“This is a big mango tree!”
The camera follows a fit, barefoot older man in a Kelly green athletic tank top as he points to a tree in his yard. He looks like a kindly retiree turned gardener as he crouches to cradle a low-hanging mango. But Dr. Joseph Mercola is not retired, and his sojourn among the fruits is a pit stop in a nearly 25-minute YouTube video titled “A Day in the Life of Dr. Mercola.”
This infomercial about Mercola’s life and taste in trees exists because he oversees an alternative-health empire organized around his namesake website, Mercola.com; the video is part of a strategy to sell the osteopath as your favorite straight-shooting natural-living guru. Perhaps you’ve seen him, paternally bald and trim and unflappable, making sanguine appearances on The Dr. Oz Show or Today or CNN. He is jacked.
Mercola is the coauthor of various New York Times best-selling books, including The Great Bird Flu Hoaxand The No-Grain Diet. He launched Mercola.com in 1997, staking out an early corner in the growing “alternative health” industry and building an audience with a wholesome yet conspiratorial “what the doctors don’t want us to know” tone. The telegenic 62-year-old’s long-running e-commerce and health-blogging business is carefully positioned to attract and comfort people who feel cast off, lied to, and vulnerable. It spins a compelling tale: The world is treacherous, and danger lurks in protein powders, laptops, toothpaste, and hot tubs. Steeped in toxicity, we are poisoned by the society we’ve built. Cheerios will hurt children. Sippy cups threaten the youth. Johnson & Johnson’s baby shampoo is, in fact, bad for babies. Using a mobile phone regularly while pregnant will doom children to behavioral problems down the line; letting young people drink fluoridated water will make them stupid, and your local doc is in the pocket of Big Pharma.
The internet is a breeding ground for bad information. It has hosted hoaxes, conspiracy theorists, liars, and frauds since its inception, but in 2016 the scams were rewarded with credulity, attention, and virality to a dizzying extent. The truth was both harder to discern and less integral to success than it had seemed. Teens in Macedonia made bank spreading fake news on Facebook; Snopes became a bookmark to check daily. I’ve known about Mercola for years, but I found myself paying more attention to him in 2016, not because he was up to new tricks but because the shtick he’s used for 19 years is continuing to mislead people — and pay dividends. Our growing disassociation with truth stands to only benefit him more.
Mercola offers himself up as the only honest man in medicine, ready and willing to refute the arrogant lies of other doctors. He is rewarded for this effort. Business research firm Hoover’s estimates that Mercola.com LLC brings in around $9.8 million annually, with additional income from Mercola.com Health Resources LLC ($5.2 million) and Mercola Consulting Services LLC (around $320,000). His website bills itself as the “#1 Natural Health Website.” It is the top “Alternative Health” website, according to Alexa, more popular than Tony Robbins’s self-help page. (While “alternative health” is a vague category, in Mercola’s case, it means he gloms onto nonsense about the dangers of modern medicine — not that he is a champion of experimental but evidence-based procedures.)
Mercola.com hosts many blog posts, some of which accumulate hundreds of thousands or even millionsofviews — enough to register as viral content. Plenty of the posts are benign fluff, such as an instructional post about how to cut a mango. There are 4,400 articles on the benefits of turmeric. Other posts, however, push dubious advice. For example, Mercola says he believes fluoride is a neurological poison foisted upon Americans by a malevolent government. (Fluoride is a community health tool, as studies by the U.S. Public Health Service and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate). Mercola has also recommended following an alternative anticancer routine that includes coffee enemas even though other doctors have warned against the procedure, calling it risky.
“The wellness industry has exploded into superfoods, detoxes, and celebrity healers selling magic crystals,” The Outline recently wrote. The Global Wellness Institute (a think tank focused on the industry) claims that wellness was a $3.7 trillion industry as of 2015. Superfoods and detoxes are both obsessions for Mercola, who could be categorized as a celebrity healer of sorts. While his Q score pales next to Gwyneth Paltrow’s, Mercola produces one of the internet’s longest-running wellness newsletters. Paltrow’s questionable health advice (remember when she told us to steam our vaginas?) routinely gets picked apart, but Mercola seems to get a free pass because his particular brand of pseudoscience proselytizing is generally confined to the internet and morning talk shows.
“Joseph Mercola is among the top misinformation vectors of our time when it comes to health, medicine, food, parenting, and more. He promotes chemophobia and spreads fear of chemicals, GMOs, and vaccines, all while peddling alternatives to line his pockets,” pro-biotechnology activist and writer Kavin Senapathy told me. Senapathy has written for Forbes about Mercola’s habit of calling substances dangerous and then selling products containing those substances. “His promotion of pseudoscience helps fuel a culture that turns its nose up at beneficial technologies and medical treatments.”
While he’s not as well known as Dr. Oz, Mercola tends to a devoted fan base on the internet. “There was a short period where [Mercola] was recommending not showering after being in the sun because it would wash off the vitamin D, or something like that. And you say it like that, it sounds ridiculous, but he phrased it in a way that it sounded quasibelievable,” a former employee who wished to remain anonymous told The Ringer. “And we had this lady call up who wanted us to talk to her son, because he hadn’t showered in like four weeks because Dr. Mercola told him he needed to get more vitamin D. It’s like, My god, I don’t even know where to begin.”
