pushed to the outside of the Axon. For those who are familiar with neurodegenerative diseases like Multiple Sclerosis, the term Myelin Sheath should be familiar. MS is a disease where the immune system attacks the Myelin Sheath, exposing the Axon and interrupting the flow of information. This results in the myriad of symptoms that we see in people with MS.

Each Schwann cell only produces 1 – 1.5mm segment of the Axon, so it leaves tiny gaps between each Schwann cell. These tiny gaps between Schwann cells are referred to as the Nodes of Ranvier. Because the Myelin Sheath acts like insulation for the axon, the electrical current is able to quickly skip from node to node.

Oligodendocytes are another Glial cell that is responsible for the production of Myelin sheath, but instead of being only responsible for one axon like the Schwann cell, an oligodendrocyte “branches and forms myelin around portions of several axons”(Silverthorn, 233).

Schwann cells are just one type of Glial cells that reside in both the Central Nervous System and the Peripheral Nervous System. Schwann cells reside in the PNS, along with Satellite cells, which is considered a non-myelinating Schwann cell that provides support around nerve cell bodies.

However, within the Central Nervous System, there are four different types of Glial cells that perform various functions. Astrocytes, so called because of their star-like structure, are estimated to make up half of all cells in the brain. They come in a variety of subtypes, and their roles vary. Some take up and release chemicals, while others “provide neurons with substrates for ATP production, and they help maintain homeostasis in the CNS extracellular fluid by taking up K+ and water” (Silverthorn, 235). Some Astrocytes surround blood vessels and become part of the blood-brain barrier.

Another important category of Glial cell is referred to as Microglia, which are not actually neural tissue, but instead an immune cell that triggers the release of inflammatory cytokines in the event that there is an infection. Ideally, these microglia are only activated when there is an infection that needs to be resolved. After the microglia have dealt with the infection, they then return to a resting (ramified) state, and they produce neurotrophic factors that help rebuild the brain. However, problems can arise when the microglia become repeatedly primed and are unable to shut off the production of their inflammatory cascades.

Many of our herbal allies provide us with neurotrophic factors. Relatively new to this conversation is Lion’s Mane Mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) which is being studied for its neuroactive compounds. See the study:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24266378

Another class of glial cell is Ependymal Cells, which are responsible for creating the ependymal, a selectively permeable epithelial layer that separates the fluid compartments of the CNS. The ependyma is critical because it is a source of neural stem cells. Many herbs are being studied for their ability to promote the proliferation of neural stem cells. See the study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3991899/

These electrical impulses travel down the length of the Axon into the Pre-Synaptic Terminal, where the information is translated into chemical information known as neurotransmitters. These information molecules are released via the process of exocytosis, where they must cross the Synaptic Cleft, a tiny gap between the Pre-Synaptic Terminal and the Post-Synaptic Neuron. It is here in the Post-synaptic neuron where the neurotransmitters are re-encoded as electrical information and sent on to their final destination where they will used to convey a whole manner of information.


  • Explain the events that lead to the generation of a nerve impulse and its conduction from one neuron to another
    • Walk through an action potential and transmission across a synapse. Discuss the pre- and post-synaptic neurons, synaptic vesicles. You do not need to cover the details involved in action potential transmission (e.g. sodium and potassium channel specifics) unless you are ready to do so.

Our neurons are constantly in communication with each other through what are called synapses. Now that we understand the biology of the cell itself, and more specifically the neuron, we can see how this process of communication unfolds. Essentially, the neurons in our bodies are engaged in two kinds of communication: electrical and chemical. Chemicals in the body make sense, but electricity inside a living organism seems odd at first glance. Indeed all of us carry around an electrical charge in the ions that float around inside and outside out cells.

Without going into excess detail regarding this electrical communication, let’s take a second to understand what an Action Potential is, and how it occurs. Inside our cells (intracellular fluid or cytosol) is a higher concentration of Potassium (K+) ions than there is outside of the cell. Outside the cell, (extracellular fluid) there is a higher concentration of Calcium (Ca2+) ions, Sodium (Na+) ions, and Chloride (Cl-) ions.

The cell membrane is to a greater or lesser degree permeable to these ions, it just depends on a variety of factors as to which ions travel through the membrane. If a cell membrane is not permeable to a particular ion, then the permeability value for that ion is 0. Cells at rest are not normally permeable to Calcium, so the majority of the action potential is attributed to shifts in Potassium. Cells normally exist at a resting state of -70mV and in order for an Action Potential to take place, there must a a stimulus of at least -55mV. When this stimulus is reached, the voltage gated sodium channels are opened and all the positive sodium ions flood in and massively depolarize the cell. The membrane will briefly hyperpolarize in order to reestablish the gradient (known as the refractory period).

It is important to point out that ions can travel through the cell membrane through a variety of channels. There is of course, the sodium-potassium pump which we already discussed in our review of cell biology, but more specifically there are 3 ion channels that are responsible for the movement of these ions: 1) Voltage Gated, 2) Ligand Gated, and 3) Mechanically Gated.

