Saturday, December 31, 2011

#274: Joseph “Joe” Mercola

The Richard Hoagland of medicine, Joseph Mercola is an osteopath and a frighteningly popular alternative medicine guru and (more or less) cult leader. He advocates and takes seriously more or less any idiotic crackpot or anti-science idea he comes across, including but not limited to flu-denialism and anti-vaxx – even going so far as to work with Barbara Loe Fischer. He has claimed that modern medicine kills more people than it helps, that (consequently) BigPharma is really involved in a conspiracy to kill you/prevent you from accessing the real remedies, that the Pill is dangerous, that “toxic metals in vaccines and dental fillings” is the cause for a wide variety of ailments, that your shampoo is really dangerous, and that statin drugs are dangerous. He promotes, however, Gary Craig’s Emotional Freedom Technique.

His website (no, you don’t get a link) contains most branches of pseudoscience, all major sorts of crankery, every logical fallacy ever committed by man (some good ones in this), dishonesties and smearing. He claims to be uninterested in profit, but makes a lot of it from selling all sorts of bullshit remedies at a steep price. His trust in the naturalistic fallacy suppresses any real science or scientific evidence he may come across. His dietary advice adds random assertions to the naturalistic fallacy, and is in conflict with any advice given by serious organizations (rather, he thinks, people should eat … the products he sells). He also – obviously – peddles homeopathy (the piece commented on in this link was written by Amy Lansky and endorsed by Mercola) and the thoroughly debunked raw-milk idiocy (the idiocy here is pasted on pretty thickly).

Despite his denialism and anti-science stance (or because of it) Mercola has many supporters, especially among the delusional, the paranoid (whose distrust of government is so entrenched that they trust the word of any non-government-affiliated crackpot), New Agers (who are generally both) and other critical-thinking-challenged groups. He has even attempted to pander to the religious through the ridiculously distortive screed discussed here. He is pretty good at following the fads and exploiting current trends and fears, and has been voted the no.10 “game changer” by readers of the Huffington Post, which tells you more about HuffPo’s health section than Mercola. More here.

His popularity stems from a combination of idiots, his authorship of two New York Times bestsellers (“The No-Grain Diet” (with Alison Rose Levy) and “The Great Bird Flu Hoax”), and a stinking pile of other books. He has also been featured on several of the more woo-friendly TV shows, including Mehmet Oz’s show.

Diagnosis: Looking more and more like a cultmaster, Mercola is an addle-brained and chronically misguided woo-meister. He is severely dangerous, however, insofar as he has managed to gather a frighteningly substantial herd of followers.


  1. Thank you for covering this crazy person. My super religious aunt loves him to death and I didn't take long to recognize his lunacy. He reminds me of the Natural cures guy who lost his money for telling people that calcium carbonate would cure cancer. BTW if you haven't already you should also cover dr. oz. he is getting bad, I think money took away any brains he had.

  2. Indeed. Mercola’s influence is probably increasing given the constant promotion on the Dr. Oz show. He remains as cranky as always, though. Here is more of Mercola being stupid.

  3. There is a fair and balanced comment on a recent Chicago Magazine portrait of Mercola here.

  4. Here's Mercola kicking it up a notch by abusing epigenetics.

  5. I was blocked (under a different identity than the one I'm using here" from Mercola's forums when I pointed out the fallacies of his fearmongering regarding electromagnetic fields. It struck me as rather cult-like behavior -- intelligent discussion and inquiry not allowed.

    In real life I'm an electronics engineer and am far more familiar with the behavior of radio waves than Joe Mercola is or ever will be.

  6. I don't remember whether I linked to it previously, but here is quackwatch on Mercola

  7. Mercola and Root Canal Therapy

    This communication specifically addresses ignorant and untrue information spread from Joseph Mercola, D.O. regarding root canal therapy. As a knowledgeable practitioner, I would like to respond to the assertions made by Joseph Mercola, D.O. and others like him. This response is lengthy, but its exhaustiveness is necessary to refute virtually every claim and false assertion made.