Mercola’s fixation on vitamin D doesn’t end there. He used to sell a line of tanning beds through his site, and frequentlyextolled the virtues of absorbing vitamin D through sunlight. But in April, the Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint in federal court against Mercola, charging that he falsely advertised tanning beds as wellness tools. The models in the line had names like D-Lite, Sun Splash Refresh, and Vitality D-Lite, and he advertised these beds as an optimal way to absorb vitamin D. Some of the advertisements included in the complaint as exhibits insist that Mercola’s tanning beds can help “reverse the appearance of aging” by helping the body produce collagen and flatten wrinkles. It’s easy to see why Mercola returned to vitamin D so frequently — it allowed him to clearly cast the medical establishment as stodgy, wrongheaded worrywarts, and himself as the person whose advice allows enjoyment of the “natural world.” And, of course, it just so happened to advocate using one of the more expensive products he sold.
As part of a settlement with the FTC, Mercola issued refunds to customers and agreed to stop selling tanning beds. Mercola has clashed with the FDA, which has sent him severalwarning letters objecting to claims the website has made about the products it has sold. For example, the FDA warned Mercola about claiming that his “CardioEssentials” product is “a much safer and effective option than aspirin and other pharmaceutical agents to treating heart disease.”
While the tanning beds are gone, Mercola.com currently hawks a wide variety of products loosely connected with his wellness mission, including essential oils, whey protein, cat litter, sardines, sauna equipment, dental gels for pets, grass-fed beef, fermented broccoli sprouts, fermented ginseng spray, fat calipers, organic tampons, leggings, peppermint lip balm, and mattresses.
Former Mercola.com marketing associate Adam Marcus recollected some of the e-commerce side’s practices to me. “With the amount of violations they’ve been through, I’m surprised they haven’t been shut down,” he said.
According to Marcus, Mercola would look at other products on the market and then identify inactive “filler” ingredients to attempt to differentiate his line of products. “Most of the time, if there was a filler ingredient he would make some claim about how that filler was harmful to you and then remove it from his version so that it was the only one on the market that didn’t have the ‘harmful’ additive,” Marcus said. “But he wouldn’t remember which ones he badmouthed, so he would then release products with those fillers.”
Marcus also talked about Mercola’s workplace attitude. “He gives off that vibe that he can’t be bothered by people that don’t live exactly the same way as him,” he said. “And that he really doesn’t like fat people.”
Mercola has guest-blogged about the alleged menace of microwaves for The Huffington Post, appeared on CNN, and also made his aforementioned appearanceswith Dr. Oz and the Today gang, but despite friendliness from soft-focus news, his exuberant antiscience stances have not endeared him to mainstream medical and scientific communities. Tech reporter Nick Bilton wasquicklyroasted when he cited Mercola in a piece on smartwatch cancer fears for The New York Times. The newspaper eventually issued an editor’s note (citing research that found no causal link between smartwatches and cancer) and the lapse in judgment was deemed so egregious that the Times public editor wrote an article in part deriding the decision to treat Mercola credulously. Meanwhile, Mercola’s fondness for telling people that objects will give them cancer led New York magazine’s Science of Us to compile a list of other household items and common experiences that Mercola categorizes as carcinogens, including bras, carbs, tattoos, and root canals.
While Mercola is the face of the company and the center of its branding, the former employee told The Ringer that Mercola does not write his own blog posts, instead employing a team of ghostwriters and then usually looking at the finished work. “He kind of separated himself from the business over the years, because he could,” the employee said. “We [know] that it’s his name that’s selling products. It’s not like you could write an article and say, ‘This article was written by Mr. Z,’ because no one’s going to want to read it then.”
At the bottom of each article on Mercola.com, readers will find a banner announcing the various organizations that receive a cut of the company’s profits. These include the Rabies Challenge Fund, which aims to minimize the amount of legally required rabies vaccinations for dogs because the group believes that rabies vaccinations can cause cancer, seizures, anemia, and many other health conditions, and the National Vaccine Information Center, a nonprofit that New Yorker writer Michael Specter describes as “the most influential advocacy group in the campaign against universal vaccination.” Mercola has worked with the NVIC’s leader, Barbara Loe Fisher, in efforts to demonize inoculations. In 2011, they paid to display an antivaccination advertisement on a billboard in Times Square, prompting the American Academy of Pediatrics to petition CBS Outdoor to remove the ad on behalf of its 60,000-plus doctor members.
The reason the American Academy of Pediatrics reacted as it did is simple: Vaccination is a proven health tool. Vaccines prevent infectious disease and protect communities. While they are not without risk of rare adverse side effects, vaccines are a magnificent public safety achievement, at least on par with water filtration and seat belts. The brand of vaccine skepticism pushed by Mercola, Fisher, and celebrity activists like Jenny McCarthy is not an innocuous countercultural viewpoint, like believing in horoscopes or practicing Bikram yoga. Anti-vaxx proselytizing is dangerous to public health. It scares people into leaving their children and their communities vulnerable to preventable outbreaks. Due in part to the upswing in vaccine skepticism, diseases like measles and mumps are back in the news.