“If the membrane suddenly increases its Na+ permeability, Na+ enters the cell, moving down its electrochemical gradient. The addition of positive Na+ to the intracellular fluid depolarizes the cell membrane and creates an electrical signal” (Silverthorn, 238). Like a domino effect, the charge is carried down the length of the axon. Another important point is that Myelinated axons will transmit the current faster than non-myelinated axons. This is because of what is known as the Nodes of Ranvier, which are essentially tiny gaps between Schwann cells. These nodes allow for a quicker transfer of electrical energy.

Once the electrical signal reaches the axon terminal, or pre-synaptic terminal, there is a conversion of electrical signal into chemical neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are information chemicals which are secreted via synaptic vesicles and released by exocytosis. Here, they will travel across the micro-distance, known as the synaptic cleft, where they are received by the post-synaptic neuron. It is here where this chemical information is translated back into electrical signal and goes on its merry way. This information can be readily translated from electrical to chemical and back again as the neurons are communicating with each other.


  • Discuss the chemical composition of hormones and the mechanisms of hormone action
    • Key terms: polypeptide, steroid and amine hormones, negative and positive feedback loops, receptors, target cells, chemical and nervous system regulation
  • Summarize the site of production, regulation, and effects of the hormones of the pituitary, thyroid, adrenal, and pineal glands

In addition to the Nervous System, the body has another mode of communication known as hormones. Our hormones are chemical messengers that are produced in our glands. Glands exist all throughout the body and produce a wide range of hormones. Let’s first look at the glands that produce these hormones, and then delve deeper into the specific kinds of hormones and how they work.

Inside your head, is a tiny pea sized gland known as the pituitary gland. This gland is known as the “master gland” because it produces hormones that signal other glands like the thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal and pineal glands which make their own hormones. A hormone can only trigger a reaction in specific target cells that have the right receptors.

The thyroid produces the hormone thyroxine, which stimulates metabolism and binds to most sites in the body. There are numerous problems that can arise when the thyroid is under or over producing thyroid hormone, and even more problems can come about when doctors attempt to treat the problem with synthetic thyroid hormone. Instead of resorting to synthetic attempts at essential hormones, we can utilize dietary strategies (such as eating more organ meats or seaweeds rich in iodine and other minerals) or by implementing a protocol that incorporates herbs that will either provide essential nutrition or stimulate our natural production of these essential hormones.  However, this does not rule out the possibility that a pharmaceutical intervention may be required.

The pituitary gland produces many different hormones, including Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) which helps regulate growth and trigger sexual maturity. FSH only triggers specific cells in the ovaries and testes. Disruption of this gland can also result in a myriad of problems.

Most hormones are made of amino acids or derived from lipids like cholesterol. Depending on what the hormone is made of will determine whether it is water soluble or lipid soluble. Hormones can be classed as either steroid hormones or amine hormones. Typically amine hormones are water soluble and steroid hormones are fat soluble, but this is not always the case. Thyroid hormones are lipid soluble but they are not steroid hormones, putting them in a category of their own.

Since water soluble hormones are unable to pass through the cell membrane, they have specific receptor sites on the outside of the cell. Lipid soluble hormones are able to easily penetrate the phospholipid cell membrane, so these receptor sites are inside of the cell. When the hormone hits the receptor site, it alters the cell activity by either increasing or decreasing some of its functions.

Organs that are part of the endocrine system include the gonads, the pancreas, and the placenta in pregnant women. The hypothalamus is also a part of the endocrine system because it also produces and secretes hormones. The hypothalamus is unique because it is the integration center between the nervous system and the endocrine system. It is a key component in what is known as the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis (HPA Axis). The HPA Axis is a key part of the fight or flight mechanism, and is also one of the main areas of the body that are affected when we consume herbal adaptogens like Rhodiola or Eleuthero.

The fight or flight mechanism could not occur without the HPA Axis. When something stressful or potentially dangerous happens to us, action potentials in our brains (nervous system) trigger neurons in the hypothalamus which releases Corticotropic Releasing Hormone (CRH). This CRH travels to the water soluble receptor sites on the Anterior Pituitary Gland, where the release of Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is triggered. This ACTH then travels through the bloodstream to the Adrenal Glands which reside atop the kidneys (ad renal meaning above the kidneys). ACTH binds to receptors in the adrenal glands which stimulate the synthesis of stress hormones like glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids and DHEA. These stress hormones help us to survive a potential deadly situation by raising our blood pressure, dumping glucose into the bloodstream, and temporarily shutting down bodily functions that are not deemed necessary to immediate survival (digestion, sexual reproduction). Recent research out of the University of Pittsburgh has discovered that different hormones are produced in different areas of the adrenal glands. See below.

Here we can see that certain tissue areas of the adrenal glands will release specific hormones. This is important to understand because we are able to recognize that if we are constantly undergoing the same stressors all the time, that we are continually activating the same tissue area of the adrenal glands. By introducing new behaviors and augmenting our current behavior we can change what area of our adrenals are being stimulated and thereby which hormones are being released.

This stress reaction is an evolutionary strategy that we have developed in the event we need to fight off predators, or run away from a dangerous situation. It is good to the extent that it helps us live to fight another day, but it can also be detrimental if the system is always being activated. If the “stress button” in our brains is continually pushed and we never have a chance to “rest and digest” then we will live perpetually in a cascade of inflammatory stress hormones.

