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Joseph Mercola, D.O.

Mercola.com is a horrible chimera of tabloid journalism, late-night infomercials, and amateur pre-scientific medicine.... Unfortunately, it is also one of the more popular alternative medicine sites on the web and as such is uncommonly efficient at spreading misinformation. --Joseph Albietz

Injecting organisms into your body to provoke immunity is contrary to nature. --Joseph Mercola (So is critical thinking, Joe.)

Josephy Mercola is an osteopath whose main practice is the selling of a lifestyle that he characterizes as "natural." Much of his advice is in opposition to science-based medicine. His dietary advice conflicts with the advice of science-based organizations such as the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association. Mercola claims that diabetics should avoid all grains because they cause insulin resistance, and he recommends eating unprocessed saturated fats. In fact, he advises everybody to give up grains and eat foods that our pre-agricultural ancestors might have eaten, supplemented, naturally, by some of the many products he sells.

Mercola promotes his "alternatives" to a healthy diet and science-based medicine on his website, in his newsletter, and in books.

No one should fault Mercola for advocating eating a healthy diet and exercising, but his diet is questionable and his opposition to prescription drugs and surgery seems clearly unwarranted in light of the obvious benefits of both. His beliefs about the dangers of microwaved food (that it alters the structure of food and ruins its nutritional value) and his beliefs about EMFs in general are unfounded.* His promotion of Emotional Freedom Technique is based more on emotion than science.*

anti-vaccination

Mercola is one of the leaders of the anti-vaccination movement (AVM). His website has links to many anti-vaccination articles and he has posted some articles himself that, in the words of one science-based physician, reveal "his exceptionally poor grasp of the immune system."* He also seems to have an exceptionally poor grasp of epidemiology and pharmacology. His errors are too many to list, but here are some of the false or misleading notions he promotes about vaccines.

Error 1. Too many vaccines are used too soon during infancy.

Error 2. Mercury and other "toxins" in vaccines are causing great harm.

Error 3. Since very few children die of the flu, they shouldn't be given the flu vaccine.

Here's his proposed schedule for vaccinations:

  1. No vaccinations until a child is two years old.
  2. No vaccines that contain thimerosal (mercury).
  3. No live virus vaccines (except for smallpox, should it recur).
  4. These vaccines should be given one at a time, every six months, beginning at age 2:
    • A) Pertussis (acellular, not whole cell)
    • B) Diphtheria
    • C) Tetanus
    • D) Polio (the Salk vaccine, cultured in human cells)

The experts at the Center for Disease Control disagree with Mercola about children receiving too many vaccines too soon. According to the CDC:

The available scientific data show that simultaneous vaccination with multiple vaccines has no adverse effect on the normal childhood immune system....

No evidence suggests that the recommended childhood vaccines can "overload" the immune system. In contrast, from the moment babies are born, they are exposed to numerous bacteria and viruses on a daily basis. Eating food introduces new bacteria into the body; numerous bacteria live in the mouth and nose; and an infant places his or her hands or other objects in his or her mouth hundreds of times every hour, exposing the immune system to still more antigens. An upper respiratory viral infection exposes a child to 4 to 10 antigens, and a case of "strep throat" to 25 to 50.

Quackwatch calls Mercola's view misconception #7.

In fact babies have an ability, right from birth, to cope with lots of different germs. The body is constantly surrounded by germs and has to react to them in different ways. The advantage of being immunized rather than catching the disease is that the vaccine uses only part of the germ, or, if the whole germ, it is either killed or toned down (“attenuated”). In this way, the challenge to the immune system is less than that from the disease, but it is enough to produce protection.

In 2002, the Immunization Safety Review Committee of the American Institute of Medicine made a detailed examination of all the evidence about the effects of multiple immunizations on a baby’s immune system. They concluded that there was no evidence to support the suggestion that multiple immunizations overwhelm the immune system. They strongly supported the continuing use of vaccines against multiple diseases....

If immunizations are delayed, a baby will remain unprotected for longer than necessary. This could be particularly dangerous for whooping cough and Hib. Very young babies, if they catch whooping cough, are likely to be much more seriously ill than older children and are more likely to need hospital care. Babies under a year old are more likely to catch Hib than older children Studies have shown that when the vaccines are given at the younger age, babies have fewer reactions such as fever, sore injection sites etc, while at the same time they are still protected.*

There is a mountain of scientific evidence that refutes the claim that mercury in vaccines is harmful.