In her book On Immunity, an examination of vaccination fears, Eula Biss wrote about Mercola as one of the originating disinformation agents. She traced a persistent online rumor that the vaccine for H1N1, otherwise known as the swine flu, contained a chemical called squalene to an article written by Mercola, “Squalene: The Swine Flu Vaccine’s Dirty Little Secret Exposed.”
“The reproductions of Mercola’s article that proliferated across the Web early in the pandemic were then, and still remain, uncorrected. But by the time I traced them to the version on his website in the fall of 2009, the original article already included a correction in the header clarifying that none of the H1N1 vaccines distributed in the United States contained squalene. This was not a minor point of correction, but the article had gone viral before being corrected,” Biss wrote. “Like a virus, it had replicated itself repeatedly, overwhelming more credible information about the vaccine.”
Antivaccination screeds with titles like “Vaccination Dangers Can Kill You or Ruin Your Life” and “Hepatitis B Vaccine Highly Linked to Sudden Infant Death” are plentiful on Mercola.com. Most recently, the site published “Vaccines — Are They Still Contributing to the Greater Good?” in November. It has more than 675,000 views so far. Mercola has also gotten chummy with the original anti-vaxxer; he has interviewed Andrew Wakefield, the disbarred doctor who published the now-discredited study linking autism to vaccinations, which launched the modern anti-vaxx movement. After the U.K. General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise panel discredited his research, Wakefield was stripped of his medical license, TheLancet retracted the paper, and many peer-reviewed studies have refuted Wakefield’s findings. Yet he remains at the center of the antivaccination movement.
In addition to championing Wakefield, Mercola.com has attacked high-profile vaccine proponents, including Dr. Paul Offit, the chair of vaccinology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. Mercola’s website derides Offit as a “dangerous [‘expert’] you should never EVER believe”; in the fun-house mirror of Mercola World, he is vilified as a greedy shill for Big Pharma. In reality, Offit is a pediatrician and infectious-disease expert who coinvented a rotavirus vaccine and wrote a book on pseudoscience. He is an outspoken advocate for vaccination and, as such, is the target of smear campaigns from the antivaccination movement.
“Like all alternative medicine practitioners, he wants you to believe his magic,” Offit told me. “He wants you to reject certain major tenets of modern medicine.”
Mercola’s emphasis on rejecting accepted wisdom in favor of questionable guidance is at the heart of his danger; he conditions his fans not to think freely but to swap trust in experts for trust in only him. As Offit noted, to believe in Mercola is to push away much of modern medicine.
While his career started in Illinois, Mercola moved to Florida a few years ago. He spends time with his partner, an effervescent blonde named Erin Elizabeth, the proprietor of her own alternative-health website, called Health Nut News. Elizabeth characterizes herself as a survivor of a vaccine injury as well as of chronic Lyme disease, a controversial condition disputed in the mainstream medical community. (Neither the Centers for Disease Control nor the National Institutes of Health recognizes the diagnosis.) It’s not hard to see why the two hit it off; Elizabeth refers to turmeric as “better than chemo” for cancer patients, and she is obsessed with uncovering a pattern in the deaths of holistic practitioners. They match up well.
In his videos, interviews, and articles, Mercola certainly seems sincere, but some critics doubt how genuine he is about what he promotes. Steven Salzberg, the Bloomberg distinguished professor of biomedical engineering, computer science, and biostatistics at Johns Hopkins University, also writes for Forbes about pseudoscience. He says he sees Mercola as a “snake-oil salesman.” “He’s just doing it for the money, though I think he’s completely unscrupulous. The reason he’s against vaccines is that he claims he has some other natural supplements that he thinks are good for you,” Salzberg said. “Which is completely false, utterly false. And that’s potentially dangerous. That’s where what he does can be harmful. Otherwise the main harm he does is to your wallet.”
Former employees describe Mercola as more of a confused, easily distracted believer than a straightforward charlatan. “I think he believes whatever he says, and if you really research him, you’ll see that he changes his mind all the time,” former media relations employee Gaea Powell said.
Powell has no love for her former boss. “I would describe him as a tyrant, a bully, unstable,” she said. While Powell remains sympathetic to some of the ideas Mercola espouses about alternative health care, she found the workplace culture of Mercola.com dysfunctional. Powell described a business practice to me — which was corroborated by another former Mercola employee who wished to remain anonymous — in which Mercola would obtain products from businesses under the guise of potentially reviewing or featuring them, and then attempt to copycat them for his website.
“I witnessed Dr. Mercola, he asked me to get [water filtration] devices so he could have [Mercola Health Resources CEO] Steve Rye have someone take it apart so they could steal the technology and make their own,” Powell told me.
Much of the criticism lobbed at Mercola is separate from accusations about his business practices; he is primarily viewed as dangerous because of the beliefs his website espouses. “I think he’s the most dangerous health information source in the world,” Dr. Stephen Barrett, a retired psychiatrist who operates a website called Quackwatch.com, told me. “Mercola attacks proven public health measures — vaccination and fluoridation — andencourages people to do all sorts of things that haven’t the slightest validity.”
“There’s so much there that’s potentially harmful. There’s the antivaccine stuff, there’s the cancer quackery. [Mercola] featured a video by Tullio Simoncini, an Italian doctor who claims that all cancer is a fungus and the way to cure it is by injecting baking soda into it,” Dr. David Gorski, a surgical oncologist who also serves as managing editor of the blog Science-Based Medicine, told me.