Thankfully, the hypothalamus is constantly evaluating the situation in our bodies, and when it detects an abundance of stress hormones it will eventually stop secreting CRH, which in turn will cause the other glands to stop secreting their stress hormones.

  • Explain the role of the pancreatic endocrine cells in the regulation of blood glucose

One of the important jobs of the pancreas is to regulate our blood sugar level. It does this by releasing insulin and glucagon. Inside the pancreas are beta cells, which release insulin. Insulin helps lower your blood sugar by increasing the rate at which your cells store the sugar either as glycogen or fat for later use. This production and secretion of insulin is controlled via a negative feedback loop whereby insulin is secreted until the pancreas detects the shift in blood sugar levels and then turns off the production/secretion of insulin. Diabetes and similar blood sugar disorders are the result of this process going awry.

Also inside the pancreas are alpha cells, which release glucagon when we have low blood sugar. Glucagon helps raise our blood sugar levels by decreasing the storage of sugar in our cells and triggering the release of glucose back into the blood. The pancreas also produces and secretes important digestive enzymes like pancreatin, which are essential in maintaining a healthy digestion and assimilation of nutrients.


  • Explain the importance of circadian rhythms and the underlying physiological mechanisms that govern them
    • Key terms: Suprachiasmatic nucleus, oscillator, melatonin

The circadian rhythm is one of the most important concepts for a healthy human being to understand. Essentially, the circadian rhythm is our sleep-awake cycle. What this means is that our bodies are in tune with exposure to solar light. Many different systems in the body are activated and deactivated based on whether or not our bodies are detecting solar light. The circadian rhythm regulates a variety of functions in the human body, including: sleeping and feeding patterns, alertness, body temperature, brainwave activity, and hormone production. From an evolutionarily perspective, our sleep-awake cycles are connected to the daylight and the nighttime. What this means is we are built to be awake with the sun, and asleep with the night. Science is beginning to understand how disruption of the Circadian Rhythm via artificial light, artificial dark, etc. can result in negative consequences. See the following: http://www.cell.com/cell-metabolism/abstract/S1550-4131(16)30312-6

Inside the hypothalamus is a group of nerve cells known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The SCN is connected to the optic nerves in our eyes. When night falls, the amount of light getting into our eyes is getting less and less. This lack of light is detected by the SCN, which then triggers the hypothalamus to release the hormone melatonin.

As the sunrise approaches and light begins to be detected by the SCN, the hypothalamus stops producing melatonin and instead sends signals to the body which raise body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and delays the release of melatonin. All of these things are essentially preparing our bodies for the activity in the day ahead.

Interestingly, our desire to sleep is strongest from 2am – 4am, but this desire is also very strong around 2pm – 3pm. We ought to take under consideration the fact that we are the only species that exhibits this once-a-day sleep pattern. So perhaps incorporating a siesta into our daily routines is not a bad idea. This is just one example of how we can modify our behavior for better sleep and health.

  • Describe the importance of this module’s information to the field of herbal medicine.

It should be obvious for any student of herbal medicine why this information is important and how it relates. The better we are able to understand how our body communicates with itself, the better we are able to make decisions about how best to live our lives, especially if we are suffering from a problem that can be easily remedied through a simple lifestyle change.

As we study the various communication channels that the body uses, we begin to see an overall pattern of feedback loops, a creation-destruction cycle, if you will. If we have an adequate understanding of how the various systems function and what raw materials they need to function, then we will be better suited to address problems as they arise, or even prevent them before they occur.

The melatonin example is one of my favorites. Many people these days are using melatonin much like a sleeping pill. They take large doses (1 – 5mg or more) on a daily basis. According to a 2001 study from MIT (http://news.mit.edu/2001/melatonin-1017) , the proper dose of Melatonin is 0.3mg, which is far below the dose that most people are taking when they buy a supplement form of Melatonin. Some Naturopathic Doctors are even recommending people give their children melatonin! This seems foolish for several reasons: not only is this manipulating the child’s circadian rhythm and not addressing the root cause of why the child is not sleeping, but it is unnaturally dosing a growing brain and body with a powerful hormone. There are unexpected consequences to this behavior, that much is guaranteed, and it is irresponsible for a doctor of natural medicine to utilize supplements in this fashion.

Studies are now uncovering the broad role of melatonin and the fact that it is not just related to sleep, but also to a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders:  http://www.chronobiology.com/role-melatonin-variety-neuropsychiatric-disorders/ It is still largely unknown what role the artificial supplementation of melatonin is having on the human psychiatric condition, especially with the developing brains of children. This is an area that needs much more research and people would be wise to approach the situation with caution before they haphazardly dose themselves or their children with a powerful hormone like melatonin.

While I fully support the right of the individual to use whatever drugs or supplements they want, I also have to voice my opposition to such an approach. Instead of giving people melatonin as a sleeping pill, we should talk to our clients about their habits and see if they would be willing to try simple herbs like Lemon Balm, Passionflower, or Catnip tea. Instead of giving them melatonin in a pill, we could recommend they drink tart cherry juice, or even take a tart cherry supplement, in order to lessen inflammation and provide a natural food source of melatonin. See the PubMed study that concluded that “consumption of a tart cherry juice concentrate provides an increase in exogenous melatonin that is beneficial in improving sleep duration and quality” (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22038497)


Holistic Human Physiology – Basics Badge

Hello friends,

For those that don’t know, I am currently enrolled at the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism in Montpelier, Vermont. This is the first essay in a series of articles that I will publish on the subject of Holistic Human Physiology. Please feel free to comment below.

