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Help! My Spouse is in a Multi-Level Marketing Cult

Joel Wallach Joel Wallach

JP writes: "I am suspecting that the health programs that my husband has spent hours and hours listening to over the past several years are some kind of health cult. . . 

JP continues: " . . . It is Youngevity and Dr. Joel Wallach and certain strongly supportive doctors like Dr. Peter Glidden. I am trying to identify if I am correct or not, but my husband is acting a lot like some kind of cult member with this particular 'health' company according to the behavior described by Fr. Lawrence Gesy in his book 'Today's Destructive CULTs and Movements'. . .  No matter what I point out about these people and their teaching not being accepted by other naturopaths or dieticians . . . my husband believes that what these people say is THE truth about health and wellness.  I'm very frustrated and don't know where to turn . . . "

You have every reason to be frustrated - and concerned - as you are not alone in questioning the cult-like qualities of this and other multi-level marketing (MLM) schemes.

First of all, the claims being made about the supplement products being sold by Dr. Joel Wallach and known as Youngevity have never been proven by objective scientific scrutiny. Dr. Wallach is a veterinarian and a naturopath who has apparently been involved in dubious healthcare schemes for a very long time.

This one concerns the promotion of colloidal mineral supplements. Wallach believes that of the 90 nutrients essential to human health, minerals comprise 60 of them. But we can't just imbibe any old mineral supplement.  The best kind are colloital - meaning they are derived not just from plants, but from prehistoric plants.

"Plant Derived Minerals™ are liquid concentrates containing up to 77 minerals from prehistoric plants in their unaltered colloidal form," his website claims.

"When dinosaurs roamed the earth 70 million years ago, they likely walked on soil abundant with minerals. Plants and fruits likely contained at least 77 minerals, which became water-soluble as they transmuted through the root system to become part of a luscious, succulent, vibrant and life-sustaining source of food. Plant-derived minerals have been encapsulated in the earth as a pure food since that time."

The site goes on to claim that centuries of mining, farming, irrigation, and acid rain have eroded these life-giving minerals from our soil.

The solution? His products, which are derived from humic shale, a layer of earth formed from these ancient, mineral-laden plants.

The problem with all this is that it's not supported by science - and Wallach admits it on his Youngevity site where I found this asterisk at the bottom of a page full of the above-mentioned "facts":

"*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease."

This did not surprise me at all, nor was I shocked to read this testimony from an Australian man named Stuart Adams who also believes Youngevity is a cult. He spoke out about it and was actually hauled into court by Wallach and sued for defamation.

"What seemed most interesting to me was the cult-like nature of this group," Adams writes. "Many of them I recognized from the Latter Day Saint (Mormon) church, in which I had been brought up. . .  The meeting involved attendees standing up, giving personal testimonials of how they had been cured of their diseases, and talk of why we should not trust the medical profession when it comes to health care, but instead refer to the teachings of Joel Wallach, who apparently was brave enough to rebel against medical conspiracy to bring us all the wonderful cures we needed to get well and stay well. This 'ours is the true group,' 'we have the true leader', 'spread faith-promoting testimonials'' nature of the meeting gave it many of the attributes I had become familiar with, growing up in the Mormon church. The man who had originally invited me along even told me that Joel Wallach was similar to Joseph Smith (the founder of the LDS religion) because both were humble farm boys, condemned among mainstream thinking for bringing the truth to the people, spread through a small faithful group.

"These meetings were apparently a weekly event, where MLM distributors were to bring along new recruits to encourage them to sign up and join the pyramid; thus beginning the road to financial freedom simply by finding a handful of friends or family members who could do likewise."

Adams gives an exhaustive account, which is thoroughly footnoted, of everything that's wrong with Youngevity and Dr. Wallach.

The sad thing is that Youngevity is by no means an anomaly. MLM schemes are notorious for their cult-like operations. This article, by Robert L. FitzPatrick, is the co-author of the book, False Profits, the first book-length analysis of pyramid schemes and multi-level marketing ever published.

Fr. Gesy's book, Today's Destructive Cults and Movements, lists many signs to help people discern whether or not their loved one is in a cult-like relationship with a group. These include personality changes, becoming emotionally withdrawn, change in life goals, change in eating and sleeping habits, a new sense of elitism (being better or more knowledgeable than others), donating extravagant amounts of money to the group, aggressive attempts to recruit others into the group, etc.

The bottom line is that cult involvement is dangerous and can have serious detrimental effects on individuals and families, such as what JP is describing in her husband's behavior toward Youngevity.

JP, if you have not already done so, I would have a long talk with him about how his involvement in this company is distressing you. It doesn't matter if he thinks it ought to distress you - what counts is that it does and he needs to deal with this. If he refuses, then you should seek professional family counseling for yourself, preferably with someone who has experience with cults, who can help you to cope with a situation that is obviously becoming burdensome to you and your children. Hopefully, this counselor will be able to guide you in the best way to help your husband break free of this group.