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Joel D. Wallach, the "mineral doctor"

Joel D. Wallach, M.S., D.V.M. (University of Missouri) and N.D. (National College of Naturopathic Medicine) is a veterinarian and naturopath who claims (in a widely distributed audio tape entitled "Dead Doctors Don't Lie") that all diseases are due to mineral deficiencies, that everyone who dies of natural causes dies because of mineral deficiencies,* and that just about anyone can live more than one hundred years if they take daily supplements of colloidal minerals harvested from pits in Utah.

Wallach claims that minerals in foods and most supplements are "metallic" and not as effective as "plant-based" colloidal minerals, which is nonsense because colloidal minerals are also "metallic," i.e., contain trace amounts of aluminum and heavy metals. Being colloidal has more to do with the origin, size, and structure of the mineral particles that with their effectiveness. (A colloid is "a substance that consists of particles dispersed throughout another substance which are too small for resolution with an ordinary light microscope but are incapable of passing through a semipermeable membrane." --Merriam-Webster)

Wallach learned all this from living on a farm, working with Marlin Perkins (of Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom" fame), doing necropsies on animals and humans, reading stories in National Geographic magazine, and reading the 1934 novel by James Hilton, The Lost Horizon. He certainly didn't learn any of it from science texts.

Dr. Wallach makes his claims about minerals despite the fact that in 1993 a research team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, reported the results of a 13-year study on 10,758 Americans which failed to find any mortality benefits from vitamin and mineral supplements. The study found that even though supplement users smoke and drink less than non-users, eat more fruits and vegetables than non-users, and are more affluent than non-users, they didn't live any longer than non-users. The study also found no benefit from taking vitamin and mineral supplements for smokers, heavy drinkers, or those which chronic diseases. In May 2006, a committee of physicians impaneled by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that little information exists as to whether people should take supplements. The previous March the NIH noted that research suggests that vitamins and other supplements may do more harm than good, and that antioxidants are of little use.* Further research has found that vitamin supplements can even be deadly.* The simple fact is that there is no compelling scientific evidence that vitamin or mineral supplements effect the health or longevity of most people. Of course, those suffering from a vitamin or mineral deficiency should take supplements, but there is no merit to Wallach's claim that most or all diseases are due to mineral deficiencies.

The basic appeal of Dr. Wallach is the hope he gives to people who fear or are mistrustful of medical doctors and scientific knowledge. He gives hope to those who want to live for a really long time. He gives hope to those who are diagnosed with diseases for which current medical knowledge has no cure. He gives hope to those who want to avoid getting a terminal disease. And he gives hope to those who want to be healthy but who do not want to diet or exercise. All we have to do is drink a magic elixir of colloidal minerals and we'll be healthy. You can't just take your minerals in pill form, he warns us. You must take the colloidal variety in liquid form. Until he had a falling out with T.J. Clark & Co., this elixir had to come from special pits in Utah. After John H. Renner, M.D., President of the National Council Against Health Fraud, exposed the "distortions, bogus science, and outright lies" in Wallach's tape, T.J. Clark & Co. "severed its business relationship with him."*  Wallach then "revised his 'scientific' opinion and quickly moved on to find new partners."*

the audiotape

Dr. Wallach seems to be most famous for a widely circulated audiotape he calls "Dead Doctors Don't Lie." [It is also available in video tape and book form.] The label of the tape notes that Dr. Wallach was a Nobel Prize nominee. This is true. He was nominated for a Nobel Prize in medicine by the Association of Eclectic Physicians "for his notable and untiring work with deficiencies of the trace mineral selenium and its relationship to the congenital genesis of Cystic Fibrosis." The Association of Eclectic Physicians is a group of naturopaths founded in 1982 by two naturopathic physicians, Dr. Edward Alstat and Dr. Michael Ancharski. In his book Let's Play Doctor (co-authored with Ma Lan, M.D., M.S.) he states that cystic fibrosis is preventable, is 100% curable in the early stages, can be managed very well in chronic cases, leading to a normal life expectancy (75 years). If these claims were true, he might have won the Prize. He didn't win, but he gave a lot of false hope to parents of children with cystic fibrosis.