Basics Badge

  • Define Human Physiology

Human physiology is the study of the normal functioning of the human organism and its processes.

  • Differentiate between allostasis and homeostasis

It is essential for herbalists to understand and be able to communicate the concepts of allostasis and homeostasis. Homeostasis is the more commonly used term that encompasses the self regulating actions of an organism. We can see this in basic bodily functions such as the regulation of mineral salts in the body. If we spend all day outside in the hot sun, our bodies will sweat in order to cool us down and regulate our temperature. Once we start sweating, we lose water and electrolytes. Our bodies recognize the need for these critical substances, so we become thirsty and seek out water and salts.

Allostasis is a more recent term which takes into account all manner of input on the organism. Genetics, nutrition, parents, environment, education, all of these things and more make up the foundation that we are built on. The stronger the foundation, the higher levels of stress we can endure. For organisms with poorer foundations, the allostatic load that can be endured is less, and they are more likely to be prone to disease.

All systems have an input and output, this is the nature of reality. Living organisms must obtain a variety of factors in order to survive, thrive, and reproduce. If the organism is unable to obtain everything it needs, or if it is obtaining poor quality versions of what it needs, the system breaks down faster than it would otherwise, and numerous other problems arise as the organism tries to compensate for lack of proper input.

There are a variety of ways in which the human organism can push themselves beyond their allostatic load. We all start with the genetic framework that is bestowed upon us by our parents. This may be a blessing or a curse, but hopefully we will enter the world with a set of parents that are able to provide us the safety, love, nutrition, interaction, and wisdom that is needed to thrive in this world.

Let us take the example of two different children. Let’s assume that these children have roughly the same genetic predisposition. Now let’s put these children into two entirely different environments. In the first environment, the child is raised as healthily as possible, they are not vaccinated, they do not experience trauma from circumcision or parental abandonment, they are breastfed from a healthy mother, they get plenty of proper nutrition, they live and sleep in a non-toxic environment, they are exposed to plenty of fresh air, sunshine, and playtime. In the second environment, the child is heavily vaccinated, not breastfed but instead they are fed formula made from GMO corn and soy and synthetic vitamins, they sleep in a toxic environment, perhaps the parents are smokers or use drugs or alcohol, the list goes on and on. All of these factors will establish the foundation for the allostatic load that the child is able to bear throughout life. This does not even address the complexity of genetic variances which is also essential to consider.

This breast milk article describes the importance of breastfeeding. It cannot be understated how important it is for mothers to breastfeed their babies.


If the child grows up in a poor environment, then the overall allostatic load they will be able to bear will be significantly lower than their counterpart with the solid foundation. The child who grows up in the healthy environment, when exposed to stress will have an easier time dealing with the stress, whereas the child with the poor environment will have a more difficult time dealing with stress and will be much more likely to exceed their allostatic load. When the children do exceed their allostatic load, the child with the strong foundation will recuperate faster than the child with the poor foundation. These things that seem common sense have been forgotten or misunderstood by the majority of the western world.

It would be intriguing to build a long term study that compares the allostatic load of different people and comparatively analyze how they were raised, what kind of diets they were fed as children, what sort of environment they were brought up in, etc.


  • Identify the components of a cell and compare their basic functions

The mechanics of the cell are fascinating and even more so when we look at the organism from a holistic point of view. Let’s examine each component piece by piece.

Plasma membrane – The plasma membrane is a semi-permeable protective barrier that allows certain things to enter and leave the cell. The primary building blocks of this plasma membrane are phospholipids. Phospholipids are composed of three components: 1) a phosophate head 2) a Glycerol backbone, and 3) two fatty acid tails. These two fatty acid tails are held to the phophate head by the glycerol backbone, making them look like a tadpole sort of creature. The phosphate headgroup is hydrophilic, or water loving. Because the fatty acid tails are long carbon chains, they are what is called hydrophobic, or water repelling. The phosphate heads stay in contact with water, while the fatty acid tails are directed away from water, thus creating the inner space of the membrane. This dynamic is what allows these molecules to form bilayers.

Within the cell is an array of components that all have important roles. Let’s first look at the Nucleus, the control center of the cell. The nucleus contains the DNA of the cell, which is the information required for the cell to copy itself. DNA is essentially the blueprints that are used to make proteins over and over again. Damaged to the organism over time will result in degradation of the DNA, which continues to be copied until the organism can no longer sustain itself.

The Nucleus also contains the Nucleolus, which is responsible for making ribosomes. Ribosomes are organelles that are made up of a large and small subunit. Together the subunits form a mechanism that essentially examines a string of messenger RNA and creates proteins for use throughout the body. The nucleus itself is commonly called the “control center” of the cell, pirmarily because it contains the DNA which is the blueprint for every protein that the organism needs to continually rebuild itself.

