Dr. Joseph Mercola Ordered
to Stop Illegal Claims
Stephen Barrett, M.D.
Joseph Mercola, D.O., who practices in Schaumburg, Illinois, also operates one of the Internet's largest and most trafficked health information sites. In 2012, Mercola stated that his site had over 300,000 pages and was visited by "millions of people each day" and that his electronic newsletter had close to 1,500,000 subscribers . The site vigorously promotes and sells dietary supplements, many of which bear his name.
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."  It is now well settled that secretin is ineffective against autism , but Mercola's Web site still says it works if a child complies 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 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 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 detoxification, chiropractic, Dispensary, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), Functional Medicine Program, homeopathy, Neuro-Structural Integration Technique (NST), nutritional consultation, 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 [13,14]; claims that amalgam fillings are toxic ; and makes many unsubstantiated recommendations for dietary supplements. Mercola's reach has been greatly boosted by repeated promotion on the "Dr. Oz Show."
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 also states:
I don't doubt Mercola's sincerity—and I know nothing about how he allocates his income. But the BlockShopper Chicago Web site states that in 2006 he purchased a house in South Barrington, Illinois, for $2 million and that it now has 5,563 square feet.
The Bing Maps aerial view indicates
that the property is quite luxurious.
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
- 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 "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 becan 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." 
Better Business Bureau Report
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 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 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." 
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."  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 .
For Additional Information
- The Respectful Insolence Blog has many articles that criticize Dr. Mercola's ideas.
- Mercola, the Sun, Tanning Beds, and Melanoma (Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter)
- Dr. Joseph Mercola's battle with his state licensing board
- 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, archived Jan 2, 2008,
- 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. Archived Jan 2, 2008, accessed Sept 1, 2015.
- 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.
- 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.
- Buttram H. Vaccine safety and benefits not scientifically proven. Optimal Wellness Center Web site, Jan 15, 2003.
- Dr. Mercola's Natural Health Center home page, accessed Sept 2, 2014.
- 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. 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.
- Mesh A. Dr. Joseph Mercola gives $15,000 to anti-flouride campaign. Williamette Week, May 6, 2013.
- 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]
This article was revised on April 23, 2016.