I couldn’t find the video Gorski mentioned, but I did find other articles where Mercola cites Simoncini’s baking soda cancer cure. There is evidence that the video once existed on his site, though, as searching for “fungus cancer Tullio Simoncini” within Mercola.com brings up a thumbnail that describes a “video interview with a prominent Italian oncologist expanding on his alternative views” from 2008. But when I clicked on it, the URL rerouted to a different article about GMO labeling. Here’s the thumbnail that’s still up on the website:
Perhaps the idea that fungus causes cancer and one can treat it by injecting baking soda finally crossed Mercola and his ghostwriters’ boundary for mendacity, and the team removed it; I do not know, because Mercola.com has not responded to my many requests for comment and participation in this piece.
Pharmaceutical companies and the mainstream medical establishment they supply — “Big Pharma” in Mercola parlance — form a fat, easy target, perhaps at its most unsympathetic moment. Opiate addictions lay waste to Americans at a grim clip; this crisis was fueled by the behavior of pharmaceutical companies like Purdue Pharma. “Drug Industry Is Responsible for Mass Addiction” a 2016 Mercola headline sings; it’s hard to argue there. It is important to separate Mercola’s strain of “natural health news” from the larger concept of “alternative medicine” or critics of pharmaceutical corporations. Good alternative medicine can be any variety of new treatments, including those derived from plant sources, as long as it is still evidence-based and rooted in the scientific process. Bad alternative medicine ignores evidence in favor of hunches and fears.
“I think all medicine is ‘alternative’ before it becomes mainstream — chemotherapy was ‘alternative’ at some point — so I am eager to see where this field goes,” cancer expert Siddhartha Mukherjee wrote in a Q&A about his Pulitzer Prize–winning book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. “Much of our pharmacopeia is derived from plant sources, and there are more chemicals in plants than we know of or know how to use. As yet, there have been few unbiased trials of these medicines in cancer treatment or prevention.”
But Mercola is not pioneering anything. Mercola.com is primarily a repository for ghostwritten, aggregated “natural health” tips from elsewhere on the internet. In many cases, he (or whoever is writing under his name) starts from a reasonable position of skepticism toward the medical establishment, hooking readers by distinguishing himself from the cocksure doctor-elite — and then he peppers in antivaccine and other, more extreme viewpoints, all while selling supplements and other wellness products that he claims are the real health tools. Mercola casts himself as a rogue truth-teller railing against a greed-driven industry, when in reality he is a profiteer of the very same culture he derides. Consider pharmaceutical mega-corporation Pfizer, which owns Alacer Corp., the enormous vitamin and supplement company behind best-selling vitamin C powder Emergen-C. There is nothing “alternative” about shilling supplements anymore.
It is maddening to see someone who wields his osteopathy degree as bona fides; just as his supposed foes do, Mercola pegs his authority to give you health advice and sell you health products to his status as a credentialed expert. To see Mercola.com for what it is does not require dismissing experimental medicine or denigrating new treatments that use plants. Nor is decrying Mercola’s indiscriminate umbrella of cockeyed cure-alls the same as dismissing all treatments currently viewed as avant-garde or controversial. You can believe that a healthy lifestyle and diet can prevent illness and still see past Mercola’s gimmick. You can still have valid concerns about conventional medicine, you can still think your doctor is arrogant, and you can still loathe the practices of large pharmaceutical companies. To critique Mercola is simply to acknowledge that much of the information put forth on his website can be easily disproved.
“There were more than a few people who’d call, and you’d almost want to tell them — stop what you’re doing, this is not good,” the former employee told me, when I asked how it felt to work for a company publishing bad science. “I would have no problem working there and doing all this if people were better on average at Googling stuff.
“The problem is, you’d put out an article and people would take it at 100 percent face value without typing into Google, ‘Hey, what does this supplement do?’”
“When I was growing up, autism wasn’t really a factor,” Donald Trump told a reporter in 2007. “And now all of a sudden, it’s an epidemic. Everybody has their theory. My theory, and I study it because I have young children, my theory is the shots. We’re giving these massive injections at one time, and I really think it does something to the children.” Trump has since tweeted a variety of statements implying he is skeptical of the current recommended vaccine schedule. More recently, he met with Mercola associate Andrew Wakefield and other prominent antivaccination advocates in August on the campaign trail.
The president-elect has articulated beliefs in pseudoscience, such as when he called climate change a Chinese hoax.He publicly scoffed at the scientific consensus in 2014 that Ebola wasn’t contagious. And his chumminess with the antivaccination movement suggests that his administration may not see eye-to-eye with scientists and medical experts. What’s more, his choice for national security adviser, Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, has a history of spreading conspiracy theories; this means Trump’s closest national security counsel has a history of taking false news on the internet seriously.
The information spread by Mercola is about medicine, not politics, but it contributes to an atmosphere in which facts are held in low regard and science is viewed with suspicion. In this way, Mercola.com reminds me of a health-specific version of Alex Jones’s Infowars. Mercola is a milder-mannered cohort of Jones, who built his business and brand by yelling a broad constellation of conspiracies into a camera until he scared people into buying prepper equipment. Both seek to discredit the establishment, and both have made themselves rich by doing so. Like Jones, Mercola congratulates his audience for questioning authority and warns that information presented by people in positions of power is potentially a scam. His embrace of antivaccination party lines exemplifies the same utter lack of interest in facts that Jones displays when he joins in with Sandy Hook truthers.