Outside of the nucleus is the Cytoplasm, which is composed of Cytosol, various organelles, and protein fibers that make up the physical structure of the cell. The Cytosol is the fluid is which all of these other structures float around in. Within this fluid is a concentration of sodium and potassium ions that are involved in a variety of communication processes throughout the cell.

Each cell maintains is able to maintain its physical structure thanks to a Cytoskeleton. The cytoskeleton is a network of protein fibers that literally act as a skeleton and give shape to the cell. It is made up of four components: 1) the Microvilli which increase the cell surface area, 2) the Microfilaments which form a network inside the cell membrane, 3) the Microtubules which are the largest of the fibers making up the cytoskeleton, and 4) the Intermediate filaments that include myosin and keratin. All of these structures can essentially be seen as a kind of scaffolding or interior frame that provides some structure for the cell as well as assisting in the communication and transportation within the cell.

Mitochondria are the energy producers for the entire cell. They exist somewhat autonomously within the cell, but they have a synergistic relationship with the cell, so they are not perceived as a threat. The cell provides a safe haven for the mitochondria to live, and the mitochondria creates the necessary ATP that the body needs to live. We are just beginning to study how certain herbs can benefit the Mitochondria and our production of ATP. The link below describes the use of Cordyceps and Ginseng as potential ATP boosters.


Endoplasmic reticulum are the network of membranes where the majority of protein synthesis occurs. “Rough” endoplasmic reticulum is covered in ribsomes, while the “Smooth” endoplasmic reticulum is not. Rough endoplasmic retiuculum is primarily where protein synthesis occurs via the ribosomes. Smooth endoplasmic reticulum manufactures fats. In some cells the smooth ER stores calcium ions. It is also helpful in the detoxification of harmful substances to the cell.

The job of the Golgi apparatus is to take proteins from the Endoplasmic reticulum and deliver them correctly to their destination in the body. Transport vesicles are secreted by the ER in order to move proteins into the Golgi. From here, the proteins are “sorted and shipped” navigating through cisternae and toward the cell membrane. Special secretory vesicles are created which allow the proteins to pass through the cell membrane and get to where they are needed elsewhere in the body.

One of the vesicles created by the Golgi are Lysosomes. These are small, spherical storage vesicles that act as the digestive system of the cell by creating powerful digestive enzymes that are used to break down bacteria or old components of the cell that are no longer functional. One of the fascinating things about lysosomes is the fact that they only release their digestive enzymes when they detect a very acidic environment. This seemingly innate intelligence is another example of the cells ability to self regulate. Interestingly, lysosomes will sometimes release their digestive enzymes outside of the cell to dissolve extracellular material, such as the hard calcium carbonate in bones (Silverthorn, 71). This is the reason why people are who excessive coffee drinkers (or those who eat an abundance of acid forming foods) may sometimes experience bone density loss as well as inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. In the situation of the coffee drinker, we are creating more of an acid environment, which our lysosomes detect and are using their digestive enzymes to free some of the calcium from our bones in order to reestablish alkalinity. This is not without negative consequences.

Arizona State University has a helpful diagram of cell components which I printed and brought to my teammates. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/content/cell-parts

  • Describe the structure and function of the cell membrane, and the modes of transportation into and out of cells

The cell has two mechanisms of transport allowing movement in or out of the cell. These are Active transport and Passive transport.

Passive transport requires no energy, allowing essential substances like oxygen and water to flow in and out of the cell. This occurs through the process of diffusion. Diffusion is essential the equal dispersing of molecules in a given substrate. When there are an abundance of oxygen molecules in a given area, they will naturally diffuse throughout the area until there is a relative amount of oxygen throughout the given area. We can see this on the macro level with essential oils in a large room. If you open a bottle of essential oil, at first the oil molecules will be concentrated in a given area, but over a long enough period of time you will be able to smell them on the other side of the room because these molecules have dispersed themselves throughout the room.

Water on the other hand moves passively though the process of Osmosis. Water is constantly seeking to be in an Isotonic state, where there is a relatively equal dispersing of water molecules in a given area. The kidneys are constantly regulating the concentration of blood plasma. Since the phospholipid bilayer does not allow water to pass through it, the cell has cleverly evolved Channel Proteins that allow for the easy passage of water molecules in and out of the cell. Water specific channels are known as aquaporins.

Active transport, on the other hand, requires energy in order to move material in or out of the cell.

The cell membrane prevents certain substances from freely entering the cell, while it allows other substances to enter through one of two routes. One mode of transportation is through protein channels built directly into the cell membrane. For example, the sodium potassium pump controls the flow of sodium and potassium into and out of the cell. The cell is constantly trying to establish a concentration gradient between sodium and potassium, so this pump is constantly working. In order for this pump to function properly, there needs to be a healthy supply of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). This is why it is essential to live a lifestyle that encourages healthy mitochondria, as they are creators of ATP.

The reason these transport pumps require so much energy is that they are working against the concentration gradient and the electrochemical gradient. The concentration gradient is the concentration of various molecules on either side of the cell membrane, whereas the electrochemical gradient is the difference in electrical charge on either side of the cell membrane.

