I thought to carry on from the topic of last month's article, in discussing the financial implications of the huge interest in natural products. I mentioned that many people are expressing concern in the quality of many "natural" products and how there is a move to regulate them and even make them available by prescription only.

The major concern others bring up about this is that it would put vitamins, herbs and other natural products into the hands of the pharmaceutical industry who could reap huge profits from this. The restriction in access and the profit going to large companies has to make this idea highly questionable.

However, there is already a very unseemly side to the marketing of so-called "natural" products. One of these is the selling of products through a process called network marketing. It works in the following way: a product is made available not through stores but is marketed by individuals who when they sell the product to another person get a cut of the profit. If the second person comes into the system and then sells the product to another person the first two people both get a slice of the profit. This way people are encouraged to sell as much as they can as they get a certain percentage of future sales of not only the people they sell to but to the next few levels down. This type of system used to be called pyramid selling. This is slightly different but it has a similar structure.

This system of selling is growing in all areas of business, not only in the arena of natural products. In reading much of the literature from different companies, the promises made are that it can give you an independent means of income that can go as high as $10,000 a month, or more, giving the freedom to pursue your dreams, and at the same time feel good about selling something which is good for people. It avoids middle men and the profit goes to the people. Sounds good.

However, the more one reads of this the more it just sounds like new-age capitalism with a kind of dreamy "I deserve to be rich" hype. The people who get involved in this see all their friends and aquaintencies as potential customers and it compromises the relationship between people. It puts personal financial interests above everything else. It produces the kind of zeal seen in spiritual cults as the people involved have to justify to themselves that this is the best thing since sliced bread. Anybody who has been on the receiving end of this will know what it is like.

There are many products sold this way, from water filters to blue-green algae to bizarre things like a weight- loss patch made with homeopathic remedies. The last one would be just hilarious except that I have received lots of e-mail about it and I presume people are buying it. It is simply exploitation and the opposite of what natural healing should be about.