Is Joseph Mercola the most influential spreader of Covid-19 misinformation online?

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Joseph Michael Mercola (/mərˈkoʊlə/;[1] born July 8, 1954) is an American alternative medicine proponent, osteopathic physician, and Internet business personality. He markets dietary supplements and medical devices.[2] On his website, Mercola and colleagues advocate a number of unproven alternative health notions including homeopathy and opposition to vaccination. These positions have faced persistent criticism.[3] Mercola is a member of several alternative medicine organizations as well as the political advocacy group Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which promotes scientifically discredited views about medicine and disease.[4] Until 2013,[5] Mercola operated the “Dr. Mercola Natural Health Center” (formerly the “Optimal Wellness Center”) in Schaumburg, Illinois.[6] He is the author of the books The No-Grain Diet[7] (with Alison Rose Levy) and The Great Bird Flu Hoax.

Mercola’s medical claims have been criticized by the medical, scientific, regulatory, and business communities. A 2006 BusinessWeek editorial stated his marketing practices relied on “slick promotion, clever use of information, and scare tactics.”[6] In 2005, 2006, and 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Mercola and his company that they were making illegal claims for their products’ ability to detect, prevent, and treat disease.[8] The medical watchdog site Quackwatch has criticized Mercola for making “unsubstantiated claims [that] clash with those of leading medical and public health organizations and many unsubstantiated recommendations for dietary supplements.”[9] Of Mercola’s marketing techniques, surgical oncologist David Gorski says it “mixes the boring, sensible health advice with pseudoscientific advice in such a way that it’s hard for someone without a medical background to figure out which is which.”[3]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mercola spread misinformation about the virus and pseudoscientific anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms;[10][11][12] researchers have identified him as the “chief spreader of coronavirus misinformation online”.[10][13][14][15] He has been warned numerous times by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for selling unapproved health products, including supposed treatments for COVID-19.[14]
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Vaccinations

Mercola is a critic of vaccines and vaccination policy, claiming that too many vaccines are given too soon during infancy. He hosts anti-vaccination activists on his website, advocates other measures rather than vaccination in many cases such as using vitamin D rather than a flu shot despite the data not being conclusive[3][27] and strongly criticizes influenza vaccines. Mercola is viewed as an anti-vaccine propagandist.[28] As of 2019, he has donated at least $4 million to anti-vaccine groups though his Natural Health Research Foundation, including more than $2.9 million to the anti-vaccination group the National Vaccine Information Center, amounting to about 40 percent of that organization’s funding.[3] He co-funded an anti-vaccination ad in Times Square in 2011.[28]

Mercola has asserted that thimerosal, a vaccine preservative, is harmful due to its mercury content.[29] Thimerosal has been removed from most vaccines given to young children in the U.S., with no effect on rates of autism diagnosis.[30][31] Extensive evidence has accumulated since 1999 showing that this preservative is safe,[32] with the World Health Organization stating in 2006 that “there is no evidence of toxicity in infants, children or adults exposed to thimerosal in vaccines.”[32][33]

In March 2021, an analysis of Twitter and Facebook anti-vaccine content found Mercola’s to be one of 12 individual and organization accounts producing up to 65% of all anti-vaccine content on the platforms.[10] As of June 2021, his various social media channels accounted for a total audience exceeding 4.1 million followers.[34]

COVID-19

See also: Misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic

In 2020, Mercola was one of the partners in a website called “Stop Covid Cold” offering advice to the public on preventing and treating COVID-19 with alternative remedies. The website includes links to Mercola’s online store and puts a strong emphasis on vitamin D supplements, despite a lack of scientific evidence pointing to the effectiveness of such a treatment.[35][36] The website was taken down in April 2021 after the Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letter. In May 2021, Mercola announced he would remove mentions of COVID-19 from his websites, blaming Bill Gates and “big pharma“.[34][37]

Mercola claimed that inhaling 0.5–3% hydrogen peroxide solution using a nebulizer could prevent or cure COVID-19.[38][39] A tweet from Mercola advertising this method was removed from Twitter on April 15, 2020, for violating the platform rules,[39] but he continued to make these claims on other platforms, including during a speech at a major conference of anti-vaccination activists in October.[35]

He was warned by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in February 2021 for selling fake COVID-19 cures.[40][41] In March, the Center for Countering Digital Hate named Mercola as one of the 12 most prominent sources of COVID misinformation in a report later cited by US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.[42] In September his accounts on YouTube were removed by the company for breaking their policies on COVID-19 misinformation.[43]
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FDA warning letters