Another form of active transport is known as Cytosis, literally meaning cell action. There are two kinds of cytosis: Endocytosis and Exocytosis.

When the cell needs to move materials from inside of the cell to outside of the cell it is known as Exocytosis. This process is also known as vesicular transport and occurs when a substance is secreted into a vesicle. A vesicle is a transport molecule made up of phosopholipids that contain the material that is being transported. The vesicle makes its way to the cell membrane, at this point the bilayers rearrange and fuse with the cell membrane, allowing the substances to escape into the environment outside of the cell membrane.

When materials are needed inside the cell, this action happens in reverse and is referred to as Endocytosis. An example of this is Phagocytosis, where a cell literally consumes the material. We see this with white blood cells devouring foreign invaders. Pinocytosis is similar, where the cell membrane folds in on itself and forms a vesicle. Cells can also form vesicles through Receptor-Mediated Endocytosis. This process is activated when specific receptor proteins connect with the molecules they are designed for. See more on Cytosis from John Munro.

The Plasma Membrane – Dr. Marilyn Shopper


Endocytosis Exocytosis – John Munro


  • Compare characteristics of the 4 tissue types

There are four different tissue types that make up all tissue in the body. Let’s examine them:

Epithelia are the sheets of cells that cover exterior surfaces of the body and protect the internal cavities within the body. They also make up the secretive glands and ducts, and are also found within certain sensory organs such as ears and nose. There are five categories of epithelial tissue.

The Protective Epithelium are the cells that are exposed to the environment, such as skin and lining of our mouth. These cells are tightly connected (think brick wall) in order to prevent potentially damaging substances from getting into the blood stream.

Ciliated epithelial tissues are found in the lubricated parts of the body, such as the nose, throat, upper respiratory system, and the female reproductive tract. These tissues are covered in cilia, which allows fluid to move across the surface of the tissues. Ciliated epithelium allows for the removal of foreign particles that would otherwise damage the tissues if they were exposed. For instance, mucus in the lungs help trap bacteria and get it out of the body.

Exchange epithelium is found in the lungs and the lining of blood vessels. This tissue type allows for easy access of molecules. The lungs and blood vessels are porous so that oxygen and carbon dioxide can flow freely into and out of tissues. This explains why the upper respiratory must be protected with a coating of mucus and prevent foreign matter from getting into the lungs where it will have easy access to the blood stream. Another reason why it is ideal to breathe through your nose and not through your mouth!

Secretory epithelial tissue are complex tissues that make up vital glands. These glands produce either endogenous or exogenous secretions which are used throughout the body in a variety of ways. Exocrine (think external) glands produce secretions into the body’s external environment via ducts that connect to the tissue surface. For instance, sweat glands, saliva glands, mammary glands, the liver and pancreas are all examples of glands that produce substances which are essential to the human organism. Endocrine (think internal) glands are glands that do not have ducts but instead secrete hormones directly into the blood.

Transporting epithelium is tissue that makes up the digestive tract, the intestines and kidneys. These tissues are made up of tight junctions that prevent movement between cells. These tissues must be tightly bound in order to prevent food particles and other substances from improperly leaking into the blood stream and wreaking havoc. We can see that the erosion of this tissue results in issues like Crohn’s Disease, Leaky Gut Syndrome, or other painful digestive diseases.

Connective tissue is what gives us structure and is therefore incredibly important. Our connective tissue is made up of blood, bone, fat, and proteins. These tissues are fibrous in nature and act as a sort of scaffolding which gives the organism shape and definition. I tend to think of this tissue similarly to the skeletal structure of a skyscraper, in that it is designed to be both strong and rigid, but also flexible enough so that it can bend and flex in order to sway with the wind. This type of thinking always makes me think of the old saying it is better to be like the Willow which can bend with the wind, than the Oak which is stiff and will break in a strong windstorm.

Muscle tissue is what allows us to run and jump! This tissue is able to contract and produce force. There are voluntary muscular contractions and involuntary contractions. Cardiac muscle in the heart operates in an involuntary fashion, although there is some research that shows we can control our heart rate. Smooth muscle and skeletal muscle operate voluntarily (for the most part).

Neural tissue is made of neurons and glial cells. Neurons are found most heavily in the brain and spine, but they are found everywhere in the body. Neurons communicate with each other through electrical signaling. When we choose to use our muscles in a given way, our brain first has to send the message to the muscle, which then responds to the message. More recently we are seeing an increase in neurodegenerative diseases like Multiple Sclerosis, where the degeneration of the myelin sheath (protective layer that covers the axon of the neuron) prevents the message from being properly received. This is often compared to the copper wiring that runs through any electrical system. As long as the wiring is covered with a protective coating, there are no problems, but if the protective coating deteriorates then the bare metal could possibly touch and the electrical signals could be crossed, causing all kinds of problems. In the human being, this can make daily movement, speech, or even the involuntary processes of life difficult. Many herbs and natural substances can be utilized to lessen the symptoms of MS or even slow or reverse the degradation the Myelin Sheath.

  • Explain the importance of this modules material in the study of herbal medicine.

Clearly it is important for herbalists to have a clear comprehension of human physiology. It is not enough to know which herbs are good for which ailments, we have to know the why and the how. The better we understand the physiological processes of the human body, the better we will be able to choose and apply the correct herbs for specific clients.

