Joseph Mercola and the Mercola Optimal Wellness Center
Joseph Mercola is a man of many hats. According to a commentary in Business Week, he’s a “snake oil salesman.” He’s also an anti-sugar and anti-sweetener crusader, and a board member of the radical Weston A. Price Foundation.
The one thing he is not is a medical doctor.
His day job is shilling a host of natural health gizmos, cures, and potions that ultimately led the Food and Drug Administration to censure him, warning that his “products are not generally recognized as safe and effective for” treating the conditions he claimed to cure. The FDA sent Mercola a second warning letter after he continued to make wild claims about his products.
Regarding Mercola, Dr. Stephen Barrett wrote on QuackWatch.com: “Many of his articles make unsubstantiated claims and clash with those of leading medical and public health organizations.” Chief among Mercola’s unsubstantiated claims is his insistence that “HFCS is metabolized to fat in your body far more rapidly than any other sugar.” In fact, high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, and beet sugar are nearly identical in composition. (In 2000, Mercola was sued for libel by Barrett. Barrett writes that the suit was settled in April 2003 with a retraction and payment of $50,000.)
In a 2006 book called “Sweet Deception,” Mercola claimed that all sweeteners were inherently unhealthy, comparing the different varieties to being hit with a bat or a club. A showman who clearly knows the appeal of a good gimmick, Mercola also threw in a list of “76 ways sugar can destroy your health,” including outlandish claims that it can lead to alcoholism and multiple sclerosis.
On his website, Mercola warns about the supposed dangers of hair dryers, electric clocks, cell phones, electric razors, and microwaving food. And for every supposed problem, he sells a solution. Worried about radiation from your cell phone? Mercola will happily sell you his “blue tube” headset. Have herpes? Buy some of Mercola’s special coconut oil. Do you believe Mercola that traditional sunscreens are “loaded with toxic chemicals”? He’s got a “natural” sunscreen with green tea (only $15.97 for an eight-ounce bottle).
Mercola appears to be motivated more by making money than by giving sound medical advice. A follower of “alternative medicine,” Mercola’s website is chock full of promotions for his books and other materials, along with a healthy dose of “slick promotion, clever use of information, and scare tactics,” according to David Gumpert’s commentary in Business Week. Gumpert concluded:
Unfortunately, Dr. Mercola isn’t selling furniture or digital cameras. He is selling health-care products and services, and is calling upon an unfortunate tradition made famous by the old-time snake oil salesmen of the 1800s, who went from town to town around the U.S. promising miraculous cures for diseases and selling useless concoctions.
Mercola’s monetary motivation is no different when it comes to sweeteners. Despite trashing sugar and high fructose corn syrup, he’s more than happy to sell you his own blend of “Pure Gold Raw Honey,” which is basically the exact same chemical composition as both sugar and HFCS.
While referring to traditional medicine and pharmaceutical companies as the “medical-industrial complex,” perhaps Mercola should be known as the “altmed-conspiracy complex.” Mercola obtained considerable wealth running Mercola.com, an online retailer that reportedly draws 2 million visitors a month. One Forbes writer notes that Mercola shares a business strategy with the dubious Andrew Weil: “both have websites selling all kinds of unproven treatments as well as their books and DVDs.”
Mercola’s product-hawking goes to show. To find Mercola at his headquarters, one would have to pass the “limestone-pillared entrance of his headquarters,” according to the Chicago Reader, and “go past the chocolate-brown paneled walls and soothing tiled lounge, down a labyrinth of hushed halls and empty conference rooms, to the door of a spacious corner office.”
But what Mercola has been selling and how he’s been selling it are of considerable dubiousness. Mercola’s fringe medical advice places him well outside of the mainstream:
- Mercola creates fear about using vaccines.
- Mercola is against mammograms for women.
- Mercola attacks fluoridation in the water supply.
- Mercola scaremongers about dental fillings.
- Mercola fear-mongers about radiation emitted by microwave ovens.
The battle lines are always the same. On one side is a company or industry supposedly trying to silence the truth and poison people. On the other is Mercola, standing up against a mysterious “they.” And though the issue may change, it seems one constant is that Mercola almost always has something to sell.
Mercola was the leading funder of California’s Proposition 37, a 2012 ballot initiative that would have mandated labels on foods containing ingredients that were genetically improved (GMOs). Mercola fundraised for the Organic Consumers Association, a trade group that would no doubt have benefited financially from requiring biotech labels (the OCA scaremongers about foods containing GMOs, and organic foods are GMO-free). Mercola is also a leading funder of I-522, a 2013 labeling initiative in Washington State.
Mercola admitted that the labeling initiative had a bigger goal—to eliminate genetically improved crops that he doesn’t like: “It would be very expensive and a logistical nightmare. So rather than have two labels, they would simply not carry the product, especially if the new label would be the equivalent of a skull and crossbones. This is why we are so committed to this initiative as victory here will likely eliminate genetically engineered foods in the US.”
However, the World Health Organization, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Food and Drug Administration—all legitimate authorities—say there is no indication that GMOs are unsafe. The American Medical Association says, “There is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods.”
If it Quacks like a Quack…
Mercola has been described as an “Internet fear-monger” by Joe Schwarcz, director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society, and a “quack” by David Gorski, MD, of Science-Based Medicine. It’s no surprise why. Some of Mercola’s stranger views? He says that some cancer can be cured with eggplant, that walking barefoot on “earthing” sheets reduces weight gain, and that taking daily doses of chlorella (which he sells) will help clear up “brain fog” by flushing heavy metals from the body.
The Williamette Week reported that Mercola gave nearly $30,000 to a 2013 campaign opposing the fluoridation of water in Portland, Oregon. The Week further relayed that “Mercola has questioned whether HIV causes AIDS, suggests that many cancers can be cured by baking soda, and warns parents not to vaccinate their children. He also says that animals are psychic.”
Mercola also helped found Health Liberty, a coalition also formed by the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), Fluoride Action Network (FAN), Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT), Organic Consumers Association (OCA), and Consumers for Dental Choice (CFDC—we refuse to use “CDC”). Let’s go through each actor:
NVIC—fear-mongers about vaccinations
FAN—wants to end fluoridation of water
IRT—founded by Jeffrey Smith, an infamous GMO fear-monger and “yogic flyer,” this group propagandizes against food biotechnology.
OCA—shamelessly scaremongers about genetically modified foods and shills for an organic ideology
CFDC—attacks amalgam use
Mercola claims that the existing medical establishment—that is, thousands of medical doctors—is “responsible for killing and permanently injuring millions of Americans” by being too quick to prescribe drugs and surgery. But if everyone in America followed Mercola’s advice, how many would die early deaths?