The basic danger of Dr. Wallach's theories is not that taking colloidal minerals will  harm people, or even that many people will be wasting their money on a product they do not need. Many of his claims are not backed up with scientific control studies, but are anecdotal or fictional. The basic danger is that because he and other naturopaths exaggerate the role of minerals in good health, they may be totally ignored by the scientific community even if they happen to hit on some real connections between minerals and disease. Furthermore, there is the chance that legitimate scientific researchers may avoid this field for fear of being labeled a kook.

Dr. Wallach falsely claims that there are five cultures in the world that have average lifespans of between 120 and 140 years: the Tibetans in Western China; the Hunzas in Eastern Pakistan; the Russian Georgians and the Armenians, the Abkhasians, and the Azerbaijanis. He also mentions the people of the Vilcabamba in Ecuador, and those who live around Lake Titicaca in Peru and Bolivia. The secret of their longevity is "glacier milk," or water full of colloidal minerals. It is probably news to these people that they live so long. Dr. Wallach does not mention on what scientific data he bases his claims, but I am sure there are many anthropologists and tour book authors who would like to know about these Shangri-La havens.

The label on the "Dead Doctors Don't Lie" tape says "Learn why the average life span of an MD is only 58 years." On his tape, Dr. Wallach claims that "the average life span of an American is 75 years, but the average lifespan of an American doctor is only 58 years!" Maybe dead doctors don't lie, but this living one certainly stretches the truth. If he is telling the truth, it is not the whole truth and nothing but the truth. According to Kevin Kenward of the American Medical Association: "Based on over 210,000 records of deceased physicians, our data indicate the average life-span of a physician is 70.8 years." One wonders where Dr. Wallach got his data. The only mention in his tape of data on physician deaths is in his description of a rather gruesome hobby of his: he collects obituaries of local physicians as he takes his mineral show from town to town . He may be somewhat selective as a collector, however.

On his tape, Dr. Wallach says

...what I did was go back to school and become a physician. I finally got a license to kill (laughter), and they allowed me to use everything I had learned in veterinary school about nutrition on my human patients. And to no surprise to me, it worked. I spent 12 years up in Portland, Oregon, in general practice, and it was very fascinating.

Dr. Wallach is an N.D., a doctor of naturopathy, not an M.D. as his tape suggests. It is unlikely that most of the people in his audience know that naturopaths call themselves physicians and that there is a very big difference between an M.D. and an N.D. He also claims he did hundreds of autopsies on humans while working as a veterinarian in St. Louis. How does a veterinarian get to do human autopsies?

Well, again, to make a long story short, over a period of some twelve years I did 17,500 autopsies on over 454 species of animals and 3,000 human beings who lived in close proximity to the zoos, and the thing I found out was this: every animal and every human being who dies of natural causes dies of a nutritional deficiency.

To accomplish this feat, he would have to do six autopsies a day, working 5 days a week for the 12 years and taking only a 2-week vacation each year. He was allegedly performing all these autopsies in addition to his other duties, and presumably while he was writing essays and books as well. Maybe all those minerals gave him superhuman powers.

an attack and a panegyric

Dr. Wallach's "Dead Doctors Don't Lie" tape is both an attack on the medical profession and a panegyric for minerals. The attack is vicious and mostly unwarranted, which weakens his credibility about the wonders of minerals. He does not come across as an objective, impersonal scientist. He delights in ridiculing "Haavaad" University and cardiologists who die young from heart attacks, many of whom went into the field because of congenital heart defects. He reverts to name calling on several occasions, as well. Doctors, he says, routinely commit many practices that would be considered illegal in other fields. At one point he claims that the average M.D. makes over $200,000 a year in kickbacks. This ludicrous claim didn't even get a peep of skeptical bewilderment from his audience. [The tape is of a live recording of one of his shows.] He sounds like a bitter, rejected oddball who is getting even with the medical profession for ignoring him and his "research."

In addition to citing his many scientific studies and years of research as proof that we need mineral supplements for good health, Dr. Wallach presents U.S. Senate document #264. This paper claims that U.S. soils are 85% depleted of essential minerals. According to Dr. Wallach, that is why we can't get enough minerals from our foods. He has further evidence, too:

...to live to be 100+ we need to consume 90 nutrients per day...60 minerals, 16 vitamins, 12 amino acids and 3 fatty acids...there are some 10 diseases associated with the lack of each of these 90 nutrients or potentially 900 diseases...the American Medical Association did a study in 1939 and came to the conclusion that it is no longer feasible to get all the vitamins we need from foods.