    Mercola reverently discusses Dr. Price, who was a dentist from the early 1900’s. His big claim and the one cited by Mercola was the patient with arthritis having a root canaled treated toot extracted, and the tooth then was implanted into a rabbit which subsequently died. Dr. Price failed to recognize the shortcomings of his misguided experiment. The implanted tooth consisted of a poorly done, failing root canal which was covered in saliva, plaque and tartar into a rabbit, and it developed “crippling arthritis”(like the patient), sepsis, and died. Big deal. Admittedly, our understanding of medicine and dentistry was very limited 100 years ago. Is Dr. Mercola’s knowledge base as limited as Dr. Price’s? Any physician knows one of the most prominent types of bacteria in the human mouth is Streptococcus. Strep is present in everyone’s mouth. We are not born with it; we acquire it through our environment usually by age 2, whether it be from our mother, toys we place in our mouth, foods we consume etc. Strep causes strep infections such as strep throat and possibly rheumatic fever in severe cases or if left untreated. One pathognomonic symptom is severe joint pain! Dr. Price was not able to recognize the result of his most amazing experiment was due to the bacterial film surrounding the tooth. Additionally, the human tooth relative to the size of the rabbit would be like taking anything the size of your forearm, coating it in plaque, saliva, and calculus, implanting it in your back under non-sterile conditions, then developing infection and dying. Lastly, yet most importantly, root canal treatment back then consisted of wedging an orangewood stick or a heated wire into the canals in a tooth and calling the treatment finished. Well, the infection definitely persisted because sterility was not understood, no antibacterial irrigants or medications were used inside the tooth during root canal therapy, no rubber dams were used to prevent oral bacteria and saliva from recontaminating the tooth DURING treatment, no surgical operating microscopes were used to find all the canals, poor restorations were used that never sealed a tooth and instead leaked like a sieve, etc. It is so completely different now. Comparing Dr. Price’s antiquated experiment with a SAMPLE SIZE OF ONE, with modern treatment is akin to comparing “bleeding” patients in order to treat “wasting disease” with modern antiviral therapy to combat HIV. Failed root canals do harbor bacteria, but the critical element is to have them performed correctly. Often times, non-specialists perform the treatment poorly allowing for infection to persist. It is completely different when performed by a quality specialist (an endodontist). A terrible root canal performed under disgusting conditions in the early 1900’s does not demonstrate anything – see below.

  8. Any researcher, scientist, clinician, etc. knows that a proper sample size is necessary to arrive at a valid conclusion. Additionally, statistical analysis is necessary to demonstrate a result occurred not just due to chance. One could theoretically, drink turpentine and have resolution of a headache, but that does not mean the two were related. Statistics must be performed on MANY subjects to establish a true scientific link from one variable (drinking turpentine) and an outcome (headache cessation). Otherwise its merely coincidental and possibly not even related. For every one person who had “complete recovery” following removal of a root canal treated tooth, there are 10,000’s that had a tooth removed and no resolution of cancer, arthritic conditions, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, etc. Now they still have the malady AND they must decide what to do to replace that tooth with significantly more expensive options.

    Joseph Mercola makes so many uninformed statements. His assertion of 97% of persons with cancer having a root canal is laughable- yet he supplies NO evidence of the study. The same ignorant three conclusions are posted on his site which appear to be plagiarized from numerous dubious websites:
    93 percent of women with breast cancer had root canals
    7 percent had other oral pathology
    Tumors, in the majority of cases, occurred on the same side of the body as the root canal(s) or other oral pathology.

    Amazingly NO CITATION is used for this landmark study other than which is a website that does not exist. Occasionally you will be redirected to a dubious website wanting to supply you with “information” of a miracle cancer cure that no one else wants you to know about. Shame on you, Dr. Mercola, as I am suspicious you receive a royalty for every person directed to that site and especially if their snake oil is purchased. EVERYONE in medicine knows studies must be presented in peer-reviewed journals to substantiate claims. Otherwise, I can claim that every one of my patients lives 2 years longer having root canal treatment performed than if they had the tooth extracted. Without peers to evaluate the methodology let alone the results of a “study,” you cannot ascertain if study was conducted properly or even at all! You can’t find the data to validate or refute my above assertions, but that does not mean it’s true. Even Joseph Mercola, D.O., should know that.