Right now, although his website moves “health” products and brings in eyeballs, Mercola remains on the fringes of mainstream medicine and the edges of respectability — but this does not make him innocuous. He is a figurehead of the antivaccination movement, the antifluoridation movement, and, more broadly, the antiscience movement. Along with fellow online “natural health” advocates like the Food Babe, Mercola floods the internet with dubious advice, all while positioning himself as a freethinker’s ally.
For 19 years, Mercola.com has profited off of scaring people away from evidence, away from science. It is not harmless hippie woo-woo: Mercola has created a tried-and-true fearmongering blueprint.
“Climate change is not a belief system. It’s an evidence-based system. We have affected this earth to the extent that there is increasing levels of CO2, which has caused the greenhouse effect, that has clearly increased the temperature of the planet. It’s causing ice caps to melt. That’s not a matter of debate. So when Trump, for example, says climate change is a hoax, perpetuated by the Chinese, it’s when you move into a world where there is no evidence and you just make things up,” Paul Offit said. “And if people criticize you, then you just simply criticize them, saying, in his case, the media lies.
“Or in the case of people like Joseph Mercola, you say that it’s what ‘doctors don’t want you to know.’ Doctors don’t want you to know all these magic medicines that I’m telling you about. Doctors don’t want you to know that vaccines can do far more harm than good. You just simply deny evidence. And it’s incredibly dangerous.”
Mercola rejects accusations in watchdog’s congressional testimony over COVID-19 claims
Note: This story was updated at 2:45 p.m., July 23, 2020
# # #
A consumer advocacy group and watchdog of several industries including nutritional supplements levied allegations against a popular nutritional products company during congressional testimony on Tuesday, claims that the company flatly rejected.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is urging Congress and federal regulators to bring enforcement action against "online salesman," as called by CPSI, and osteopathic physician Joseph Mercola, who the group says is falsely claiming that at least 22 vitamins, supplements and other products available for sale on the website Mercola.com can prevent, treat or cure COVID-19 infection.
CSPI notes that a “Coronavirus Resource Guide” at Mercola.com claims vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, zinc ionophores, selenium and other supplements and devices sold on the site can prevent, treat or cure COVID-19. On a podcast, Mercola and a guest allegedly claimed that “when we have even a small amount of vitamin C, our risk of dying [from COVID-19], even in the most severe cases, goes down.”
“Americans are facing an unprecedented challenge in keeping themselves and their families safe during a pandemic,” CSPI Policy Director Laura MacCleery told a subcommittee of the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation committee on Tuesday. “But understandably, many people are looking for more than those measures to protect themselves, and those who lack scruples are actively exploiting consumer fear and anxiety.”
In response, Steve Rye, CEO for Mercola Health Resources, LLC, wrote in an email: “CSPI has deceptively combined referenced commentary, which are separate and distinct from any product marketing.”
He continued, “Statements within articles written by Dr. Mercola that support the nutritional benefits of foods and compounds utilize direct references from studies published by the [British Medical Journal] BMJ, Lancet, Elsevier, as well as publications from primary media outlets such as CBS, BBC and NPR.”
“None of the articles cited by CSPI contain any advertising of products, and none of the products contain any of the claims CSPI has falsely stated,” Rye wrote.
In another podcast and online article, CSPI reported, Mercola advised consumers that intentionally contracting the virus after consuming purportedly immunity-boosting supplements would confer greater protection against COVID-19 than a vaccine would.
“So, scary as it may sound, the best thing is to get the infection, and have a strong immune system to defend against it so you won’t even display any symptoms,” Mercola allegedly said.
Mercola also allegedly touts the COVID-19 efficacy of melatonin, molecular hydrogen, quercetin, epigallocatechin-gallate, selenium, licorice, astaxanthin, N-acetyl cysteine, prebiotics, probiotics and sporebiotics, all of which are for sale either individually or in combination on the website.
“In a pandemic, such untruths pose a clear and urgent danger,” MacCleery said as part of her Tuesday subcommittee testimony.
It should be noted that Mercola.com is no small operation. It describes itself as the world’s “#1 most visited natural health website” and claims to be viewed by “millions of people daily,” according to CSPI.
CSPI noted that Mercola has been under the scrutiny of federal regulators for more than a decade, and previously reached a settlement agreement with the FTC that caused him to issue refunds to more than 1,300 defrauded customers.
Mercola is also a leading funder of the National Vaccine Information Center, the nation’s oldest anti-vaccine advocacy group, as detailed in a December 2019 investigation by the Washington Post.
CSPI’s intervention about Mercola on behalf of consumers is the latest effort to curb dangerous and fraudulent claims related to the current COVID-19 pandemic. The group previously raised red flags with regulators about televangelist Jim Bakker, who used his television show and website to promote the use of a colloidal silver solution to allegedly kill the coronavirus. Regulators subsequently issued warning letters to Bakker and attorneys general from three states have sued him over his claims.
Also, in June, CSPI asked FDA, the FTC and Amazon to take action against at least 46 supplements that claimed to prevent or treat viral infections.
