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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Dr. Mercola

I followed a link on Facebook to Dr. Mercola's web site provided by a relative who was impressed by the claims Dr. Mercola had made as to the true origins of certain "organic" products. The most shocking on the face of it was that Burt's Bees, whose various lip and hand salves were well-known to me, are produced by Clorox. That may seem like a bad thing, but how bad is it really? Clorox makes an excellent product though it is hard to see how one could get Clorox wrong. Add sodium hypochlorite to water and bottle. To its credit, however, during WWII when a shortage of chlorine gas arose, Clorox chose to reduce its production, rather than dilute its product. So, the fact that Burt's Bees is owned by Clorox may not be a bad thing at all.

Dr. Mercola's employs his assassination by association technique by noting that organic Horizon milk is made by the food giant Dean. He does not say what bad practices Dean is employing other than that large scale milk producers commonly feed grain to their cows rather than letting them graze. Dr. Mercola is a big time grass guy. He wants his beef to be grass fed and his milk cows to be grass fed. He makes some claims about the superiority of grass to grain as a feed but sites no solid research.

I invite you to read how Aurora organic milk cows are treated and fed. One thing seems clear and this is that the issues are very complex. The choice is not between grains and grass. In the winter in Wisconsin, there is no grass for cows to graze on so the choices are between hay (i. e., dead vegetable matter) of various sorts and grain.

Dr. Mercola trades on our suspicion of big business. He is right to question whether these large businesses can or even want to maintain high standards in milk production. But, he provides no solid research behind the answers he gives. One of Dr. Mercola's claims is that children should be drinking raw milk. He writes
There is no substitute for clean, raw milk as a food, so far as children are concerned. Science has not yet succeeded in providing, in the pasteurized variety, those essential qualities that are the only real foundation for a healthy child.
He doesn't say how we ensure the raw milk is clean and that's the rub. I have seen dairy cows being milked by hand and by machines and the opportunities for the invasion of bacteria and other contaminants is nontrivial. Dr. Mercola also urges that one buy locally. So, I am to imagine that I should hunt down raw milk that is locally produced. Good luck since it is illegal to sell it. I invite you to read the Wikipedia section on raw milk vs pasteurized milk. I have made cheese and would love to get access to raw cow's milk but any cheese I made would have to age for 3 months (according to my last information).

Dr. Mercola engages in a florid writing style in which careful reasoning doesn't play a part. He says
Much of our nation's nutritional deficiency epidemic is caused by a "Big Business" perceived need for cheap, mass produced, convenient food products.
First, note that Dr. Mercola puts "Big Business" inside quote marks. I just did the same thing in the preceding sentence, but there is a significant linguistic difference between the two. I am using quotes to indicate that I am citing the phrase he used but he is using quote marks as what a philosopher once called "scare quotes." Moreover, in capitalizing the "B's" he further evokes scorn. This use of "Big Business" evokes Orwell's notion of "Big Brother," a notorious political pejorative, typically used by liberals. Conservatives have "Big Government." Dr. Mercola is engaging in an irresponsible practice in what purports to give sound medical and other advice. One wants accurate, unslanted advice from any doctor.

Which brings me to the most damning feature of Dr. Mercola's web site. He is a huckster, who sells a wide array of things from tanning beds, natural foods like raw honey, nutritional supplements, vitamin sprays, and juicers among many other things. Those who find his health warnings persuasive very well may find his nearly hysterical arguments for the purchase of his products and objections to opposing choices will likely find his reasons for buying his products persuasive.

I hope you will read his appeals on behalf of his tanning beds -- why you should use them and why you should use his -- and a few other products to get a taste of his style. You might also take a look at the qualifications of the physicians used in his clinc. My problem is that any doctor who purports to treat patients and offer medical and nutritional across the nation should not be engaged in selling. I have run into this sort of problem with doctors who treat sleep apnea and sell the equipment that patients need. They have access to the data supporting or not supporting the use of the products they sell and few of us could interpret the data by way of checking on his or her honesty. One has to very carefully assess the ethics of your doctor, should you, like I, have sleep apnea in an effort to answer the question whether the doctor, who has a clear conflict of interest, is acting in your best interests. I have absolutely no confidence in Dr. Mercola. I am reminded of Dr. Atkins, who not only had a medical practice and wrote diet books, he also was associated with a company that makes products for dieters.

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20 Comments:

Blogger Evan Nelson said...

