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Joe Mercola: An antivaccine quack tycoon pivots effortlessly to profit from spreading COVID-19 misinformation

Joe Mercola is a physician whose nearly quarter-century of promoting quackery and antivaccine misinformation has garnered him a net worth north of $100 million. It is therefore not surprising that in the age of the pandemic, he has pivoted to fatten his bottom line promoting misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and the COVID vaccines.

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David Gorski for Science Based Medicine (See Addendum I,II and III)

I’ve written about Joseph Mercola, DO on a number of occasions over the years, dating back to before I ever joined this blog, first as a contributor and then as an editor. Out of curiosity, as I was writing this post I tried to identify the first time I ever wrote about Mercola. It turns out that it was quite long ago in 2005, at a point when my very first blog was just over six months old.

At the time, Mercola was—surprise! surprise!—comparing school vaccine mandates to the Holocaust. Interestingly, the link to the original article that I discussed then now forwards to an article from 2009 that includes no mention of the Holocaust, and when I tried to find the original article at Archive.org, it turns out that the original link has been excluded from the almighty Wayback Machine.

It’s almost as though he was embarrassed by his use of the analogy, although it was useful to be reminded that the misuse and abuse of Holocaust was commonplace among antivaxxers even 19 years ago, years before my post

As for this blog, I was interested to note that Harriet Hall has the honor of being the first SBM blogger to have mentioned Mercola, back in 2008, although past contributor Dr. Joe Albietz was the first to make Mercola’s antivaccine misinformation the main topic of an SBM post back in 2009, later providing nine good reasons to completely ignore him, even as he and Barbara Loe Fisher were starting “Vaccine Awareness Week” in 2010 to spread misinformation about “vaccine injury”.

Sadly, Mercola hasn’t been ignored, as The New York Times reported over the weekend in an article by Sheera Frenkel titled “The Most Influential Spreader of Coronavirus Misinformation Online“. It seems that every couple of years the mainstream media notices what an influential quack Mercola is; so I thought I’d take a look at the article with the benefit of a long history of having observed Mercola’s activities.

A superspreader of medical misinformation

I bring this bit of history up for a simple reason, to remind our readers that my SBM colleagues and I have been writing about this particular quack for a long time. We’re very familiar with him.

Indeed, I can’t help but note that, since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Mercola has unfortunately been a frequent topic of this blog because he has been one of the most prolific sources (if not the most prolific source) of COVID-19 misinformation, antimask conspiracy theories, and antivaccine fear mongering.

Indeed, early in the pandemic, we noted his role in spreading COVID-19 conspiracy theories and how, by even May 2020 he had made a name as one of the “superspreaders” of COVID-19 misinformation and false claims about COVID-19.

Indeed, last fall Mercola spread the false claim that the influenza vaccine increases one’s risk of falling ill with COVID-19, all in order to spread fear of the flu vaccine. In retrospect, this amuses me, because it wasn’t long before Mercola embraced the “casedemic” conspiracy theory that claimed that PCR tests for SARS-CoV-2 (the coronavirus that causes COVID-19) is overly sensitive, making most positive tests false positive tests—and, also, according to him COVID-19 is not deadly, except to the elderly.

It rather made me wonder why he would be concerned if the flu vaccine really did increase the risk of COVID-19 if COVID-19 is just a “harmless” disease. (I guess that consistency is not a requirement for the claims of quacks and antivaxxers.)

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Joe Mercola: An antivaccine quack tycoon pivots effortlessly to profit from spreading COVID-19 misinformation


Addendum I

WARNING LETTER

Mercola.com, LLCMARCS-CMS 607133 — 

Product:
Food & Beverages

Recipient:
Dr. Joseph M. Mercola, DO
Mercola.com, LLC

125 SW 3rd Place, Suite 205Cape CoralFL 33991United States

 [email protected]
 [email protected]
Issuing Office:
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN)

United States


WARNING LETTER

Date: February 18, 2021

Cc: [email protected]
[email protected]

Venable LLP
Attn: Todd A. Harrison
Attn: Leonard Gordon
600 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20001

RE: Unapproved and Misbranded Products Related to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

This is to advise you that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewed your websites at the Internet addresses https://www.mercola.com and https://www.mercolamarket.com on February 8, 2021. We also reviewed your social media site at https://www.twitter.com/mercola, where you direct consumers to your website https://www.mercolamarket.com to purchase your products. The FDA has observed that your website offers “Liposomal Vitamin C,” “Liposomal Vitamin D3,” and “Quercetin and Pterostilbene Advanced” products for sale in the United States and that these products are intended to mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure COVID-191 in people. Based on our review, these products are unapproved new drugs sold in violation of section 505(a) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), 2pt1 U.S.C. § 355(a). Furthermore, these products are misbranded drugs under section 502 of the FD&C Act, 21 U.S.C. § 352. The introduction or delivery for introduction of these products into interstate commerce is prohibited under sections 301(a) and (d) of the FD&C Act, 21 U.S.C. § 331(a) and (d).