For his many dietary supplement and device products over some 16 years during the 21st century, Mercola was warned by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for falsely advertising products approved to “mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure” various diseases, including as examples: 1) in 2005, Living Fuel RX(TM) and Coconut Oil Products,[59] in 2006, Optimal Wellness Center chlorella and coconut oil,[60] and in 2011, Meditherm Med2000 Infrared camera, which had no approved evidence for use as a diagnostic or therapeutic device.[61]

During the 2020–2021 COVID-19 pandemic, Mercola, his company, and social media site were warned again by the FDA for falsely advertising the efficacy of high doses of vitamin C, vitamin D3, quercetin, and pterostilbene products to “mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure” COVID-19 disease.[62]

FTC action

In 2016, after marketing and selling tanning beds with the claims that they reduced cancer (backed by discredited studies), the Federal Trade Commission filed a false advertising complaint against Mercola and his companies that resulted in Mercola paying $2.6 million in refunds to customers who had bought their tanning beds, and agreed to a ban preventing them from ever again selling tanning beds.[14]: 1 [63][64]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Mercola

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FDA Warns Mercola for Selling Bogus COVID Treatments

— Controversial physician in trouble for claims about vitamin C, vitamin D, and quercetin products

by Kristina Fiore, Director of Enterprise & Investigative Reporting, MedPage Today March 5, 2021 share to facebook share to twitter share to linkedin email article

A photo of Joseph Mercola, DO

Among a flurry of recent FDA warning letters was one sent to Joseph Mercola, DO, a controversial alternative medicine physician, for improperly marketing COVID-19 treatments.

The agency told Mercola that three products he markets with COVID-19 claims — “Liposomal Vitamin C, Liposomal Vitamin D3, and Quercetin and Pterostilbene Advanced” — are “unapproved new drugs” and “misbranded drugs” being sold in violation of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

FDA asked Mercola to “take immediate action to cease the sale of such unapproved and unauthorized products” and said he must reply within 48 hours as to specific steps that will be taken to address the violation. “Failure to adequately correct any violations may result in legal action, including, without limitations, seizure and injunction,” the agency wrote.

In a statement to MedPage Today, Mercola’s media team said the physician has published papers on the link between vitamin D deficiency and severe COVID, and that he is “committed to providing truthful information and having a rigorous scientific debate.”

“We have fully addressed the warning letter and put FDA on notice that it cannot stop speech it does not like,” the statement said.

The letter to Mercola was among nearly 80 the FDA has posted since Feb. 1. Many are about products the agency said were illegally marketed in relation to COVID-19.

Late Thursday, for example, the FDA announced that it had sent letters to five companies selling thermal imaging devices to detect fevers in multiple people at once.

Mercola’s letter — dated Feb. 18 but only posted on March 4 — gives several examples of the improper promotion and claims regarding these products for COVID-19, including a tweet from April 7, 2020 that states, “Vitamins C and D are finally being adopted in the conventional treatment of novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. This fortunate turn of events is likely to save thousands of lives, while keeping health care costs down.”

It also points out several pages on Mercola’s websites displaying claims such as vitamin C is a “vastly underused antiviral drug” and that vitamin C and quercetin “have synergistic effects that make them useful in the prevention and early at-home treatment of COVID-19.”

Peter Lurie, MD, MPH, president of the Centers for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement that his organization pointed out Mercola’s inappropriate claims to regulators back in July 2020.

“Because Mercola’s companies have been the subject of prior FDA warnings against using thermography to screen for breast cancer as well as a Federal Trade Commission settlement prohibiting Mercola from claiming his tanning beds would ‘slash your risk of cancer,’ we urge federal authorities to vigorously monitor Mercola.com and his other related sites, such as stopcovidcold.com, to ensure his compliance,” Lurie stated.

“We also urge state attorneys general to investigate how they may further protect consumers from Mercola’s illegal marketing, should it continue,” he added.