Rye took aim at the advocacy group’s motives and reputation in the wake of the congressional testimony on Tuesday.
“CSPI is a front group supported by dark money from groups like the American Soybean Association, while being the primary promoters of trans fats in the replacement of saturated fats back in the 80’s,” he wrote.
“They are also in partnership with the Bill Gates front group promoting GMOs (Alliance for Science),” Rye wrote, providing a link to a story online that mentions a CSPI staff member who is also a staffer at the Gates-funded group.
TAGS: SupplementsClaimsLegal ComplianceSours: https://www.naturalproductsinsider.com/regulatory/mercola-rejects-accusations-watchdogs-congressional-testimony-over-covid-19-claims
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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 . 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.”  After it was well settled that secretin is ineffective against autism , Mercola’s Web site still said it would work if a child complied with his recommended diet strategies .
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 . 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 .
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. 
In 2012, an article in Chicago Magazine reported that Mercola had stopped practicing medicine six years previously to focus on his Web site . However, his decision may have been influenced by a 3-year battle with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation . 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.” 
Many of Mercola’s articles make unsubstantiated claims and clash with those of leading medical and public health organizations. For example, he opposes immunization  fluoridation. , mammography , and the routine administration of vitamin K shots to the newborn [14,15]; claims that amalgam fillings are toxic ; 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 . He has also given silly advice, such as minimizing exposure to electromagnetic fields by avoiding electric razors, microwaving of foods, watches with batteries . 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.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.
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! 
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 .
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 . 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:
|Consumers for Dental Choice|
|National Vaccine Information Center|
|Organic Consumers Association|
|American Environmental Health Studies Project|
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 .
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.” 
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 .
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 .
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+.
In 2005, the FDA ordered Mercola and his Optimal Wellness Center to stop making illegal claims for products sold through his Web site . 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 . 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 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.” 
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.
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 .
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.”  He has also encouraged “civil disobedience” in areas where mask-wearing was mandated  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 . 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 .
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, Erin Elizabeth, was listed seventh. The report also estimated that Mercola’s accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram totaled about 3.6 million followers . In July 2021, The New York Times called Mercola “the most influential spreader of coronavirus misinformation online.” 
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
- Mercola JM. Health website rankings: Mercola.com is now world’s most visited natural health site. Mercola.com, accessed Feb 1, 2012.
- Mercola JM. Milk linked to autism, schizophrenia. Optimal Wellness Center Web site, March 21, 1999.
- Williams K and others. Intravenous secretin for autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The Cochrane Collaboration, 2012
- Mercola JM. Single injection of secretin does not treat autism. Originally published in 1999 or 2000..
- Joseph Mercola: The physician as entrepreneur. Medical Economics, August 20, 2004, p 37.
- Gumpert DE. Old-time sales tricks on the Net. Bloomberg Business, May 22, 2006.
- Knibbs K. The most honest man in medicine?The Ringer, Jan 5, 2017.
- Smith B. Dr. Mercola: Visionary or quack? Chicago Magazine, Feb 12, 2012.
- Barrett S. Dr. Joseph Mercola’s battle with his state licensing board. Casewatch, Sept 1, 2015.
- Dr. Mercola’s Natural Health Center home page, accessed Sept 2, 2014.
- Buttram H. Vaccine safety and benefits not scientifically proven. Optimal Wellness Center Web site, Jan 15, 2003.
- Mercola JM. Is fluoride as safe as you are told. Optimal Wellness Center Web site, Feb 2, 6, and 9, 2002.
- Mercola JM. Mammograms don’t save lives. Mercola.com Web site, Oct 1, 2000.
- Mercola JM. The dark side of the routine newborn vitamin K shot. Mercola.com, March 27, 2010.
- Jones C. Separating fact from fiction in the not-so-normal newborn nursery: Vitamin K shots¦.. Science-Based Medicine, Dec 6, 2013.
- Mercola JM. The experts get it wrong about mercury again! Optimal Wellness Center Web site, Dec 9, 2004.
- Mercola JM. Reaching for optimal wellness. Mercola.com, accessed, Aug 31, 2000.
- Mercola JM. Reaching for optimal wellness outline. Mercola.com, accessed Aug 17, 2000.
- “Fluoride, the industrial hazardous waste in your drinking water that may be harming you… and the breakthrough technology that can remove up to 99.9% of it.” MercolaMarket.com, archived May 15, 2020.
- Mercola JM. Why trust me? Mercola.com Web site, March 19, 2011.
- Mercola JM. New plan to help you take back your health freedoms. Mercola.com, Oct 3, 2011.
- Meet Dr. Mercola. Mercola Market website, accessed May 16., 2021.
- Mesh A. Dr. Joseph Mercola gives $15,000 to anti-flouride campaign. Williamette Week, May 6, 2013.
- Satija N, Sun LH. A major funder of the anti-vaccine movement has made millions selling natural health products. Washington Post, Dec 20, 2019.
- BBB reliability report for Mercola Health Resources LLC. Better Business Bureau, Feb 1, 2012.
- Walker SJ. Warning letter to Joseph Mercola, D.O., Feb 16, 2005.
- MacIntire SJ. Warning letter to Joseph Mercola, D.O., September 21, 2006.
- Silverman S. Warning letter to Dr. Joseph Mercola, March 22, 2011.