For instance, an inexperienced herbalist might recommend Echinacea because they have heard it is good for colds, but do they understand why it is good? Do they understand the circumstances in which this herb might not be a good choice and instead long term tonification might be a better choice? Does the body need immediate immune system stimulation or does it need nourishing Yin tonics which will help to build the immunity?

Studying human physiology from a holistic point of view provides us with another tool in assessing the constitutions of our clientele. Instead of strictly looking at her or him from an energetic perspective (which is critical as well) we can integrate our knowledge of physiology and begin to build a sharper image of what is happening on both micro and macro levels.

A Herbalists Take: Muscle Testing is Bullshit


I have worked in the natural products world, as both a retailer and a wholesaler, for around a decade now, and it never ceases to amaze me how many people perform this strange little ritual when they come in to buy a supplement. You may have seen it before, or you might even be one of the people who engages in this behavior.

Here’s what happens. A customer will go around looking at different products. Bottles of vitamins, capsules, tablets, liquid herbal extracts, you name it. They will pick up one of these products and hold it in front of themselves, close their eyes, and move the product up and down in front of their body. If the person moves away from the product, then the product is not a good choice for their body, but if they move toward the product then this means the product is a good choice for them.

This is bullshit.

Sorry if you don’t like it folks, but this is a lot of new age hippie bullshit. Yes, I am an herbalist and I am calling this out as new age hippie bullshit.

What I can’t stand most about this procedure is that it reinforces the idea that exists in the mainstream medical community, that all of this is just a bunch of woo, quackery, or any other slanderous term that they want to throw at us. When people hear about this behavior, they associate all of natural healing with this type of new age bullshit. Sadly, the art and science of herbal medicine goes right out the window when these people are engaged in this magical discerning behavior.

There are other forms of this technique you might have seen. One of them goes like this: You put your thumb and middle fingers together around each other and ask a question, if you pull your fingers apart then the answer is “no”, but if they stay together the answer is “yes”. This is also bullshit.

This behavior essentially comes down to what is this persons subconscious desire? Do they like this product better or worse than the other one they tested. Maybe she (and I say she because it is almost always a woman who is engaged in this behavior) likes the packaging of one more than the other, so she subconsciously moves toward the product instead of away.

This activity almost always coincides with some other new age bullshit that allows you to contact God and ask direct questions about your life. Um…this already exists and has existed for a long time. It’s called prayer and meditation. The new age people are simply building a new spirituality on the ancient ideas, except instead of prayer or meditation, they are calling it “Theta Healing” or “Angel Healing” or some other made up name and charging you per session. Yeah, some of them are actually charging for this “service”. I guess it is no different than the priest sending around the collection plate at church, but that’s a different subject for a different day.

To sum up: I would simply issue this challenge to anyone who thinks this is a real thing and they have the ability to discern which product will be best for their body and which will be detrimental. I didn’t come up with this challenge; if I remember correctly I heard this from one of Ed Smith’s audio lectures, (or it could have been Michael Tierra, forgive me if I don’t remember correctly, it was several years ago when I heard this).

So here is the challenge to these folks. I will line up 20 bottles of liquid in amber glass bottles (no labels), 10 rows of 2 different liquids. Go down the line, holding 2 at a time, and use your magic powers to discern which liquid you have to drink. One bottle contains delicious organic apple juice. And the other bottle contains battery acid. Wearing a blindfold, go down the line and pick out the apple juice from the battery acid. Here’s the catch: you have to drink every bottle that “your body tells you” is the apple juice. Sound like a fair proposal? Does this sound like a challenge any rational person would take?

To sum up, I will say this. There is no magic way to quickly determine which product is best for your body and which products are not. This takes time, research, knowledge. If you yourself are not familiar with the various brands of herbal extracts and supplements that are out there, then you should work with someone in the field. Seek out the help of a knowledgeable herbalist, someone who relies on traditional knowledge and contemporary science. Someone who will ask you questions about your lifestyle and your wellness goals, and the two of you can come up with a strategy that will be best for your personal needs.

And guess what? Even then, the products that you decide on might not be the only answer. You have to try the herbs and see how they impact you. Every human body is different and we are incredibly intricate organisms. You should report back to your herbalist and let him or her know whether your herbs and/or supplements are having a noticeable effect. Are you feeling better or worse? Or are you feeling no different at all? This is a process that will take time and patience. It’s not something you can magically determine in less than 30 seconds standing in the aisles of your local health food store. To do so, reduces the complexity of what we are doing down to a parlor trick. It is disrespectful to the craft and those who practice it. It also is setting us back as we try to establish legitimacy in the minds of the public.

So, if you ever see someone engaged in this activity, feel free to issue them the apple juice challenge and see how they respond.

A 2016 Declaration

I have gotten many new ‘likes’ on the Facebook page since I last published anything, so I thought it was about time to write something to the new people. You may have liked the page for a variety of different reasons, but hopefully we can all agree on a few core issues. If you are interested in this idea of Rogue Herbalism, I would encourage you to scroll to the bottom of this page and read the posts in chronological order, especially the first couple articles that outline my idea of what this project is supposed to be.