  9. His “data” from TERF is completely false. The TERF institute is run by Dr. Hal Huggins whom is universally acknowledged as a quack, charlatan, and beyond ignorant. Here are court findings related to Hal Huggins:

    I know Hal and his 12 ignorant followers will claim the state of Colorado and organized dentistry is operating in coordination to suppress “the truth.” Either they are delusional, or want to create a niche market for themselves by claiming the rest of the world is operating in collusion. Its amazing that the entire body of knowledgeable dentists, medical doctors, researchers, the World Health Organization, etc. advocate AGAINST Hal Huggins and his moronic disciples. Even the Mayo clinic (which Mercola erroneously cites) has a clear position statement AGAINST Hal Huggins’ main claim – that dental amalgam fillings are unsafe:

    Mercola states the original researchers at Mayo Clinic proved that root canal therapy was unsafe. Again, no such proof can be found that the above statement was ever made (the only mention of this are on dubious websites such as Mercola’s). Secondly, even if one can find that claim (which does not exist – it’s a lie) that was 100 years ago which is completely different than today’s treatment. Lastly, Mayo Clinic offers root canal therapy to their patients requiring it – in the Specialty clinic (not performed by general dentists). Do you really believe Mayo Clinic is suppressing their OWN research and performing treatment they had shown to be dangerous? If you believe that is true, no amount of evidence to the contrary would likely sway you.

  10. Dr. Mercola then cites unpublished data from Dr. Josef Issel, but NO ONE can present the data because it DOES NOT EXIST. This fictitious data set apparently has not stopped moronic “conclusions” from showing up on numerous quack sites. The study or data is not published anywhere! Again, I claim that root canal treatment extends your life by two years but will never publish my data to support this. If I have a few other websites repeat this claim, it must be true, right? 97% of cancer patients Issel has treated had root canals? Even if this “evidence” existed, this is not evidence of anything. It IN NO WAY PROVES or even points to root canals causing cancer. This does not establish causality meaning one thing (root canals) causes or is linked to another (cancer). This report from Dr. Issel is astoundingly stupid and ignorant, but what’s more amazing is Joseph Mercola seemingly cannot understand this. Ninety-seven percent seems fairly conclusive, right? I would bet 100% of those patients had brushed their teeth. 100% had probably eaten vegetables at some point in their life. Additionally 100% had ridden in a car in their lifetime. 100% had exercised at some point in their lifetime. Greater than 90% had taken a supplement, vitamin, or health food at least once in their life. Should we stop brushing our teeth, riding in cars, exercising, or taken supplements? NO! These are all completely illogical associations that IN NO WAY PROVE CASUALITY. Just because a correlation exists, provides NO EVIDENCE that it is true. Another example is that 93% of homosexual men have at least one filling. Does this mean that fillings cause homosexuality? You would laugh at me if I made that claim, but that is EXACTLY what Mercola is doing. A real doctor knows to examine for evidence.

    Additionally, numerous studies have discredited the root canal harboring bacteria which spread through the bloodstream.

    Patients having numerous root canals had NO different serum levels of immunoglubulins, bacterial counts, bacterial enzymes, no elevated levels of inflammatory markers, etc. NONE - even patients with failing root canals had NONE of these markers. If these terrible root canals were spreading all of these problems, why is not a single marker detected using the MOST sophisticated technology? Why does the American Heart Association and ADA not require antibiotic prophylaxis for root canal treatment if performed correctly yet it is necessary for cleanings? Real medicine has disproved these fallacious assertions.

  11. His statements regarding the type of bacteria harbored inside teeth being different from your mouth is ignorant and wrong. Dr. Mercola does not understand that the human body is not sterile and that the mouth contains all of these bacteria yet at low levels. Virulence is NOT the process of one bacterial species mutating into another as he describes. It is the process of a particular bacterial species increasing its ability to counteract host defenses (pathogenicity). The information he “supplies” about bacterial counts from root canal treated teeth is bogus. He even invited you to investigate the footnotes yet does not even cite this critical study so you can look at it!!! See for yourself. He knows very few persons will ever take the time to examine his claim, they will merely either believe it or disregard it. He cites things such as and several variations of the asinine Price foundation website. As was stated earlier, poor root canal treatment can lead to persistent infection, NOT CANCER. Modern treatment is completely different and astronomically better than any treatment Dr. Price performed. If you are going to assess root canal treated teeth, you cannot arrive at valid conclusions using only extremely poorly done samples under non-sterile conditions. My advice to Dr. Mercola is this: Cite studies that can be reviewed and not just misinformed, biased websites if you want to persuade others that you are not a dolt.