- Tsouderos T. FDA warns doctor: Stop touting camera as disease screening tool. Chicago Tribune, April 26, 2011.
- 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]
- Masks—the most controversial COVID-19 debate (video). Mercola.com, July 29, 2020.
- Masks do not likely inhibit viral spread (video). Mercola.com, July 19, 2020.
- Briskin C and others. Request for FDA enforcement regarding unlawful COVID-19 disease claims by Mercola Group, July 21, 2020.
- Briskin C and others. Request for FTC enforcement regarding false COVID-19 disease claims by Mercola Group, July 21, 2020.
- CSPI and others. Illegal claims pertaining to Mercola Group products. July 2, 2020.
- Correll WA. Warning letter to Joseph M. Mercola, DO. Feb 18, 2021.
- The Disinformation Dozen: Why Platforms Must Act on Twelve Leading Anti-Vaxxers. Center for Countering Digital Hate, March 2021.
- Frenkel S. The most influential spreader of coronavirus misinformation online. The New York Times, July 24, 2021.
American alternative medicine proponent and purveyor of anti-vaccination misinformation
Joseph Michael Mercola (; born July 8, 1954) is an American alternative medicine proponent, osteopathic physician, and Internet business personality. He markets dietary supplements and medical devices. On his website, Mercola and colleagues advocate a number of unproven alternative health notions including homeopathy and opposition to vaccination. These positions have faced persistent criticism. Mercola is a member of several alternative medicine organizations as well as the political advocacy group Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which promotes scientifically discredited views about medicine and disease. Until 2013, Mercola operated the "Dr. Mercola Natural Health Center" (formerly the "Optimal Wellness Center") in Schaumburg, Illinois. He is the author of the books The No-Grain Diet  (with Alison Rose Levy) and The Great Bird Flu Hoax.
Mercola's medical claims have been criticized by the medical, scientific, regulatory, and business communities. A 2006 BusinessWeek editorial stated his marketing practices relied on "slick promotion, clever use of information, and scare tactics." In 2005, 2006, and 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Mercola and his company that they were making illegal claims for their products' ability to detect, prevent, and treat disease. The medical watchdog site Quackwatch has criticized Mercola for making "unsubstantiated claims [that] clash with those of leading medical and public health organizations and many unsubstantiated recommendations for dietary supplements." Of Mercola's marketing techniques, surgical oncologist David Gorski says it "mixes the boring, sensible health advice with pseudoscientific advice in such a way that it's hard for someone without a medical background to figure out which is which."
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mercola spread misinformation about the virus and pseudoscientific anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms; researchers have identified him as the "chief spreader of coronavirus misinformation online". He has been warned numerous times by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for selling unapproved health products, including supposed treatments for COVID-19.
Life and career
Joseph Mercola was born July 8, 1954, in Chicago, Illinois. His mother, Jeanette Aldridge (née Freeman) was a waitress and his father, Thomas Nicholas Mercola, was an Air Force veteran who worked for Marshall Field's, a department store in Chicago. Mercola attended Lane Tech College Prep High School and studied biology and chemistry at the University of Illinois, graduating in 1976. In 1982, he graduated from the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine (now Midwestern University). According to Mercola's website, he is a former Chairman of Family Medicine at St. Alexius Medical Center. He stopped treating patients in 2009 to work full-time on his health products and vitamin supplements business. In a 2017 affidavit, Mercola stated that his net worth was "in excess of $100 million."
Mercola lives in Cape Coral, Florida. He is married to Erin Elizabeth, a blogger listed by The New York Times as one of the most prolific spreaders of misinformation.
He has written two books which have been listed on the New York Times bestseller list: The No-Grain Diet (May 2003) and The Great Bird Flu Hoax (October 2006). In the bird flu book, Mercola dismisses medical concerns over an avian influenza pandemic, asserting that the government, big business, and the mainstream media have conspired to promote the threat of avian flu to accrue money and power. Mercola has appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Doctors.
Views and controversy
Website and publications
Mercola operates Mercola.com, which he has described as the most popular alternative-health website on the internet. Aside from the main site, it also hosts blog subsites, like Healthy Pets and Peak Fitness. Traffic counting from Quantcast shows the site receives about 1.9 million novel visitors per month, each returning almost ten times each month; the number of views are roughly equal to those received by the National Institutes of Health. The site and his company, Mercola LLC, brought in roughly $7 million in 2010 through the sale of alternative medicine treatments and dietary supplements. The site promotes disproven health ideas, including the notion that homeopathy can treat autism, and that vaccinations have hidden detriments to human health. An article in BusinessWeek criticized his website as using aggressive direct-marketing tactics:
Mercola gives the lie to the notion that holistic practitioners tend to be so absorbed in treating patients that they aren't effective businesspeople. While Mercola on his site seeks to identify with this image by distinguishing himself from "all the greed-motivated hype out there in health-care land", he is a master promoter, using every trick of traditional and Internet direct marketing to grow his business ... 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.
Phyllis Entis, a microbiologist and food safety expert, highlighted Mercola.com as an example of websites "likely to mislead consumers by offering one-sided, incomplete, inaccurate, or misleading information."