There is currently a global outbreak of respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus that has been named “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” (SARS-CoV-2). The disease caused by the virus has been named “Coronavirus Disease 2019” (COVID-19). On January 31, 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a declaration of a public health emergency related to COVID-19 and mobilized the Operating Divisions of HHS.2 In addition, on March 13, 2020, there was a Presidential declaration of a national emergency in response to COVID-19.3 Therefore, FDA is taking urgent measures to protect consumers from certain products that, without approval or authorization by FDA, claim to mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure COVID-19 in people. As described below, you sell products that are intended to mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure COVID-19 in people. We request that you take immediate action to cease the sale of such unapproved and unauthorized products for the mitigation, prevention, treatment, diagnosis, or cure of COVID-19.

Some examples of the claims on your websites that establish the intended use of your products, based on statements about the purported effects of their ingredients, and misleadingly represent them as safe and/or effective for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19 include:

  • “Vitamins C and D are finally being adopted in the conventional treatment of novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV2. This fortunate turn of events is likely to save thousands of lives ….” [from an April 7, 2020 post on your Twitter page, https://twitter.com/mercola/status/1247540121919827970]

From your article titled “Vitamin C and D Finally Adopted as Coronavirus Treatment” (https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2020/04/07/coronavirus-treatment.aspx):

  • “Vitamins C and D are finally being adopted in the conventional treatment of novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.”
  • “Vitamin C at extremely high doses acts as an antiviral drug, actually killing viruses.”
  • “Vitamin C Is a Vastly Underutilized Antiviral ‘Drug’”
  • “Another powerful component in the prevention and treatment of influenza is vitamin D. Although vitamin D does not appear to have a direct effect on the virus itself, it does strengthen immune function, thus allowing the host body to combat the virus more effectively. It also suppresses inflammatory processes. Taken together, this might make vitamin D useful against SARS-CoV-2 infection.”
  • “In my view, optimizing your vitamin D levels is one of the absolute best strategies available to prevent respiratory illness of all kinds.”
  • “Based on the available scientific evidence, there’s no reason to ignore vitamins C and D for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections.”
  • “Vitamin C is also a crucial aid, both for the prevention and treatment of viral illnesses. You can find pertinent reports and research about vitamin C against COVID-19 on the Orthomolecular Medicine News Service website. I recommend using liposomal vitamin C, as it allows you to take far higher dosages than regular vitamin C ….”

From your article titled “Nutrition and Natural Strategies Offer Hope Against COVID-19” (https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2020/03/29/andrew-saul-vitamin-c.aspx):

  • “Vitamin C . . . kills pathogens, including viruses, when taken in high doses.”
  • “[T]he government of Shanghai has issued official recommendations that vitamin C should be used for treating COVID-19.”
  • “High-Dose Vitamin C Kills Viruses”

From your article titled “Quercetin and Vitamin C: Synergistic Therapy for COVID-19” (https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2020/08/24/quercetin-and-vitamin-csynergistic-effect.aspx):

  • “Vitamin C and quercetin have synergistic effects that make them useful in the prevention and early at-home treatment of COVID-19.”
  • “[V]itamin C at extremely high doses acts as an antiviral drug, effectively inactivating viruses.”
  • “While high-dose vitamin C is new for COVID-19 treatment, it’s been used as a treatment for sepsis since about 2017. The vitamin C-based sepsis treatment was developed by Dr. Paul Marik …. In the interview above, Marik explains how the COVID-19 critical care protocol grew out of his sepsis treatment, as he and other doctors noticed there were many similarities between sepsis and severe COVID-19 infection ….”
  • “Quercetin was initially found to provide protection against SARS coronavirus in the aftermath of the SARS epidemic … Now, some doctors are advocating its use against SARS-CoV-2, in combination with vitamin C, noting that the two have synergistic effects.”
  • “There is evidence that vitamin C and quercetin co-administration exerts a synergistic antiviral action due to overlapping antiviral and immunomodulatory properties and the capacity of ascorbate to recycle quercetin, increasing its efficacy.”

You should take immediate action to address the violations cited in this letter. This letter is not meant to be an all-inclusive list of violations that exist in connection with your products or operations. It is your responsibility to ensure that the products you sell are in compliance with the FD&C Act and FDA’s implementing regulations. We advise you to review your websites, product labels, and other labeling and promotional materials to ensure that you are not misleadingly representing your products as safe and effective for a COVID-19-related use for which they have not been approved by FDA and that you do not make claims that misbrand the products in violation of the FD&C Act. Within 48 hours, please send an email to [email protected] describing the specific steps you have taken to address these violations. Include an explanation of each step being taken to prevent the recurrence of violations, as well as copies of related documentation. Failure to adequately correct any violations may result in legal action, including, without limitation, seizure and injunction.

FDA is advising consumers not to purchase or use certain products that have not been approved, cleared, or authorized by FDA and that are being misleadingly represented as safe and/or effective for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19. Your firm will be added to a published list on FDA’s website of firms and websites that have received warning letters from FDA concerning the sale or distribution of COVID-19 related products in violation of the FD&C Act. This list can be found at http://www.fda.gov/consumers/health-fraud-scams/fraudulent-coronavirus-disease-covid-19-products. Once you have taken actions to address the sale of your unapproved and unauthorized products for the mitigation, prevention, treatment, diagnosis, or cure of COVID-19, and any appropriate corrective actions have been confirmed by the FDA, the published list will be updated to indicate that your firm has taken such corrective actions.

This letter notifies you of our concerns and provides you with an opportunity to address them. If you cannot take action to address this matter completely within 48 hours, state the reason for the delay and the time within which you will do so. If you believe that your products are not in violation of the FD&C Act, include your reasoning and any supporting information for our consideration.