    If these dead teeth cannot ever be treated with root canal treatment and antibiotics because no circulation exists to the “dead” tooth, then how does he explain the blood supply to the periodontal ligament and layer of cementum that completely surrounds the tooth root?. Root canal treatment removes the innervation and interior circulation, which is the pulp. How does he answer the collateral circulation to the exterior portion of the periodontium and tooth? His claim that dentists are not aware of dentinal tubules and accessory canals because we are not told about them is absurd?!? His ignorance is astounding; we learn about them on possibly the second day of dental school; I am quite certain Joseph Mercola’s entire body of knowledge regarding tooth anatomy is completely encompassed in his shallow, imbecilic paragraph. Continuing on in the “dead” tissue thread, does he advocate removing all enamel from teeth? It’s a “dead” tissue on every single tooth; it has no circulation. Neither does your hair. He discusses removing your appendix when that tissue “dies”; does he advocate removing your ENTIRE colon too ? That is the argument he is making because the “dead tissue” the pulp is removed during root canal treatment, but he advocates removing the entire tooth even though the outer surface of the tooth has blood supply. So apparently Joe Mercola is arguing for all patients that have an appendectomy should also have a total colectomy (removal of the entire colon) using this same ignorant logic. Finally, he states when a tooth is removed, an additional 1 millimeter of bone must be removed to take care of the ligament. Again, Mercola lacks knowledge of basic dental anatomy - the ligament completely comes out with the tooth because it’s firmly attached to the cementum much more strongly than the alveolus (bone socket).

  12. I know that many persons feel western medicine has failed, been untruthful, or ignorant of homeopathic or naturalist practices. I personally have tried chiropractic, acupuncture, diet, miracle foods, yoga, meditation, massage, healing touch, etc. for back and neck pain yet never had long term relief, let alone a cure. Would I say that these modalities have no value for anyone? – absolutely not. For every person that has had western medicine fail them, there are others that have received no amelioration using the above “natural” remedies. I know these practitioners attract certain types of patients who distrust western medicine, associations (e.g. American Heart Association, American Dental Association, World Health Association, etc), and conventionally trained doctors. These patients believe that these entities are at best misguided and misinformed, and at worst deceitful. The real deceit is these practitioners, such as Joseph Mercola, masquerading as experts. Others have attacked his qualifications, his education, his degree, his alma mater, etc. I will refrain from such. However, credentialing and expertise of practitioners like Dr. Mercola is highly suspect with no substantiating qualifications other than opposing what is commonly held to be true. Typical charlatan behavior.

    Please Note: Even the Better Business Bureau has awarded an “F “rating! (see above link). Recently Mercola changed the name of his business entity in order to start over with a “fresh” rating from the BBB. Again, dishonest and unethical behavior is routinely associated with Mercola.

    I encourage anyone who has a few moments to make an online complaint with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional regulation:

    Perhaps the most effective way to deal with dubious practitioners such as Mercola, is having their licenses revoked.

    Does root canal treatment fail? Absolutely. Persistent infection exists due to either poor technique or fractured teeth. Teeth can crack and allow for failure. Failure exhibits certain signs and symptoms that most often are ascertainable. For example, chewing sensitivity, achiness, swelling, palpation (touch) sensitivity, and tissue red and hot to the touch. Fractured teeth are sometimes more difficult to diagnose. However, patients are often told that when a tooth is pulled that it was cracked, and can be shown the fracture. Did you hear cracking and popping during the extraction? Was that crack there prior to the extraction or did the extraction cause the crack? I see patients every week where they are told a tooth is cracked and needs extraction. Often times the tooth can be saved simply by performing the root canal CORRECTLY. So often root canal therapy is performed poorly, especially by non-specialists. Entire roots go untreated which ALWAYS leads to abscess development. I routinely treat these teeth and the infection completely resolves. For example, your upper first molar has 4 canals present >90% of the time. I have retreated (re-root canaled) 1000’s of cases with persistent infection. I have never once found all four canals treated by general dentists. Not treating these teeth properly is the greatest cause of root canal problems. But this in no way causes or is even related to cancer!