FDA keeps a running list of companies that have received warning letters about problematic COVID-19 products. Mercola’s operation now appears on that list. Last Updated March 08, 2021

  • Kristina Fiore leads MedPage’s enterprise & investigative reporting team. She’s been a medical journalist for more than a decade and her work has been recognized by Barlett & Steele, AHCJ, SABEW, and others. Send story tips to k.fiore@medpagetoday.com. Follow

Read more:

https://www.medpagetoday.com/special-reports/exclusives/91487

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Dr. Joseph Mercola Ordered to Stop Illegal Claims


Stephen Barrett, M.D.
July 25, 2021

Joseph Mercola, D.O., who practiced for many years in Schaumburg, Illinois, now operates one of the Internet’s largest and most trafficked health information sites. Since 2012, Mercola has stated that his site has over 300,000 pages and is visited by “millions of people each day” and that his electronic newsletter has over one million subscribers [1]. The site vigorously promotes and sells dietary supplements, many of which bear his name. It also publishes a steady stream of propaganda intended to persuade its visitors nit to trust mainstream healthcare viewpoints and consumer-protection agencies.

For many years, Dr. Mercola and other staff members saw patients at his clinic, which was called the Optimal Wellness Center. In 1999, Mercola announced that about one third of his new patients were autistic and that he had treated about 60 such children with secretin, a hormone he said “appeared to be a major breakthrough.” [2] After it was well settled that secretin is ineffective against autism [3], Mercola’s Web site still said it would work if a child complied with his recommended diet strategies [4].

In 2004, Medical Economics reported that Mercola’s practice employed 50 people and that he employed 15 people to run his newsletter, including three editors [5]. Much of his support has come from chiropractors who promote his newsletter from their Web sites. Two of his books hit the #2 sales rank on Amazon Books shortly after his newsletter plugged them for the first time. In 2017, a former employee told The Ringer that most of the articles on his website were ghost written and reviewed by him [6].

In 2006, an article in Business Week concluded that he was “one of a fast-growing number of alternative-health practitioners who seek to capitalize on concerns about the conventional health care system—in his case relying on slick promotion, clever use of information, and scare tactics.” The article described how his promotions included (a) promises of “free’ to sell stuff; (a) lots of “bonuses,” (c) reports of real news that link to marginally related products, and (d) exaggerated claims. [7]

In 2012, an article in Chicago Magazine reported that Mercola had stopped practicing medicine six years previously to focus on his Web site [8]. However, his decision may have been influenced by a 3-year battle with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation [9]. I did not see any mention of this on his Web site, and the site invited patients to come to his clinic—which was renamed Dr. Mercola’s Natural Health Center—for offbeat practices that included detoxification, chiropractic, Dispensary, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), Functional Medicine Program, homeopathy, Neuro-Structural Integration Technique (NST), Nutritional Typing Test, thermography, Total Body Modification (TBM), and Active Isolated Stretching.

In September 2014, Mercola announced that he had closed the clinic “in order to devote his full time and attention to research, education and increasing public awareness.” [10]

Many of Mercola’s articles make unsubstantiated claims and clash with those of leading medical and public health organizations. For example, he opposes immunization [11] fluoridation. [12], mammography [13], and the routine administration of vitamin K shots to the newborn [14,15]; claims that amalgam fillings are toxic [16]; and makes many unsubstantiated recommendations for dietary supplements. He has advised against eating many foods that the scientific community regards as healthful, such as bananas, oranges, red potatoes, white potatoes, all milk products, and almost all grains [17]. He has also given silly advice, such as minimizing exposure to electromagnetic fields by avoiding electric razors, microwaving of foods, watches with batteries [18]. Mercola’s reach has been greatly boosted by repeated promotion on the “Dr. Oz Show.”

Many of the articles he writes encourage readers to buy dietary supplements and other products that can be ordered from his companies. He has even found a way to profit from his opposition to fluoridation. In 2020, began promising that his $250 “Fluoride Removal Full Spectrum Countertop Water Filters” would remove up to 99.9% of the fluoride ions from tap water. The article promoting his filters claimed that “water fluoridation is a public health scam and one of the most unnecessary and severely health-damaging practices we are exposed to today.” [19] Nothing could be further from the truth.

Read the rest here:

https://quackwatch.org/11ind/mercola/

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Researchers and regulators say Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic physician, creates and profits from misleading claims about Covid-19 vaccines.

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Excerpts from:

Americans’ growing interest in alternative medicine has helped turn suburban Chicago doctor Joseph Mercola into one of the most popular voices in natural health. So why does he have so many people riled up?