Many times, I've heard some version of "The systems we live in have become too complex to understand without significant time spent studying them." This has become a rhetorical trope used by political parties and marketers. It seems to work hand-in-hand with American Anti-Intellectualism (which I capitalize to scare people), and this produces an environment in which people will buy cancer-causing products from health-vendors.

Craziness. And this is funny: My word verify is messes.

10:37 AM

 
Blogger The Language Guy said...

Evan, my fist book, The Language of Television Advertising was undertaken to try to understand how people used language to persuade others to do things. One could spend hours on the rhetorical tricks of Dr. Mercola.

10:50 AM

 
Blogger Evan Nelson said...

Thanks. Monday morning I'm back in the office, which--because I've set my life up this way--is only a two minute walk from our library.

3:47 PM

 
Blogger concerned citizen said...

One thing I noticed about Mr. Mercola by perusing his site & reading his "appeals", is that he preys on peoples emotions much like some religious panderers I've known . He starts off by pointing out how much control influence a certain 'evil' has on our lives & then he offers a solution... coincidentally one he sells.
I've had some experience in this myself, from working at a health food store. I didn't work in that business very long, I don't have the mindset that it takes to push "the miracle cure of the month." You know... that obscure product (up to this point known only to a band of monks living in the Himalayas or a hidden village of cancer free one hundred year old folks high in the Andes) that comes out periodically claiming to cure any problem anyone could possibly have. Not that I have anything against eating healthy foods, etc...it's the other stuff that goes with it. Do you know that people don't really want you to question the truth about their favorite miracle cure? & if you just feign ignorance & say " I don't know anything about that stuff" you take the risk that they will use the opportunity to tell you all about it.

This use of "Big Business" evokes Orwell's notion of "Big Brother," a notorious political pejorative, typically used by liberals. Before reading your post, I've never really thought about that particular business using political propaganda to sell it's products. Of course they would! The concept is interesting. Perhaps you could expound more on this?

10:21 AM

 
Blogger modwife said...

I know this post is more about the language employed by the Dr. Mercola advertising, but I must comment on the first part of your post regarding cows and milk. There are multiple studies that show that grass-fed beef contains a much better ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fats than cows that have been grain fed. Since most people's diets have unbalanced fats, this is important. Also, both Aurora and Horizon buy calves from non-organic farmers. These calves have already been injected with growth hormones and antibiotics. Even if they're treated organically after they are purchased by Horizon and Aurora, the harm has already been done. I don't by Dr. Mercola products or pay attention to his advertising, but organic and sustainable farming practices are important to our health and to the environment.

5:05 PM

 
Blogger Bill W said...

I "discovered" Dr. Mercola through a friend, initially to learn about vitamin and mineral supplements, etc. For the most part, I enjoyed his writings and learned a great deal. However, now I see that his true calling seems to be Mr. Pitchman. It seems almost every posting I receive from him is pitching some product with his name on it, the latest being his "safe" cookware. The more I see of these "commercials" from him, the more my confidence in him wanes.

7:05 AM

 
Blogger blueyoshi55 said...

Grass fed meat has more omega 3 fats and less omega 6 fats. See http://www.eatwild.com/healthbenefits.htm and http://www.texasgrassfedbeef.com/. Omega 3 fats are the kind we are supposed to get, when animals are eating their natural diets. The health of the animals is better when they eat their natural diets (including us). The links above show that the chemical composition of the meat is different and has more vitamins, such as A, E and D. Even mainstream doctors are promoting omega 3s, but what they won't tell you is that it is a ratio. You also have to cut back on omega 6s, which come from grains and vegetable oils. Most agree that the intake ratio of omega 6-3 is supposed to be 1:1, but in most of modern civilization it is as high as 50:1.

Regarding raw milk, people should not be afraid of bacteria. People should learn to work with bacteria. When people have the right bacteria in their systems, it PROTECTS them against the wrong bacteria. People used to get the right bacteria all the time from fermented foods (originally the only way to preserve foods) and their drinking water, which was not chlorinated. Now, everything we do, from antibiotics to pain meds to contraceptive pills, kills off our own stores of good bacteria, which leaves us susceptible to bad ones. Also, low stomach acid may be a factor, and the less acidic the intestines are, the more susceptible they are to parasites of all sorts. Raw milk has been framed for illness in many cases, and the number of cases of sickness has been way overblown. However, milk is still not good for everyone, due to lactose intolerance and allergies due to hard to digest proteins like casein. Milk has not always been a part of the human diet. There were Gaelics in the last century who had never even seen milk in the amount of more than a few drops.