  13. The real problem with root canals is not the treatment itself; the problem is if the treatment is completed poorly, and beneath the standard of care. No rubber dams being used allow saliva and oral bacteria into the tooth during treatment. A lack of antimicrobial irrigants, which are necessary to kill bacteria allows for persistent infection. Poor obturation leads to either nonexistent or deficient sealing of the root canal system which in turn allows for leakage. No smear layer removal leaves behind bacteria, etc. Unfortunately, it’s a procedure that can be performed poorly with relative ease - it is VERY difficult to perform well with a high degree of proficiency. I am seeing so many root canal teeth requiring retreatment now from the same practitioners continually doing a terrible job - just like they did in 1920. It’s always amusing when these same practitioners, whom always do "their own endo", routinely send their family and friends to the specialist because they know there is A BIG DIFFERENCE.

    I will gladly answer any other questions or can supply the studies to provide evidence for my claim. It is really aggravating when uninformed practitioners such as Mercola pretend they know so much more than 100,000's of practitioners. I personally know a few from my dental school class. They almost invariably finished in the bottom half of their class, and confuse patients with their own stupidity.

    Finally, I know the argument will be made that I am merely trying to protect my income. I will try my best to educate you and guide you to making a wise decision because it’s my ethical obligation. I have no problem with any of Mercola’s followers desiring unnecessary extraction instead of saving salvageable teeth. Why? Implants are far more lucrative for me, but much more expensive for you. I will be more than happy to place an implant for you as I am sure my surgical skill will provide a good result. I will also let you know that implants can and do develop infection and require removal, but it’s rare. This high degree of success is also true with root canaled teeth when they are performed properly. I know some will argue that I am simply misinformed; Mercola is without question the one with minimal to no knowledge (see above). I am confident he has merely created a market niche to sell expensive products, which he claims are superior to any readily available and less costly products one could obtain down the street from your house. Ask yourself, “Where does the extra money go?”

    Bottom line: I hope the above information has shown the assertions made by Dr. Mercola and others to false. If it also leads you to the conclusion that Joseph Mercola is an unenlightened, self-aggrandizing quack, my sincerest apologies.

    As was stated earlier:

    I encourage anyone who has a few moments to make an online complaint with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional regulation:

    Perhaps the most effective way to deal with dubious practitioners such as Mercola, is having their professional licenses revoked.

    1. You are using sources like Rational Wiki and the debunked Quackwatch? WTF? Those sources are a joke.

    2. Quackwatch remains one of the most reliable sources of information on alternative treatments on the Internet. Calling it "debunked" because you wish the information to be false, doesn't actually make it debunked.

      It is, however, striking that every criticism I have seen of quack watch on altmed pages are ad hominem - that is, it seeks to show that Quackwatch is somehow biased, or in a conspiracy, or that the people writing there have conflicts of interest (as opposed, you know, to those who sell the altmed cures criticized in their online stores) - they never actually engage with the contents of quackwatch's criticisms.

      One of the foundational rules for good critical thinking is this: You are not allowed to try to explain *why* someone is wrong before you have shown that they are, in fact, wrong. Anyone who thinks that conspiracy mongering or demonstrating bias is a substitute for actually engaging with the claims in question, is someone you should ignore.

      Rationalwiki is generally pretty reliable and accurate, too, even though some of their articles are on the superficial side. That you and the people you like to read don't like it is not evidence that it is untrustworthy.

  14. Check out these reviews for Quackwatch:

    Site Jabber: Reviews of Quackwatch

    Also, RationalWiki is, on the whole, not a very serious site to get info from.

    1. Wait what?? An online review where a number of disgruntled peddlers of quackery claims, without evidence or documentation, that quackwatch is part of a conspiracy, or simply that quackwatch is wrong because quackwatch states (with ample evidence and documentation)) that the reviewer's preferred quackery is wrong? Reviewers like "licensed acupuncturist" or "nutritionist with a PhD" (nutritionist, as opposed to dietician, is not a protected title - "nutritionist" is what you call yourself if you got your degree from a diploma mill)? You are serious? You are expecting to be taken seriously? *This* is your debunking of quackwatch??

      If you are serious, then I might just have a timeshare in Frisland to sell you.