By Bryan Smith January 31, 2012, 2:29 pm

The doctor is in. To reach him, you must cross the limestone-pillared entrance of his headquarters in Hoffman Estates and go past the chocolate-brown paneled walls and soothing tiled lounge, down a labyrinth of hushed halls and empty conference rooms, to the door of a spacious corner office. Two soft knocks and a person instantly recognizable to most any true believer in alternative medicine appears. The doctor is Joseph Mercola, the face, the voice, the prime mover behind one of the nation’s most heavily trafficked—and controversial—natural health websites, Mercola.com.

He may not have the mainstream name recognition or rock-star appeal of, say, Mehmet Oz (though he has twice been a guest on The Dr. Oz Show). But Mercola’s influence is nonetheless considerable. Each month, nearly two million people click to see the osteopathic physician’s latest musings on the wonders of dietary supplements and minerals (“The 13 Amazing Health Benefits of Himalayan Crystal Salt”), the marvels of alternative therapies (“Learn How Homeopathy Cured a Boy of Autism”), and his take on medical research, from vaccines (“Your Flu Shot Contains a Dangerous Neurotoxin”) to vitamin D (“The Silver Bullet for Cancer?”).

Visitors to his site are also treated to heavy doses of the contempt Mercola holds for most things traditional medicine and Big Pharma—the “medical-industrial complex,” he calls it. Many followers are almost evangelical in their support of his message. “If only the world had more Dr. Mercolas!” wrote one in the comments section for “The Thugs of the Medical World,” a Mercola.com article about drug companies. “You are a warrior sir, and your tireless, truthful, and fearless efforts to expose these criminals is much appreciated.”

Not surprisingly, the medical establishment sees things differently. Some researchers and doctors say that Mercola steers patients away from proven treatments and peddles pseudoscientific misinformation on topics such as flu shots and fluoridation. In their view, he is resurrecting old myths, such as the threat posed by mercury in dental fillings, and promoting new ones, such as the notion that microwave ovens emit harmful radiation. “The information he’s putting out to the public is extremely misleading and potentially very dangerous,” opines Dr. Stephen Barrett, who runs the medical watchdog site Quackwatch.org. “He exaggerates the risks and potential dangers of legitimate science-based medical care, and he promotes a lot of unsubstantiated ideas and sells [certain] products with claims that are misleading.”
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Mercola says that his critics are wrong on all counts. Far from dispensing dangerous misinformation or trading in conspiracy theories, as some allege, he is a champion of “taking charge of our own health,” the doctor insists—a truth teller alerting Americans to what he calls the abuses, hoaxes, and myths perpetrated by the multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical and health insurance industries.
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Mainstream doctors may find it almost inconceivable that people could choose Mercola over accepted schools of thought. But studies show a long erosion of public confidence in medicine, Smith says. Add in the poor economy of recent years and it’s no surprise that people “are looking for treatment alternatives in general and to Mercola in particular.”

The numbers tell the story. Retail sales of vitamins have soared from $2.4 billion in 2006 to $3.4 billion in 2011, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a market research firm in Chicago. Today nearly 40 percent of American adults seek some form of alternative health care, including reiki and ayurveda, the National Institutes of Health says. They are spending roughly $30 billion a year out of pocket for visits to alternative-care physicians and on related products. And the health care industry is taking heed: Some large health insurers now cover certain treatments, such as acupuncture, that were once considered radical.
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In the opinion of David Gorski, a doctor who runs a site similar to Barrett’s (ScienceBasedMedicine.org), the problem is that Mercola either vastly exaggerates preliminary research or cherry-picks studies that bolster his point of view. Gorski believes that Mercola also ignores data that prove him wrong or pushes far beyond what is scientifically sound, using scare tactics to make his point. For example, his site includes an article by a California doctor titled “HIV Does Not Cause AIDS.” Mercola posted a comment at the end of the article: “Exposure to steroids and the chemicals in our environment, the drugs used to treat AIDS, stress, and poor nutrition are possibly the real causes.”

Gorski lists a litany of Mercola’s beliefs that he says fly in the face of good science. “It’s all there,” says Gorski. “He’s antivaccine. He has promoted [someone] who believes cancers are caused by fungus. He has promoted fear-mongering about shampoo. He digs up the hoary old myth that anti-perspirants containing aluminum cause breast cancer. Just this month he is pushing this nonsense that somehow recombinant bovine growth factor in milk causes breast cancer, something for which there’s no evidence.

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https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/2019/10/15/fdc01078-c29c-11e9-b5e4-54aa56d5b7ce_story.html

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