Regarding Dr. Mercola, I'm not sure whether to trust him either. I don't like how he hides his "nutritional plan" unless you pay him. Something so important should be available to everyone. He is sensational, but he may still be sincere. I'm not sure.

As always,
westonaprice.org
rawpaleoforum.com

3:17 PM

 
Blogger Boris said...

you got him wrong. you didn't do your homework well...

1:22 AM

 
Blogger blueyoshi55 said...

How did I get him wrong? And what homework did I not do?

All I said is that he may be sincere. That doesn't mean trustworthy, or even sane. But just because someone is selling things doesn't mean they are liars or cons. If someone believes in something that requires products that aren't really available elsewhere, it makes sense that they'd want to sell them. Plus, he does have a site to support. That said, I think he is neurotic and amateurish and I wouldn't trust him at all. For instance, in a recent post about cell phone EMF, he thought you could dissipate the radiation by opening a car window. I was appalled.

3:30 PM

 
Blogger The Language Guy said...

Obviously, you have no facts to support your assertion.

4:58 PM

 
Blogger bilo said...

I agree about the whole pitchman thing hurting his credit in my own eyes and it's growing more and more in that direction. But aside from that stuff, there are free articles promoting other products that counter-mercola rants never ever acknowledge... and you know me on arguments that don't acknowledge both sides (well, now you do).

His "diet plan that is hidden unless you pay him" is rubbish. Over and over when he references the Metabolic Typing diet (which has actually worked wonders for my family where a plethora of local physicians have left us stranded) is entirely based on the William Wolcott book available at any library or used bookstore, minus a few tweaks. What you pay Mercola for in that regard is a barage of thorough bloodwork checking anything from blood sugar to vitamin D levels. Back when he still promoted cod liver oil, he was always quick to suggest the Carlson's brand. But I must admit, I can't remember the last time I've seen the words "metabolic typing" come up in one of his articles now that he has his name of krill oil and tanning beds and 50 dollar a month "whole food" multi-vitamins that "he and his team slaved over to develop the optimal" etc.

Like many of you, I don't like where that was going..but I'm not going to conveniently ignore (or not bother mentioning for the sake of playing up one angle over another) the other info the site offers for free.

Also a minor point, but a surprise, he has no problem with Purell hand sanitizers (I figured he'd be all over that one).. something that's been quite hyped in the public lately that you could easily see a blossoming Dr. Pitchman plastering his face on, but hasn't.

So.. add a little bit of balance or at least redemption points (credit where credit's due) to your argument to cut the slant.

Also: It's illegal to sell raw milk? I've tried it from local health food stores before. Maybe they knew I wasn't a "dairy narc". I don't make a habit of it, but it was quite tasty.


I have ran into the same sort of sleep apnea doctors you have, and at one point lost my insurance because of their bogus diagnosis. I went in to have a very specific sleep issue looked at (that revolved around cycles). I called bs when the first thing they had me do was watch a 22 minute info-mercial on a c-pap machine. "Golly. I wonder what I'm going to be diagnosed with? uh-hyuck!". I didn't sleep a wink and when I walked out of there "sleep study" at 6am they claimed they counted X amount of instances of apnea -- which is quite good for someone who wasn't asleep for a moment. If they were counting anything, it was probably sighs as I was thinking "why did I fall for this". I didn't take it seriously...problem with that was Blue Cross took it very seriously. At least Wolcott's book (which I borrowed) and Mercola's underlying philosophy got me out of a plague of misdiagnosis far worse than the apnea issue, and I haven't purchased any of the products or services. My grocery shopping and other habits were overhauled -- nothing extreme (I haven't replaced my lights with an artificial sun.. yet.)

4:20 PM

 
Blogger bilo said...

I agree about the whole pitchman thing hurting his credit in my own eyes and it's growing more and more in that direction. But aside from that stuff, there are free articles promoting other products that counter-mercola rants never ever acknowledge... and you know me on arguments that don't acknowledge both sides (well, now you do).

His "diet plan that is hidden unless you pay him" is rubbish. Over and over when he references the Metabolic Typing diet (which has actually worked wonders for my family where a plethora of local physicians have left us stranded) is entirely based on the William Wolcott book available at any library or used bookstore, minus a few tweaks. What you pay Mercola for in that regard is a barage of thorough bloodwork checking anything from blood sugar to vitamin D levels. Back when he still promoted cod liver oil, he was always quick to suggest the Carlson's brand. But I must admit, I can't remember the last time I've seen the words "metabolic typing" come up in one of his articles now that he has his name of krill oil and tanning beds and 50 dollar a month "whole food" multi-vitamins that "he and his team slaved over to develop the optimal" etc.