Mercola's belief that vaccines are full of toxins, either as adjuvants or as residuals from the manufacturing process, seems to make sense to many people, but it doesn't jibe with the evidence. Here is what Mercola says:

Flu vaccines can also contain a number of chemical toxins, including ethylene glycol (antifreeze), formaldehyde, phenol (carbolic acid) and even antibiotics like Neomycin and streptomycin.

In addition to the viruses and other additives, many vaccines also contain immune adjuvants like aluminum and squalene.

This sounds frightening to a parent who is as ignorant of immunology and pharmacology as Mercola is.

"One of the biggest myths that antivaccinationists believe and like to use to stoke the fear of vaccines is the concept that they are full of 'toxins'," says Dr. David Gorski of Science-Based Medicine.* The antivaxxers then speculate that these "toxins" affect "sensitive" children and cause neurological disorders. This is the AVMers way of bypassing the pharmacological principle that "the dose makes the poison." (Small amounts of certain toxins won't kill you and might even be good for you. Antivaxxer Jenny McCarthy uses Botox, which contains the most potent neurotoxin there is, and "loves it."*) For those who want a primer on the "dangerous toxins" in vaccines, read Gorski's "Toxic Myths About Vaccines." It is the antidote to the nonsense about toxins being spread by the antivaxxers.

Mercola suggests that the vaccine may be more dangerous than the flu because the vaccine contains squalene. On the one hand, no flu vaccine in the U.S. contains squalene, which is an adjuvant that allows the vaccine to be equally effective while using less of the antigen (thus, more vaccine can be made with less material). On the other hand, what if it did? There's no evidence squalene, a substance naturally produced in the body, is harmful. "Squalene is a natural and vital part of the synthesis of cholesterol, steroid hormones, and vitamin D in the human body."*

Dr. Harriet Hall writes:

Flu vaccines containing MF59, a squalene-based adjuvant, have been used in Europe for 10 years, with 22,000,000 doses given; and no serious adverse events have occurred, only mild local reactions. The vaccine does not raise the incidence or titers of anti-squalene antibodies. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers it safe.*

Mercola repeats the false claim made by other antivaxxers (e.g., Russell Blaylock) that squalene "in vaccines has been strongly linked to the Gulf War Syndrome," despite the fact that there was no squalene in vaccines given to Gulf War soldiers.

Finally, the idea that children don't need to be given a flu shot, since very few children die of the flu, is preposterous on several levels. Again, David Gorski has deconstructed this bit of nonsense for us:

... in discussing only the children who die, Dr. Mercola implies that the only benefit of vaccination is the prevention of death in the person vaccinated.  People aren’t either healthy or dead.  Those who survive an infection are still subject to its inherent suffering and complications.  Furthermore, survivors run a high risk of spreading it to others who then share in the risk and misery.  Dr. Mercola doesn’t seem to appreciate that children suffer the greatest rate of infection from seasonal flu each season (10-40% of all children are infected each year, ~1% of all infected children are hospitalized), and are therefore the primary source from which influenza spreads (that’s the “infectious” part of an infectious disease, I know, it’s subtle) to the rest of the population.  By immunizing children against influenza we not only save their lives, we also reduce the burden of disease on the elderly who make up the bulk of the 36,000 seasonal influenza deaths each year.  We do not vaccinate “to prevent perhaps 100 deaths,” we vaccinate to prevent a disease altogether, and to help the entire population avoid all of these risks.

Preventing children from contracting influenza, either seasonal or H1N1, is a very rational, humane goal, and hardly the “ridiculous assumption” Dr. Mercola claims it to be.

For a more accurate and complete picture of the risks and benefits of vaccinations I recommend the website Science-Based Medicine. As an antidote to the rhetoric posted by Joseph Mercola on vaccines, I recommend the reader listen to a special podcast on vaccines hosted by The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe.

Despite his anti-scientific and unhealthy beliefs about health, vaccines, and nutrition, Mercola has many supporters, especially among those who distrust the government (the FDA is not a protector but an enemy agent), those who distrust Big Pharma and science-based medicine, those who trust testimonials over scientific studies, and those New Age seekers who love anything "alternative." Recently, he was voted the number ten "game changer" by readers of the Huffington Post.* That honor doesn't reveal much about Mercola, but it may tell you something about the kind of health information you're likely to get from the HuffPo1, 2, 3, which notes:

Whether or not you agree with his point of view, there is no question that Mercola has helped inspire the explosion of online interest in integrative medicine. And his site offers thousands of pages of reports on health and medical issues free of charge.

Unfortunately, most of those reports shouldn't be trusted, even if the price is right.