If you are not located in the United States, please note that products that appear to be misbranded or unapproved new drugs may be detained or refused admission if they are offered for importation into the United States. We may advise the appropriate regulatory officials in the country from which you operate that FDA considers your products referenced above to be unapproved and misbranded products that cannot be legally sold to consumers in the United States.

Please direct any inquiries to FDA at [email protected]

Sincerely,
/S/

William A. Correll
Director
Office of Compliance
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
Food and Drug Administration

______________________________

1 As explained in the next paragraph, there is currently an outbreak of a respiratory disease named “Coronavirus Disease 2019” (COVID-19).

2 Secretary of Health and Human Services, Determination that a Public Health Emergency Exists (originally issued Jan. 31, 2020 and subsequently renewed), available at https://www.phe.gov/emergency/news/healthactions/phe/Pages/default.aspx.

3 Proclamation on Declaring a National Emergency Concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Outbreak (Mar. 13, 2020), available at https://trumpwhitehouse.archives.gov/presidential-actions/proclamationdeclaring-national-emergency-concerning-novel-coronavirus-disease-covid-19-outbreak/.

Addendum II

Dr. Joseph Mercola Ordered to Stop Illegal Claims


Stephen Barrett, M.D.
July 25, 2021

Joseph Mercola, D.O., who practiced for many years in Schaumburg, Illinois, now operates one of the Internet’s largest and most trafficked health information sites. Since 2012, Mercola has stated that his site has over 300,000 pages and is visited by “millions of people each day” and that his electronic newsletter has over one million subscribers [1]. The site vigorously promotes and sells dietary supplements, many of which bear his name. It also publishes a steady stream of propaganda intended to persuade its visitors nit to trust mainstream healthcare viewpoints and consumer-protection agencies.

For many years, Dr. Mercola and other staff members saw patients at his clinic, which was called the Optimal Wellness Center. In 1999, Mercola announced that about one third of his new patients were autistic and that he had treated about 60 such children with secretin, a hormone he said “appeared to be a major breakthrough.” [2] After it was well settled that secretin is ineffective against autism [3], Mercola’s Web site still said it would work if a child complied with his recommended diet strategies [4].

In 2004, Medical Economics reported that Mercola’s practice employed 50 people and that he employed 15 people to run his newsletter, including three editors [5]. Much of his support has come from chiropractors who promote his newsletter from their Web sites. Two of his books hit the #2 sales rank on Amazon Books shortly after his newsletter plugged them for the first time. In 2017, a former employee told The Ringer that most of the articles on his website were ghost written and reviewed by him [6].

In 2006, an article in Business Week concluded that he was “one of a fast-growing number of alternative-health practitioners who seek to capitalize on concerns about the conventional health care system—in his case relying on slick promotion, clever use of information, and scare tactics.” The article described how his promotions included (a) promises of “free’ to sell stuff; (a) lots of “bonuses,” (c) reports of real news that link to marginally related products, and (d) exaggerated claims. [7]

In 2012, an article in Chicago Magazine reported that Mercola had stopped practicing medicine six years previously to focus on his Web site [8]. However, his decision may have been influenced by a 3-year battle with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation [9]. I did not see any mention of this on his Web site, and the site invited patients to come to his clinic—which was renamed Dr. Mercola’s Natural Health Center—for offbeat practices that included detoxification, chiropractic, Dispensary, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), Functional Medicine Program, homeopathy, Neuro-Structural Integration Technique (NST), Nutritional Typing Test, thermography, Total Body Modification (TBM), and Active Isolated Stretching.

In September 2014, Mercola announced that he had closed the clinic “in order to devote his full time and attention to research, education and increasing public awareness.” [10]

Many of Mercola’s articles make unsubstantiated claims and clash with those of leading medical and public health organizations. For example, he opposes immunization [11] fluoridation. [12], mammography [13], and the routine administration of vitamin K shots to the newborn [14,15]; claims that amalgam fillings are toxic [16]; and makes many unsubstantiated recommendations for dietary supplements. He has advised against eating many foods that the scientific community regards as healthful, such as bananas, oranges, red potatoes, white potatoes, all milk products, and almost all grains [17]. He has also given silly advice, such as minimizing exposure to electromagnetic fields by avoiding electric razors, microwaving of foods, watches with batteries [18]. Mercola’s reach has been greatly boosted by repeated promotion on the “Dr. Oz Show.”

Many of the articles he writes encourage readers to buy dietary supplements and other products that can be ordered from his companies. He has even found a way to profit from his opposition to fluoridation. In 2020, began promising that his $250 “Fluoride Removal Full Spectrum Countertop Water Filters” would remove up to 99.9% of the fluoride ions from tap water. The article promoting his filters claimed that “water fluoridation is a public health scam and one of the most unnecessary and severely health-damaging practices we are exposed to today.” [19] Nothing could be further from the truth.

Mercola’s Profits

Mercola is very critical of drug company profits and proudly states:

Mercola.com does NOT accept any third-party advertising or sponsorship, and I am in no way tied into any pharmaceutical company or any other corporate “interest” whatsoever. So you get the real inside scoop on health issues, with practical advice that matters to you untainted by outside influence! [1]

He has also stated:

Mercola.com is not . . . a tool to get me a bigger house and car, or to run for Senate. I fund this site, and therefore, am not handcuffed to any advertisers, silent partners or corporate parents. . . .