I wonder if the AMA has done any studies on this issue since 1939? If so, why aren't they mentioned? And why, even if mineral supplements are needed can't we buy them off the shelf of our local supermarket? Because they aren't "colloidal." He suggests at one point in his tape that minerals in pill form aren't absorbed at all; they just pass right through the body and out into the sewer lines. But why do our colloidal minerals have to come from a pit in Utah? Here is his explanation:

the only place you can get these in the United States is from a prehistoric Valley in southern Utah that, according to geologists, seventy-five million years ago had sixty to seventy-two minerals in the walls and the floor of that valley, and those trees and the grasses in that valley and that forest took up all the metallic minerals and made colloidal minerals in their tissues. About that time there was a volcanic eruption which entombed that valley with a thin layer of mud and ash, not thick enough or heavy enough to crush or pressurize this into oil or coal. It was very dry in here, so it never became fossilized or petrified. Okay. Never became rock.

Today, if you put a shaft into this valley, it's still just dried hay. It's seventy-five million year old hay, according to geologists. You can still see the grass and the leaves and the twigs and the pine cones and the bark and so forth. And we grind this plant material up into a flour, very small, particle sized flour, just like a good wheat flour and for three to four weeks we soak it in filtered spring water and when it reaches a specific gravity of 3.0, it's very heavy, it has thirty-eight grams of this colloidal mineral in it per quart or liter and by actual analysis it has sixty colloidal minerals in it. This particular product has been on the market since 1926. It's the only nutritional product on the market that has a legal consent decree from a federal court and an approval from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to be harvested and sold as a nutritional supplement. Everybody else who has a vitamin, or mineral, or what not, just follows the labeling requirements of the FDA. This is the only one that, in fact, has a federal consent decree to do it, because it passed all their tests. It's the only one that has been put to this level of test because it works.

How do we know it works? Dr. Wallach guarantees it. Or your money back! Should you trust him? Why wouldn't you trust someone who tells stories about people in China who lived to be over 250 years old or about a 137 year-old cigar-smoking woman! Of course, it is up to you to infer that they lived so long because they took colloidal minerals, though the good Dr. has enough sense not to make such a claim. In case you are still not convinced of this man's trustworthiness, let me inform you that, according to Dr. Wallach, for the past twenty years there have been cures for arthritis, diabetes and ulcers. These cures were discovered by veterinarians, who also discovered the cause of Alzheimer's disease years ago. Tell that to the millions of people suffering from these diseases.

Ellen Coleman, a registered dietician and nutrition columnist, has another view of Wallach's products: “Colloidal mineral products have not been proven safe or effective. They are not better absorbed than regular mineral supplements.” James Pontolillo, a research scientist, is concerned that colloidal mineral products may contain toxic organic compounds.*  The National Nutritional Food Association says that some colloidal mineral products “contain aluminum or toxic minerals; others are high in sodium. Some do not contain detectable amounts of minerals listed on their labels. Finally, there is no evidence that colloidal minerals are more bioavailable than those found in other forms.”*

Nevertheless, Dr.Wallach has spawned a small industry of mineral sellers, including some multi-level marketing projects on the Internet.

See also alternative health practice, DHEA, naturopathy, and supplements.


reader comments

further reading

book

Barrett Stephen and Victor Herbert, The Vitamin Pushers : How the 'Health Food' Industry Is Selling America a Bill of Goods (Prometheus, 1994).

websites

Dr. Wallach exposed a site dedicated to exposing the lies behind Dr. Joel Wallach and his "Dead Doctor's Don't Lie" propaganda

The Millenium Project - "Joel Wallach is a veterinarian best known for selling a tape called "Dead Doctors Don't Lie!". The lies on this tape are used to promote Wallach's pyramid scheme to sell snake oil which cures everything from Alzheimer's Disease to Zambucca Overdose, or so it seems. Vet Wallach likes to refer to himself as a "physician", apparently on the basis that he has bought a degree in naturopathy from somewhere. Wallach does not like criticism, probably because he knows that his nonsense cannot stand up to any scrutiny."

Colloidal Mineral Supplements: Unnecessary and Potentially Hazardous by James Pontolillo

Quackwatch on "Dietary Supplements," Herbs, and Hormones

Skeptic's Dictionary on vitamins and supplements

Last updated 10-Feb-2014

© Copyright 1994-2012 Robert T. Carroll * This page was designed by Cristian Popa.