See also Antivaxxer Plague, Andrew Wakefield, the anti-vaccination movement, Russell Blaylock, detoxification therapies, flu vaccine, Barbara Loe Fisher, Jay Gordon, Leonard Horowitz, Rauni Kilde, supplements, and Defending Falsehoods.

further reading

reader comments

Joe Mercola: Quackery pays - D. Gorski at Science-Based Medicine Don't miss the hilarious comments of Mercola defender and germ theory denier sarah007.

Joe Mercola plays the religion card against vaccines "He's anti-vaccine, and he sees anti-abortion religious beliefs as an opportunity to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about vaccines, like any good denialist would. That's why, like many of the anti-abortion anti-vaccine sources Mercola cites, he tries his hardest to blur the line between cells that were derived long ago from an aborted fetus and aborted fetal tissue, the false implication being that there is aborted fetal tissue in vaccines."

Mercola appears to lie about vaccines and fertility "If even one person is harmed by following Mercola’s advice, he is morally culpable for the injury or death of that person. He should be ashamed."

Mercola, Gardasil, and Toyota? by Joseph Albietz "Nothing seems to personify the evil of modern medicine to Dr Mercola more than the concept of vaccination, and Gardasil, the vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV), has been drawing a good deal of his ire of late.  Case in point is this train-wreck of a post comparing the recent Toyota recall to Gardasil entitled Time for the Truth About Gardasil.  The post is ill-named."

9 Reasons to Completely Ignore Joseph Mercola by Joseph Albietz "Nested among the half-truths are some outright falsehoods. Reason number 5 notes that, contrary to Mercola and his source Dan Olmstead, The Amish do vaccinate and they do get autism. Also, your vitamin pills won't prevent the flu by "strengthening the immune system."

A Defense of Childhood Influenza Vaccination and Squalene-Containing Adjuvants; Joseph Mercola’s “Dirty Little Secret” by Joseph Albietz

The “Iron Rule of Cancer”: The dangerous cancer quackery that is the “New German Medicine” by David Gorski

A fungus among us in oncology? by Orac
Tullio SimonciniMercola is taken to task for defending the quackery of Dr. Tullio Simoncini, who maintains that cancer is a fungus. What? You thought the cause of cancer was an acid-base imbalance or a liver fluke? Simoncini lost his license to practice medicine in Italy after several of his patients died.

FDA Orders Dr. Joseph Mercola to Stop Illegal Claims by Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Even Fox News Questions Mercola's claims!

Wallace, Amy. (2009). An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All, Wired. To hear his enemies talk, you might think Paul Offit is the most hated man in America. A pediatrician in Philadelphia, he is the co-inventor of a rotavirus vaccine that could save tens of thousands of lives every year. Yet environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. slams Offit as a “biostitute” who whores for the pharmaceutical industry. Actor Jim Carrey calls him a profiteer and distills the doctor’s attitude toward childhood vaccination down to this chilling mantra: “Grab ‘em and stab ‘em.” Recently, Carrey and his girlfriend, Jenny McCarthy, went on CNN’s Larry King Live and singled out Offit’s vaccine, RotaTeq, as one of many unnecessary vaccines, all administered, they said, for just one reason: “Greed.”

Journalists sink in The Atlantic article on vaccines blog by revere (the article in question is "Does the Vaccine Matter?" by Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer, November 2009)

Vaccine Safety Information for Parents

Why should infants and young children be vaccinated?

National Network for Immunization Information

My posts on autism and thimerosal in vaccines

Experts dispel detox myths: "One group gave up processed food, soft drinks, alcohol, salt, sugar, caffeine, wheat, red meat and dairy, and the others followed their normal diet. After seven days, toxicologists found no difference in their liver and kidney functions or vitamin levels."

Toxic Myths About Vaccines by David Gorski>

An Open Letter to Bill Maher on Vaccinations by Michael Shermer Shermer lectures Maher on germ theory

Vaccination: A Conversation Worth Having by Bill Maher Maher responds that he read Microbe Hunters when he was eight

Some Muddled Thinking from Bill Maher by Stephen Novella Novella deconstructs Maher's "rambling defensive diatribe in which he simultaneously protests the criticism pointed his way while repeating and amplifying the pseudoscientific nonsense that garnered criticism in the first place....the criticism will continue – not to shut him up, but to do damage control. Maher is contributing to the public misunderstanding of science in perhaps the most important area – medicine."

it's all a plot to anti-vaccination conspiracy nuts by Joe Schwarcz

Making People Money by Making Them Sick

Last updated 30-Jan-2014

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