Like many of you, I don't like where that was going..but I'm not going to conveniently ignore (or not bother mentioning for the sake of playing up one angle over another) the other info the site offers for free.

Also a minor point, but a surprise, he has no problem with Purell hand sanitizers (I figured he'd be all over that one).. something that's been quite hyped in the public lately that you could easily see a blossoming Dr. Pitchman plastering his face on, but hasn't.

So.. add a little bit of balance or at least redemption points (credit where credit's due) to your argument to cut the slant.

Also: It's illegal to sell raw milk? I've tried it from local health food stores before. Maybe they knew I wasn't a "dairy narc". I don't make a habit of it, but it was quite tasty.


I have ran into the same sort of sleep apnea doctors you have, and at one point lost my insurance because of their bogus diagnosis. I went in to have a very specific sleep issue looked at (that revolved around cycles). I called bs when the first thing they had me do was watch a 22 minute info-mercial on a c-pap machine. "Golly. I wonder what I'm going to be diagnosed with? uh-hyuck!". I didn't sleep a wink and when I walked out of there "sleep study" at 6am they claimed they counted X amount of instances of apnea -- which is quite good for someone who wasn't asleep for a moment. If they were counting anything, it was probably sighs as I was thinking "why did I fall for this". I didn't take it seriously...problem with that was Blue Cross took it very seriously. At least Wolcott's book (which I borrowed) and Mercola's underlying philosophy got me out of a plague of misdiagnosis far worse than the apnea issue, and I haven't purchased any of the products or services. My grocery shopping and other habits were overhauled -- nothing extreme (I haven't replaced my lights with an artificial sun.. yet.)

6:10 PM

 
Blogger Boris said...

So what do you do when a doctor tells you that there is a solution for your problem, but you have to find a product that will solve it on your own? And you won't be sure about the quality of it unless you tried it for some time (and even then a placebo effect might influence your judgment).
Did it ever happen that you went sick to a regular doctor and didn't receive any product? They always pitch something to you and you payed for it, whether you are insured or not.
You guys just keep looking at this from the wrong prospective.
You expect someone to work for free to be genuine. Would you work for free?

1:56 AM

 
Blogger The Language Guy said...

Boris, what planet do you live on?

So what do you do when a doctor tells you that there is a solution for your problem, but you have to find a product that will solve it on your own?

That has never, ever, ever happened.
And you won't be sure about the quality of it unless you tried it for some time (and even then a placebo effect might influence your judgment).

This does not happen unless you fool with herbal medicines. We have the FDA to certify effectiveness and safety even for OTC drugs.

Did it ever happen that you went sick to a regular doctor and didn't receive any product? They always pitch something to you and you payed for it, whether you are insured or not.

This has never, ever, ever happened. I have many times received free samples but normally in the USA you receive a prescription or script for something.

You guys just keep looking at this from the wrong prospective.
You expect someone to work for free to be genuine. Would you work for free?


Your doctor is like a medicine man from the old days who would shill for his products and then sell them to you. You just can't look at things from the right perspective.

8:25 AM

 
Blogger Boris said...

Of course it never happened!!! That's my point. What good is the knowledge if you can't get the product. With regular doctors there is always a product connected with their diagnose so why does this bother you with dr. Mercola? I love the fact that he sells products for which he actually takes responsibility. Not like all other crap that doctors give you, that they are never responsible for. I would be dead a long time ago if I would take prescribed medications. When a doctor (by which I mean a number of specialists i visited) tells you that a medication will work only on symptoms and has a great potential of destroying your liver and heart, you know you came to the wrong person. And then you find noninvasive, natural solutions in dr.mercola's store and plenty of advice in his articles , what does that tell you? Seems like you are not emotionally connected enough to this subject and in this case you have to be. You can be smart all you want and have great logical reasoning, but only when you find yourself in the right situation you can really UNDERSTAND.

8:43 AM

 
Blogger Boris said...

and another thing, you cant see that there is no difference between a pitch and a prescription? of course, there is a difference. In first case you have a freedom of choice. in second you don't. It has already been sold to you. You are a part of the system. If anything goes wrong with you, they will defend themselves with statistics. Do you like to gamble? With your life on the table?