Profit generated from the sale of the products I recommend goes right back into maintaining and building a better site. A site that, startling as it may be with all the greed-motivated hype out there in health care land, is truly for you [20].

I don’t doubt Mercola’s sincerity—and I know nothing about how he allocates his income. But the BlockShopper Chicago Web site stated that in 2006 he purchased a house in South Barrington, Illinois, for $2 million and that it had 5,563 square feet. It was sold in 2016 after he had relocated to Florida. The Bing Maps aerial view indicates that the property is quite luxurious. His current Florida home, which he also uses as a business address, is much larger.

In 2011, Mercola announced the formation of Health Liberty, a nonprofit coalition whose goals include promoting organic foods and targeting fluoridation, vaccination, genetically modified foods, and the use of amalgam fillings [21]. In a video accompanying the announcement, Mercola stated that he planned to donate $1 million to catalyze the project. In addition to Mercola.com, the coalition members are:

  • National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), which understates the benefits and exaggerates the risks of vaccination.
  • Fluoride Action Network (FAN), the leading promoter of misinformation about fluoridation. Its donations are funneled through the nonprofit American Environmental Health Studies Project.
  • Institute for Responsible Technology, which understates the benefits and exaggerates the risks of genetically modification of foods
  • Consumers for Dental Choice, which vigorously attacks amalgam use with misinformation, propaganda, lobbying, and lawsuits.
  • Organic Consumers Association, which irresponsibly promotes unpasteurized milk and spreads false alarms about food irradiation, agricultural biotechnology, and vaccines.

The money for the donations was funneled from Mercola.com Health Research LLC through Mercola’s nonprofit Natural Health Resources Foundation, which showed the following grants for the above groups on its tax returns:

 

2011

2012

2013

2014

201520162017

Total

Consumers for Dental Choice

103,152

75,000

100,000

175,000

175,000220,000240,000

1,088,152

National Vaccine Information Center

300,000

400,000

400,000

400,000

400,000500,000401,000

2,801,000

Organic Consumers Association

505,000

200,000

460,000

580,000

580,000861,000720,000

3,906,000

American Environmental Health Studies Project

10,000

10,000

25,000

20,000

20,00030,00015,000

130,000

 

Mercola’s website states that he has also given money to Food Democracy Now, the Institute for Responsible Technology, the Rabies Challenge Fund, the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Foundation, the Cornucopia Institute, the Vitamin D Council, Grassroots Health, and the Alliance for Natural Health [22].

The “health freedom” argument involves deception by misdirection. It focuses on individual freedom but does not consider how people who fail to protect their health put the rest of society at physical and/or financial risk. Failing to vaccinate, for example, decreases herd immunity so that contagious diseases spread more widely. In 2012, Mercola began calling his newsletter “Health Liberty Newsletter.”

In 2013, Williamette Week reported that Mercola had donated a total of $26,975 in cash and in-kind contributions that included polling and a YouTube video to support the efforts of the antifluoridation group that is opposing a fluoridation referendum in Portland, Oregon. The report also stated 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.” [23]

The Washington Post has reported that by 2010, Mercola’s businesses were generating $3 million a month and that in 2017, he indicated that his net worth was over $100 million [24].

Mercola lives with Erin Elizabeth, whose health-related views and activities are similar to his and describes herself as “a long-term health nut, author, and public speaker.”

Better Business Bureau Reports

Mercola markets his supplements through Mercola Health Resources, LLC. In 2011, after a customer complained that she thought a product she purchased was overpriced, I began checking whether the Better Business Bureau had received any complaints. I found that the company was rated C- on a scale of A+ through F. On February 1, 2012, the BBB reported that during the previous 36 months, there were 26 complaints—which is not an unusually high number for a high-volume business—but the report contained the following comments:

A recent review of consumer complaints filed with the BBB of Chicago & Northern Illinois against your Mercola Health Resources, LLC delineates a pattern of consumer allegations. Consumers are alleging that Mercola Health Resources does not honor the 100% money-back guarantee listed on your website. Customers have reported that refunds have not been provided for returns that were specifically covered under this guarantee. Consumers have also reported that they have experienced delivery issues. While www.mercola.com states that orders ship within 10 business days, consumers say they have waited much longer for their products. Customers allege that the company’s service staff has been unable to provide explanations regarding this delay. Some consumers have also reported that Mercola provided them with shipment tracking numbers that were not valid with their respective carriers [25].

On November 26, 2013, I checked again and found that during the previous 36 months there had been 34 complaints, but Mercola Health Resources was rated A+. In September 2015, I checked and found that there had been 10 complaints but the rating remained A+. In January 2017, I checked again and found there had been 5 complaints and the rating was A-. In July 2020, I checked again and found that there had been no complaints and the rating was A+.

FDA Warnings

In 2005, the FDA ordered Mercola and his Optimal Wellness Center to stop making illegal claims for products sold through his Web site [26]. The claims to which the FDA objected involved three products:

  • Living Fuel Rx, claimed to offer an “exceptional countermeasure” against cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, etc.
  • Tropical Traditions Virgin Coconut Oil, claimed to reduce the risk of heart disease and has beneficial effects against Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and many infectious agents
  • Chlorella, claimed to fight cancer and normalize blood pressure.

