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What to Make of Dr. Mercola?

Dr. Joseph Mercola Dr. Joseph Mercola

KB writes: “I've always wondered if Dr. Mercola is New Age doctor. I have a relative who follows the New Age movement and is a very big fan of his. This doctor seems to me too alternative in his beliefs and I wanted to know what the Catholic Church's opinion on this doctor is.”

The Catholic Church does not issue opinions about individuals such as Dr. Mercola and will usually only do so in certain cases involving Catholics whose writings or activities are problematic.

As for Dr. Joseph Mercola, he is indeed a controversial figure as well as a darling of the New Age alternative market. A 1982 graduate of the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine (now Midwestern University), he practiced family medicine for several years but began to explore alternatives after seeing the many failures of conventional medicine. He claims to have had great success with natural medicine as well as a “discovery” by Dr. Doris Rapp called provocation neutralization (PN) therapy, a method which involves testing for allergic reactions and then concocting various concentrations to “neutralize” the symptoms (a method that has never been clinically proven to work). Mercola claims his PN therapy was so successful his clinic soon had a waiting list of patients waiting to try it. Meanwhile, his practice expanded to offer patients chiropractic care, nutritional counseling and emotional therapy to help patients discover and address the root cause of their illnesses.

With the advent of the Web, he broadened his reach by launching where he claims to have helped millions become healthier and more fit. He eventually closed his clinic and devoted himself full time to his web business, using a collection of clever marketing techniques to make his on-line “alternative pharmacy” into one of the most trafficked health care websites in the world.

Typical selling tactics include offering services for “free.” For example, in this Bloomberg article, the author opted to take a “free” metabolic assessment” which required him to answer a series of questions. He submitted his answers and received two emails in reply – one informing him that the abbreviated test is not a reliable assessment and the second telling him how to take the reliable test which costs “just $59.95”.

Another tactic Mercola employs is to add on all kinds of “bonus” gifts to a purchase, or to use fear tactics to sell a product such as this article on how stress can cause cancer. He then recommends the medically unproven “energy psychology” to counter stress.

No matter what ails you, his online pharmacopeia, full of mostly untested herbal and homeopathic products, has something to treat it. As a result, business has been very, very good for Dr. Mercola. According to Chicago Magazine, his website, which attracts about 1.9 million visitors a month, saw and Mercola LLC rake in $7 million in 2010.

mercola bookBusiness appears to be better for the good doctor from Chicago than for his customers, however. In 2012, Chicago Magazine reports that had an F rating with the Better Business Bureau, mostly due to complaints about the company’s failure to honor its 100 percent money-back guarantee.

By 2013, that rating was back up to an A but the Bureau added a special note in which it acknowledged continuing complaints from customers about their failure to honor guarantees as well as for excessive shipping delays.

He has also run afoul of the Food and Drug Administration for making unsubstantiated claims about his products, which has resulted in numerous warning letters.

For instance, Mercola, who is against mammograms for women, began hawking an untested device known as a Med2000, a thermographic camera that he claims is safer than conventional mammograms. The problem is that his claims are unsupported by science, which means many women could have been led away from life-saving screenings while thinking they were getting the screening they needed. In 2011, the FDA warned him to stop this dangerous activity, but it wasn’t the first time they were forced to intervene.

In 2005 he was warned about making illegal claims for his products such as stating that chlorella could fight cancer and normalize blood pressure and that coconut oil could reduce the risk of heart disease and could be beneficial for people suffering from Chrone’s and irritable bowel syndrome.

This was followed by another letter in 2006 which warned him against other unsubstantiated claims, such as that Vitamin K2 might be useful in fighting certain cancers and Alzheimer’s disease or that Nattokinase (NSK-SD) was better than aspirin when treating heart disease.

None of these products have been proven to treat any of the diseases cited in his claims.

Mercola has also distinguished himself as a vocal opponent of vaccinations and has made many erroneous claims about vaccinations that are soundly disputed in this blog appearing on

In addition to running his website, Mercola has also written eight books – two of which landed on the New York Times bestseller list – and has written numerous articles that have appeared in many peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Dr. Mercola seems sincere in his practice but his passion for finding alternatives to modern medicine appears to be blinding him to the many well-document failures of alternative medicines. He may view conventional medicine as poison but, like so many natural medicine enthusiasts like him, he has done little more than trade one poison for another.