8:46 AM

 
Blogger Wendi said...

I agree with BOTH of you about Mercola. So much of the information on his site makes sense, but it's becoming increasingly infused with promotion of his own products, which calls his credibility into question. I think I'll have to do some research on how he's spending the fortune he must be making, which may provide some clues to his underlying motivation.

Ultimately it always comes down to the same thing: educate yourself as best you can, and then use your intellect, your instincts and your 'heart' to make an informed decision about what's right for you. Every decision- -especially in regard to health - - requires some degree of personal investment and responsibility. No one else - -not even a doctor - - can give you an easy, universally "right" answer. But the availability of information is critical, and Mercola does a great job in that regard.

We recently came to the realization that my mother's death in 2007 reads like a case study for the side effects of widely prescribed "osteo" drugs like Fosamax and Boniva. A petite, healthy, remarkably strong 82-year old with no bone density issues, she was a voluntary participant in the huge "Women's Health Initiative" study and wasn't even aware she was ingesting these drugs as part of the program. We had reasons to suspect her death might somehow be linked to the 'Initiative' drugs; a recent article on Mercola nailed it. Comments to the article reveal many people experience the same harrowing side effects, yet main stream media remains relatively quiet about the danger of these widely prescribed drugs.

1:12 PM

 
Blogger Matt Dickinson said...

Personally I am frustrated with not knowing who to trust. There seems to be a thousand theories for how to diet and exercise and how to be healthy. Every one of them can be claimed to be a money-making scheme, even if the person has merely written a book. I wish there was greater consensus on what makes us healthy and what we should be eating. Just recently The Guardian covered a study that said exercise often does not lead to weight loss because people who exercise tend to eat more because their body requires more energy. Then another study I read on Yahoo News (I don't remember the news source) said that obese people can be healthy, but then proceeded to say that most of the time obese people aren't healthy and even healthy obese people will be healthier if they lose weight. Frankly it leads me into almost extreme agnosticism in regards to health and nutrition.

11:03 AM

 
Blogger LBinCanada said...

I read Mercola's newsletter regulary. On one hand I have been ired by some of the claims made to help push his products. They quoted risks that were so infinitely small that the argument to purchase his product rather than going with conventional products seemed stupid. So I called him on it by writing an e-mail stating that these types of claims, in my eyes, put into question his credibility. He wrote back by sending a newsletter to all his subscribers explaining how selling his products was a necessity in order to upkeep the free newsletter. This still doesn<t hepl his credibilty. I can say that I have never purchased any of his products but I have found some of his articles to be quite informative and have followed links to sources of his info to discover a wealth of information on subjects that interest me.

To sum up, I agree that his claims can be outlandish, especially if thay are related to selling a product that he offers BUT other articles published are worth reading if you are interested in the subject matter.
**Please note that I am not discrediting the products that he sells, only the claims or risk factors he associates with using or not using his products. I have purchaesed an identical product to one that he slaps his name on and sells and I must say that I am quite satified with the results. I can not speak for all the products he flogs.

It may seem outrageous to the author that one would suggest that vaccines are not always healthy or that fluoride is unhealthy but having discussed these subjects myself with several doctors and dentists, many have confirmed these statements.

Happy questioning.

9:08 PM

 
Blogger ~*Connie*~ said...

simply because your doctor pushes a particular product (aka a prescription) doesn't mean he isn't getting financial gain by prescribing it. There was recent scandal about that..
http://oig.hhs.gov/fraud/enforcement/cmp/kickback.asp

And simply because someone pushes a product doesn't make it immediately bad, but it does make me question their version of the truth. I recently tried to have a discussion with a woman who read information on a vegan diet for her cat from someone selling vegan cat food. I tried to show her evidence that it wasn't a good idea, but she wasn't open enough to question "big business". http://www.catinfo.org
http://www.vegancats.com/pages/1007/FAQ.htm

as for selling raw milk being "illegal", you should check your facts. It is not illegal everywhere.
http://www.realmilk.com/where.html

and my last bit of something to say, is you shouldn't blindly trust the FDA either. They are not infallible. How many times have they approved a drug only to end up recalling it? There are too many to list, but the most recent being Avastin. (I could go on, but since I figured I'm sourcing everything I'm saying, I didn't want to fill up your page with links)
http://www.fda.gov/newsevents/newsroom/pressannouncements/ucm237172.htm

4:06 PM

 

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