In 2006, the FDA sent Mercola and his center a second warning that was based on product labels collected during an inspection at his facility and on claims made on the Optimum Wellness Center Web site [27]. This time the claims to which the FDA objected involve four products:

  • Vibrant Health Research Chlorella XP, claimed to “help to virtually eliminate your risk of developing cancer in the future.”
  • Fresh Shores Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, claimed to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and degenerative diseases.
  • Momentum Health Products Vitamin K2, possibly useful in treating certain kinds of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Momentum Health Products Cardio Essentials Nattokinase NSK-SD, claimed to be “a much safer and effective option than aspirin and other pharmaceutical agents to treating heart disease.”

The warning letters explained that the use of such claims in the marketing of these products violates the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, which bans unapproved claims for products that are intended for curing, mitigating, treating, or preventing of diseases. (Intended use can be established through product labels, catalogs, brochures, tapes, Web sites, or other circumstances surrounding the distribution of the product.)

In 2011, the FDA ordered Mercola to stop making claims for thermography that go beyond what the equipment he uses (Medtherm2000 infrared camera) was cleared for. The warning letter said that statements on Mercola’s site improperly imply that the Meditherm camera can be used alone to diagnose or screen for various diseases or conditions associated with the breast, they also represent that the sensitivity of the Meditherm Med2000 Telethermographic camera is greater than that of machines used in mammography. The statements to which the FDA objected included:

  • “Revolutionary and Safe Diagnostic Tool Detects Hidden Inflammation: Thermography”
  • “The Newest Safe Cancer Screening Tool”
  • “[b]ecause measuring inflammation through thermal imaging is a proactive, preventative method you can use for detecting disease, which significantly improves your chances for longevity and good health.”
  • Additionally, thermograms provide: “Reliable and accurate information for diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis. . .”
  • “Yes, it’s true. Thermograms provide you with early diagnosis and treatment assistance in such problems as cancer, inflammatory processes, neurological and vascular dysfunction, and musculoskeletal injury.”
  • Thermography can benefit patients by detecting conditions including: Arthritis: “[d]ifferentiate between osteoarthritis and more severe forms like rheumatoid.” Immune Dysfunction, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue, “Digestive Disorders: Irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, and Crohn’s disease . . .” and “Other Conditions: including bursitis, herniated discs, ligament or muscle tear, lupus, nerve problems, whiplash, stroke screening, cancer and many, many others.” [28]

In 2011, the Chicago Tribune reported that Mercola had not complied with the FDA’s order and intended to “fight the FDA . . . if they decide to take it further.” [29 However, in 2012, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation asked Mercola to attend an informal conference to discuss a complaint that he was “making deceptive claims promoting thermography as a standalone diagnostic tool for detecting cancer and other diseases and is attacking the use of mammograms.” Mercola’s Web site still promotes thermography and trashes mammography, but the site stopped offering thermography appointments later that year—and Mercola’s special report, “The Safe Breast Cancer Screening Test Your Doctor Isn’t Telling You About,” is no longer apparent.

FTC Action

In 2016, Mercola, Mercola.com, LLC and Mercola.com Health Resources, settled a Federal Trade Commission complaint by agreeing to stop selling tanning beds and to pay to $5,334,067 to cover the cost of refunds and administration of the refund program. The defendants were charged with falsely claiming that their indoor tanning devices would enable consumers to slash their risk of cancer and improve the clarity, tone and texture of their skin, giving them a more youthful appearance. Commenting on the case, Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, noted that indoor tanning is not safe because it increases the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma [30].

COVID-19 Response

Mercola has reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic by claiming that many of his products can boost immunity and by attacking the preventive advice given by public health agencies throughout the world. He has claimed, for example, that masks cause “oxygen deprivation” and that the mainstream recommendation for mask-wearing “has nothing to do with decreasing the spread of the virus, but more to indoctrinate you into submission.” [31] He has also encouragied “civil disobedience” in areas where mask-wearing was mandated [32] and had many articles advising against COVID-19 vaccination.

In August 2020, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and other nonprofit legal groups urged the FDA and FTC to stop Mercola from marketing at least 23 products with false claims that they can prevent or treat the disease. The letters stated:

Mercola Group has been capitalizing on the coronavirus pandemic by advising consumers to purchase vitamins, supplements, and other products sold on its website to prevent or treat the virus. Mercola Group’s website contains many misleading articles, such as “Nutrition and Natural Strategies Offer Hope Against COVID-19,” and a “Coronavirus Resource Guide” compiling various unsubstantiated claims about the COVID-fighting properties of various supplements. It also offers “medical” advice, including the extraordinarily dangerous and unsubstantiated recommendation that individuals actually try to contract COVID-19 after using the supplements it sells to ameliorate the symptoms.

Mercola Group and Dr. Mercola make multiple deceptive and unsubstantiated claims in marketing supplements and other products. The products that Mercola Group sells through its online store, and that Dr. Mercola has endorsed in public statements . . . for the prevention and/or treatment of COVID-19, include: vitamin C (specifically, liposomal vitamin C); vitamin D; zinc and selenium (which Mercola Group sells together); melatonin; licorice; molecular hydrogen; astaxanthin; n-acetyl cysteine; prebiotics, probiotics, and sporebiotics; saunas; ozone therapy; elderberry extract; spirulina; beta-glucan; lipoic acid; and sulforaphane [33,34].