Researchers say that Mercola employs teams in Florida and the Philippines who translate his posts into multiple languages and then post them to groups of websites and social media accounts.: 1
In August 2021, Mercola announced on his website that he would permanently remove all of his articles, but he would continue to post articles daily, which would be deleted after 48 hours. Rachel E. Moran, a conspiracy theory researcher at the University of Washington said that this announcement was "[Mercola] trying to come up with his own strategies of avoiding his content being taken down, while also playing up this martyrdom of being an influential figure in the movement who keeps being targeted."
Mercola is a critic of vaccines and vaccination policy, claiming that too many vaccines are given too soon during infancy. He hosts anti-vaccination activists on his website, advocates other measures rather than vaccination in many cases such as using vitamin D rather than a flu shot despite the data not being conclusive and strongly criticizes influenza vaccines. Mercola is viewed as an anti-vaccine propagandist. As of 2019, he has donated at least $4 million to anti-vaccine groups though his Natural Health Research Foundation, including more than $2.9 million to the anti-vaccination group the National Vaccine Information Center, amounting to about 40 percent of that organization's funding. He co-funded an anti-vaccination ad in Times Square in 2011.
Mercola has asserted that thimerosal, a vaccine preservative, is harmful due to its mercury content. Thimerosal has been removed from most vaccines given to young children in the U.S., with no effect on rates of autism diagnosis. Extensive evidence has accumulated since 1999 showing that this preservative is safe, with the World Health Organization stating in 2006 that "there is no evidence of toxicity in infants, children or adults exposed to thimerosal in vaccines."
In March 2021, an analysis of Twitter and Facebook anti-vaccine content found Mercola's to be one of 12 individual and organization accounts producing up to 65% of all anti-vaccine content on the platforms. As of June 2021, his various social media channels accounted for a total audience exceeding 4.1 million followers.
See also: Misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic
In 2020, Mercola was one of the partners in a website called "Stop Covid Cold" offering advice to the public on preventing and treating COVID-19 with alternative remedies. The website includes links to Mercola's online store and puts a strong emphasis on vitamin D supplements, despite a lack of scientific evidence pointing to the effectiveness of such a treatment. The website was taken down in April 2021 after the Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letter. In May 2021, Mercola announced he would remove mentions of COVID-19 from his websites, blaming Bill Gates and "big pharma".
Mercola claimed that inhaling 0.5–3% hydrogen peroxide solution using a nebulizer could prevent or cure COVID-19. A tweet from Mercola advertising this method was removed from Twitter on April 15, 2020, for violating the platform rules, but he continued to make these claims on other platforms, including during a speech at a major conference of anti-vaccination activists in October.
He was warned by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in February 2021 for selling fake COVID-19 cures. In March, the Center for Countering Digital Hate named Mercola as one of the 12 most prominent sources of COVID misinformation in a report later cited by US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. In September his accounts on YouTube were removed by the company for breaking their policies on COVID-19 misinformation.
Other controversial views Mercola supports include:
- Dietary recommendations on food consumption that often put him at odds with mainstream dietary advice.
- Advocacy on the labeling and health of genetically modified food, as well as for their elimination entirely from the market.
- Claims that microwaving food alters its chemistry, despite consensus that microwaving food does not adversely affect nutrient content compared to conventionally prepared food.
- Opposition to homogenization, claiming that homogenized milk has little nutritional value and contributes to a variety of negative health effects, although scientists consider such a belief "tenuous and implausible", stating "Experimental evidence has failed to substantiate, and in many cases has refuted, the xanthine oxidase/plasmalogen depletion hypothesis."
- Mercola.com has featured positive presentations of the claims of AIDS denialists, a fringe group which denies the role of HIV in causing AIDS. The scientific community considers the evidence that HIV causes AIDS conclusive.
- Claiming cancer risks arise from mobile phone radiation, which is pseudoscientific.
- Claims that many commercial brands of sunscreen increase, rather than decrease, the likelihood of contracting skin cancer with high UV exposure, and instead advocating the use of natural sunscreens, some of which he markets on his website. This view is not held by mainstream medical science; in 2011, the National Toxicology Program stated that "Protection against photodamage by use of broad-spectrum sunscreens is well-documented as an effective means of reducing total lifetime UV dose and, thereby, preventing or ameliorating the effects of UV radiation on both the appearance and biomechanical properties of the skin."
FDA warning letters
For his many dietary supplement and device products over some 16 years during the 21st century, Mercola was warned by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for falsely advertising products approved to "mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure" various diseases, including as examples: 1) in 2005, Living Fuel RX(TM) and Coconut Oil Products, in 2006, Optimal Wellness Center chlorella and coconut oil, and in 2011, Meditherm Med2000 Infrared camera, which had no approved evidence for use as a diagnostic or therapeutic device.
During the 2020–2021 COVID-19 pandemic, Mercola, his company, and social media site were warned again by the FDA for falsely advertising the efficacy of high doses of vitamin C, vitamin D3, quercetin, and pterostilbene products to "mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure" COVID-19 disease.
In 2016, after marketing and selling tanning beds with the claims that they reduced cancer (backed by discredited studies), the Federal Trade Commission filed a false advertising complaint against Mercola and his companies that resulted in Mercola paying $2.6 million in refunds to customers who had bought their tanning beds, and agreed to a ban preventing them from ever again selling tanning beds.: 1 
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