In a nutshell, the idea of The Rogue Herbalist came to me after reading a paper by a man named Ayo Wahlberg, in which he essentially calls for more government control over herbalists. He uses the phrase ‘rogue’ herbalists to describe those of us who would operate outside the governmental licensing systems. This stands against everything I believe in and I hope you agree.

If you are one of these people who think that we as herbalists should conform to the current medical model, that we should create a governmental licensing structure for herbalists, that we should push for the government to insure herbalists or demand that insurance pay for herbal medicines, well, this website is probably not for you.

On the other hand, if you are like me, and you believe in health freedom and the right to choose what foods and medicines go into your body, then this is the place for you. Join me as we fight for herbal freedom. Yes, the task is huge. Most people are still blind to the fact that we are being poisoned from every angle. The food, the water, the air we breathe is all contaminated. Children are poisoned even before they are born and then they are continually assaulted after birth via circumcision, vaccination, formula that contains the most horrible of ingredients. Because parents don’t know how to feed their children, these kids suffer from a variety of nutrient deficiencies which are then diagnosed as ADD or ADHD or some other condition to which the only “cure” is psychiatric drugs. The result is a population that is slowly getting sicker and dumber with every generation. This cannot be allowed to continue.

Yes, it is quite daunting. But look on the bright side, if you are reading this, you are one of the few that have realized the problem and are trying to do something about it. So what can we do?

First of all, stop poisoning yourself if you haven’t already. Eat local and organic (as best you can). Filter your water. Exercise. Get outside and connect with nature. Give up whatever your particular vice may be. Reject pharmaceutical drugs in every form. Don’t even buy aspirin for your headache. Willow bark or Meadowsweet will do just fine 😉

Secondly, spread the message. Tell everyone you know about the mass poisoning that is happening. Talk about the collusion between the pharmaceutical industry and the federal government. Talk about the food system and how we can change it. Learn about permaculture and biodynamics. Learn as much as you can about whichever subject you are passionate about and spread that information. Learn about the history of the FDA and the AMA and how the Rockefeller family funded the rise of the current medical model and pushed out the herbalists, chiropractors, and other natural healers. Please check out the book “When Healing Becomes a Crime” for more information.

Thirdly, create something of value and put it out into your community. Make herbal medicines and give them away or sell them for cheap. You will notice I offer some tinctures on the Agora page. I have given many bottles away for free in the effort to spread herbalism to as many people as possible. I would encourage everybody to start making their own herbal medicines and labeling them “Rogue Herbalist”. Imagine a movement of herbalists making products and putting them out into their communities all under the same heading. The FDA cannot stop us all, especially when we are unified under a common cause. We must band together and demand our health freedom before it is stripped away entirely.

Enclosing, I would ask you to participate in the conversation. Post your questions, comments, thoughts, and ideas to the Facebook page and let’s get an actual dialogue going about some of these very important topics.

The 12th International Herb Symposium

This past weekend was one of the greatest of my life. June 11 – 14 was the 12th International Herb Symposium at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. The campus is beautifully adorned with a variety of wildlife. Not only was I privileged to be surrounded by such amazing, loving people, I was also honored by winning second place in ‘The Greatest Ever’ Herbal Product Contest.

IHS Herbal Product Award
Signed by Rosemary Gladstar herself.

Today, as the founder of Rogue Herbalist, I am proud to announce that my formula took second place in the category of “Purely Medicinal” at the International Herb Symposium. My silver medal product is simply called Wildcrafted 4 Mushroom Decoction in Rum, which you can find on the Agora page. The mushrooms in this formula were ethically wildcrafted in the forests of New Hampshire. The mushrooms in this tincture are Chaga, Birch polypore, Turkey Tail, and Chicken of the Woods, which were all decocted in deep well water and then tinctured with 40% sugarcane rum.

Many people are not yet aware of this blog or the goal of the Rogue Herbalist idea that I have been working on, but today I am honored and humbled by my four days of life changing experience at the 12th International Herbal Symposium. The vast knowledge of the teachers and the students who attended this symposium was absolutely astounding.

As I walked the beautiful campus of Wheaton College, I was enthralled that eight hundred something people would travel from all over the world to come together in the name of herbalism. The campus of Wheaton College is beautifully adorned with abundant wildlife, making it the perfect place for this event. I was home. I found myself wishing that colleges around the country were like this all year long, and indeed some schools are beginning to look like this.

Sitting in classes with brilliant herbalists like Guido Mase and David Hoffmann, I realized that we are apart of something greater than ourselves. We share a kinship with humans of the past, who sat around the colosseum discussing the very fabric of the universe. Today we have the technology of the 21st century to aid us in our quest, but we carry with us the respect of ancients past.

If you would like to learn more about this idea of Rogue Herbalism, please continue to visit my website http://www.rogueherbalist.com and feel free to like, comment, and share this page with your friends. I can now say that I am an award winning herbal product formulator and that is a title that I do not take lightly. I see this as a sign that I have a duty to continue expanding my herbal knowledge so that I may share it with others. To quote Jeff Carpenter of Zack Woods Herb Farm: “the herbal renaissance is over…it is time for the herbal revolution”.

Let’s get to work.