The letters were accompanied by a chart that detailed the challenged claims [35]. In February 2021, the FDA ordered Mercola to stop suggesting on his website that “Liposomal Vitamin C,” “Liposomal Vitamin D3,” and “Quercetin and Pterostilbene Advanced” sold through his site are effective in preventing or treating COVID-19 and other viral infections [36].

In March 2021, the Center for Countering Digital Hate placed Mercola first on its list of “The Disinformation Dozen” who “do not have relevant medical expertise and have their own pockets to line, who are abusing social media platforms to misrepresent the threat of Covid and spread misinformation about the safety of vaccines.” His live-in partner, Eriin Elizabeth, was listed seventh. The report also estimated that Mercola’s accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram totaled about 3.6 million followers [37]. In Juky 2021, The New York Times called Mercola “the most influential spreader of coronavirus misinformation online.” [38]

In my opinion, the dangerousness of his advice, the fact that millions of people take him seriously, and his funding of organizations that promote unscientific practices and/or oppose proven public health measures make him the world’s most dangerous supplier of health misinformation.

For Additional Information
References
  1. Mercola JM. Health website rankings: Mercola.com is now world’s most visited natural health site. Mercola.com, accessed Feb 1, 2012.
  2. Mercola JM. Milk linked to autism, schizophrenia. Optimal Wellness Center Web site, March 21, 1999.
  3. Williams K and others. Intravenous secretin for autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The Cochrane Collaboration, 2012
  4. Mercola JM. Single injection of secretin does not treat autism. Originally published in 1999 or 2000..
  5. Joseph Mercola: The physician as entrepreneur. Medical Economics, August 20, 2004, p 37.
  6. Gumpert DE. Old-time sales tricks on the Net. Bloomberg Business, May 22, 2006.
  7. Knibbs K. The most honest man in medicine?The Ringer, Jan 5, 2017.
  8. Smith B. Dr. Mercola: Visionary or quack? Chicago Magazine, Feb 12, 2012.
  9. Barrett S. Dr. Joseph Mercola’s battle with his state licensing board. Casewatch, Sept 1, 2015.
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  12. Mercola JM. Is fluoride as safe as you are told. Optimal Wellness Center Web site, Feb 2, 6, and 9, 2002.
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  29. Tsouderos T. FDA warns doctor: Stop touting camera as disease screening tool. Chicago Tribune, April 26, 2011.
  30. Marketers of indoor tanning systems to pay refunds to consumers: Defendants ran ads claiming that Indoor tanning is safe, Doesn’t increase the risk of skin cancer. FTC news release, April 14, 2016]
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  32. Masks do not likely inhibit viral spread (video). Mercola.com, July 19, 2020.
  33. Briskin C and others. Request for FDA enforcement regarding unlawful COVID-19 disease claims by Mercola Group, July 21, 2020.
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  35. CSPI and others. Illegal claims pertaining to Mercola Group products. July 2, 2020.
  36. Correll WA. Warning letter to Joseph M. Mercola, DO. Feb 18, 2021.
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Addendum III

The Upside-Down Doctor

Joe Mercola is a doctor at war with medicine. His take on the pandemic is a lucrative, conspiratorial fever dream

Dr. Joe Mercola, an osteopathic physician who has made an impressive fortune selling supplements through his online store, has a new book out about the COVID-19 pandemic, a book which he co-authored with Ronnie Cummins, an organic food crusader. This book, as well as Mercola’s decades of peddling health misinformation on the Internet, exemplifies the dangerous blind spot of the wellness movement. Health gurus are not in the business of public health; they rise to fame by framing health as a personal choice and by selling immune boosters that have earned, they wrongfully claim, a scientific seal of approval.

Mercola’s conspiratorial take on COVID-19 is monumentally wrong, but the upside-down world he paints with his alarming words is based on real concerns. Mercola invites the already leery reader to follow him down a very deep rabbit hole.

Reader’s Digest version of the infodemic

The book’s black cover, devoid of imagery, is used as a minimalist canvas for its interminable title: The Truth About COVID-19: Exposing the Great Reset, Lockdowns, Vaccine Passports, and the New Normal: Why We Must Unite in a Global Movement for Health and Freedom. Amazon currently lists it as the #1 best-seller in its “Political Freedom” category.

Summarizing the book is, in effect, summarizing the misinformation surrounding COVID-19. In short, Mercola and Cummins argue that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus was engineered in a laboratory in Wuhan, China, and its escape was capitalized on by every cabal, government, and corporation you can think of to scare people into looking away while they stole most of the world’s financial resources for themselves. None of the diagnostic tests, treatments, or public health measures can be trusted; rather, the disease is mild and protection is afforded to smart people who have no health conditions, eat the right food, and load themselves up with the right supplements.

Fact-checking the book’s thousands of erroneous claims would require weeks and, I suspect, the publication of a two-tome book. But here is the tasting menu, which should be enough for the discerning reader to understand that Mercola and Cummins’ slim book does not belong in the “health and wellness” section of your local bookstore. It should be shelved in the “fiction” aisle.

The book insists multiple times that the public health measures and restrictions will be permanent. Not true. The CDC announced that fully vaccinated Americans could resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing, resume domestic travel, and refrain from quarantine even when following a known exposure to the virus if they remain symptom-free. The state of Florida, where Mercola moved his business, suspended all local lockdown restrictions on May 3. A similar loosening of restrictions can be seen all over the world, from France to Canada. Australians have, for months, been allowed to dine out and not wear face masks in most places because of how successful they were at stopping the spread of the infection.

In one of the chapters he authored, Mercola argues that the pandemic was “anything but accidental.” His smoking gun? The pandemic preparedness simulation known as Event 201, which took place in October 2019, predicted shortages of personal protective equipment, and lockdowns, and riots, and the emergence of misinformation that would need to be countered, just like what happened during the pandemic itself, Mercola remarks! This is on par with accusing California emergency services of causing an earthquake because their training drill successfully predicted there would be damages to the power grid if the ground shook strongly enough. For experts to know how future events will unfold based on past experiences is no evidence of foul play.

Then, there is the book’s scientific aspirations. Mercola claims that the supplement quercetin, a plant flavonol that is sold on his website, “has been shown to inhibit the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein from interacting with human cells.” If this is true, it means a supplement he sells and which he calls a “broad-spectrum antiviral” may have the amazing ability to prevent the coronavirus from infecting our cells. And there’s a reference to a paper to bolster his claim. Mercola recommends its use as a preventative. Unfortunately, his reference is to a non-peer-reviewed pre-print posted at the beginning of the pandemic. The authors used a supercomputer to see which known molecules might, based on the computer’s calculations, bind to the coronavirus’ spike protein. Quercetin was one of 47 compounds. That’s Mercola’s reference.

He uses scientific studies like they are part of a game that always favours him. To recommend a particular supplement, all he needs is a low-quality study based on a computer simulation or a contrived laboratory experiment. Meanwhile, when high-quality studies in humans are used to show the safety of a vaccine, they cannot be trusted because they were funded by an allegedly corrupt party. It’s like Mercola is playing poker with these studies and his pair is always stronger than his opponent’s straight flush.

The book culminates in a chapter entitled “Take Back Control” which opens with the following money quote: “We have allowed out-of-control politicians, tech giants, pandemic profiteers, operatives from the military-industrial complex, Big Pharma, medical mal-practitioners, large multinational corporations such as Amazon and Walmart, and a cabal of global health and economic elites to ruthlessly exploit us under the guise of a global pandemic.”

Basically, trust no one but Joe Mercola and his acolytes. But is Joe Mercola worthy of this trust?

More money than sense

One of the through-lines of Mercola’s latest book is to follow the money because anyone who receives it from a party deemed suspicious becomes tainted by it. It’s a simplistic exercise in sniffing out potential corruption that is routinely applied to governments and the pharmaceutical industry by health gurus like Mercola, but that is never turned inwards. Yet, there is money to follow as far as Joe Mercola is concerned.

A 2019 investigation by the Washington Post revealed that Mercola has been a major funder of the anti-vaccine movement over the years to the tune of $4 million, with $2.9 million specifically going to the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC). Behind its benign name, the NVIC is one of the principal anti-vaccine organizations in the United States and it was identified as a super-spreader of COVID-19 misinformation on Facebook. Mercola’s foundation, entirely funded by his business, also helps fund the Organic Consumers Association led by his co-writer, Ronnie Cummins, for a total of over $3.3 million. The Organic Consumers Association has been described by the Genetic Literacy Project as “one of the most aggressive of North America’s anti-GMO activist groups,” and the association was part of a weekend meeting with anti-vaccine groups during the 2017 measles outbreak in Minnesota to foster doubt in the vaccines. And Mercola himself was revealed to have given $1.1 million to a California GMO labelling campaign, the type of campaign that rests on the disproven idea that genetically engineered food is harmful and should be clearly labelled.

It’s a wonder a humble osteopath who stopped seeing patients in 2009 has millions of dollars to give, but it turns out that being one of the top sellers of supplements and wellness products is quite the booty. His online store is a seemingly endless emporium of probiotics, antioxidants, vitamins, raw dog food, herbal repellent collars for cats, protein bars, grass-fed meats, hair care products, bath salts, toothpaste, sports bras, air purifiers, whole-body vibration exercise equipment, and organic cotton bed linens. Basically, a general store for the GMO-phobic, as all of his products are claimed to be “free of genetically modified organisms.”

In a 2017 affidavit, Joe Mercola revealed his net worth to be “in excess of $100 million.”

Earlier this year, the multimillionaire was selling supplements like quercetin and vitamin C to combat COVID-19. Promotion for his products included the falsehood that “vitamins C and D are finally being adopted in the conventional treatment of the novel coronavirus” and the claim that vitamin C and quercetin work together to be “useful in the prevention and early at-home treatment of COVID-19.” The Food and Drug Administration sent him a warning letter to cease selling these supplements for the unapproved and unauthorized prevention and treatment of COVID-19. This letter can now be added to the other four he has received over the years. Moreover, as part of a 2017 settlement, Mercola was forced to refund $2.59 million to customers who had bought his tanning system which, he had claimed, reduced the signs of aging without increasing the risk of skin cancer. The Federal Trade Commission disagreed.

While we may convince ourselves supplements are a form of health insurance, without a good medical reason for taking them they at best make for expensive urine. At worst, their poorly regulated nature may present a risk to our health. For example, herbal remedies, of which Mercola sells an impressive collection, are often adulterated or contaminated. The consequences, as reported in the medical literature, are numerous, from allergic reactions to cancer, from seizures to liver failure, from irregular heart rhythms to death. You may think Joe Mercola, with his pristine lab coat and his avuncular smile and his promise that all of his products are professionally tested, wouldn’t let you down. When The Ringer interviewed some of Mercola’s former employees, a different portrait emerged: that of a “tyrant” and “bully” who obtains products from other businesses and “attempts to copycat them for his website,” often claiming his version is free of some allegedly harmful filler ingredient. “But he wouldn’t remember which ones he badmouthed,” an ex-employee told The Ringer, “so he would then release products with those fillers.”

This is something we have seen before, with conspiracy theory shock jock Alex Jones selling products that contain soy despite scaring his male viewers into avoiding the allegedly feminizing legume. (A genuine concern with Jones’ product are the toxic heavy metals found in some of them.) Joe Mercola, it should be noted, was a guest on Alex Jones’ show in May of this year, claiming the COVID-19 vaccines would kill more people than the disease. This appearance is part of a misinformation trend: the Center for Countering Digital Hate revealed that Mercola was one of a dozen people responsible for two-thirds of anti-vaccination content on Facebook and Twitter. Most medical interventions are bad, but the sugar pills of homeopathy can provide “powerful healing,” Mercola will tell you. It’s the world upside down.

When viewed holistically, Mercola’s unscientific and sustained opposition to the scientific consensus (on vaccines, on fluoride in the water, even on microwave ovens), his massive campaign of misinformation about the current pandemic, and his blind belief in a global conspiracy may raise the question of why so many people trust Joe Mercola to, as the tagline to his website boldly states, “take control of [their] health”?

Because part of what he says rings true.

The adult table

The money quote from the final chapter of Mercola’s latest book—about the cabal of elites exploiting the population under the guise of a pandemic—can read as pure lunacy but it contains morsels of truth. Political corruption is nothing new. Tech giants do control the new public square and their actions have raised their fair share of outrage. Vaccine makers are making bank. Multinational corporations like Amazon can be guilty of abhorrent and exploitative work practices. As for the “cabal of global health and economic elites,” putting aside the obvious anti-Semitic dog whistle, it’s a well-known fact that humans tend not to let go of power easily.

The problem with Joe Mercola is that he is either unable or unwilling to tackle these real issues with the nuances and level-headedness expected of someone sitting at the adult table.

While adults campaign for clinical trial transparency and for lifting vaccine patents, Mercola writes that it’s scientific fraud that started the pandemic and that keeps it going. While adults conduct careful studies of potential treatments for COVID-19 and learn to let go of disproven ideas, Mercola says that nebulized hydrogen peroxide—essentially breathing in a bleaching agent through a plastic mask that covers your face—is the most effective therapy for acute COVID-19. And while adults and their children try against the odds to prevent the worst consequences of climate change, Mercola calls the Paris Climate Agreement and the global warming movement in general “part and parcel of the technocratic agenda,” whose goal is to strip every citizen of ownership and to concentrate all of our world’s resources into the hands of a small cabal.

Mercola wants you to believe the world is deceitful and hopelessly corrupt. People are always malevolent, never incompetent. Physicians, politicians, and fact-checkers cannot be trusted. But Joe Mercola can, and you should follow him down the rabbit hole to his supplement Wonderland. In Joe’s topsy-turvy world, up is down and down is up, and money flows from your pockets into his. With a net worth of $100 million, Joe Mercola may be the richest doctor on Earth.

Take-home message:
-Dr. Joe Mercola is an osteopathic physician who sells supplements and wellness products and his net worth is $100 million
-He uses low-quality scientific studies to justify the many supplements he sells while denouncing high-quality studies that disagree with him because their funders are allegedly corrupt
-The book he co-wrote about COVID-19 is full of unproven and disproven treatments and preventative measures while arguing that the pandemic itself is being used by people in power to permanently strip the rest of us of money and resources

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7 COMMENTS

  1. This screed convinces me of nothing. Dr. Mercola has been sharing good health advice for years. I am often inspired by his material. Never spent a dime on supplements. If the Covid 19 vaccines are so great, why is it necessary to push them so hard? Why is so much being censored? Give it two years, and then rate the vaxes.

  2. The article should stick to the medical claims regarding covid, instead it lumps in multiple vectors. GMO food does not increase yield, and are illegal in many countries for good reason. If a farmer plants a plant, they should own the seed. Basic food security.
    The quote from David Suzuki phd geneticist – “Any politician or scientist who tells you these GMO products are safe, is either very stupid or lying”
    Article from Institute for Responsible Technology “ 10 Reasons to avoid GMO’s”
    or “Union of Concerned Scientists’ 2009 report Failure to Yield―the definitive study to date on GM crops and yield. “

  3. Patriot Patrick King represented himself in court after being fined $1200 dollars for protesting against the Covid-Hoax, he slew the beast and emerged VICTORIOUS. He issued a subpoena to the Provincial Health Minister for proof that the so-called Co…

    Any one has the virus SARS2-Covid19..to show to us?!
    THX

  4. Mercola and Oz. They try to get people to question some of the truly onerous mainstream medical practices. Ok, but that’s not enough to pad their bank accounts. They go into deep water and start hustling their “products” most of which are of little value. They are not healers, so buyer beware. However, the American Cancer Society has hustled billions over the years with not an inkling of a cure. So, who are the real con artists?