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I frequently receive requests from people asking me to explain some of the health-scare claims made by Joseph Mercola, the overwrought professional alarmist, in his regular e-mails. Usually this involves sorting out the wheat (eg, the possible health advantages of food items from grass-fed animals) from the chaff (eg, Mercola’s resultant conclusion that we all should eat only raw eggs from chickens that we raise in our back yards). Occasionally all I have to do is explain the obvious error in a Mercola headline—“Sunlight Can Cut Your Risk of Death in Half” was one such proclamation.

But sometimes his references to supposedly unhealthy products and practices take on a vaguely sinister tone, as if there is a secret conspiracy designed to ruin civilization as we know it. Someone forwarded to me just such a Mercola article earlier this week, and the introductory copy had this person concerned about a product that she uses: erythritol.

“Exactly What is The New Sweetener Erythritol?” was the teaser headline in the e-mail. Continuing this allusion to possibly nefarious substances, the next line warned, “This is not the only ingredient that makes VitaminWater a poor nutritional choice.” The first paragraph of the article even referred to this polyol as “a mysterious product called Erythritol”. To my correspondent, this sounded fairly ominous, yet she couldn’t figure out after reading the article exactly what Mercola’s problem is with erythritol.

Well, after reading the article, neither could I. Why? Because once the inflammatory intro is finished, the word “erythritol” appears exactly once in the entire article. That’s it.
Mercola’s real beef seems to be that Coca-Cola has the audacity to market sweetened water as a health drink, but that isn’t very attention-getting, of course, partly because sugary drinks have been around for a century, and mostly because Mercola has railed against this kind of thing so much in the past that even his fan base doesn’t listen anymore. Thus he needs to find some other avenue of attack, something that sounds, well, “mysterious”, so that he can instruct us all in the unhealthy realities of the product and gain our commercial thanks for saving us.

Apparently, Mercola believes that his readers will be impressed by his being ahead of the curve on erythritol, even though the substance is actually older than I am. Hardly news-breaking, but then Mercola obviously was hard-pressed for fresh material for his routine. His article does mention possible absorption problems with significant consumptions of other polyols, and by implication we are supposed to assume that erythritol is equally causative, but Mercola does not exactly write that, which is proper, because erythritol is the best absorbed of the polyols.
When I e-mailed back my correspondent with the additional data that erythritol has a glycæmic index of 0 and only 0.2 kcals per gram, she decided that the fact that she had used the sweetener for years without problems was more informative than Mercola’s missive.

Personally, I’m hoping that from now on he delivers more headlines like “Sunlight Can Cut Your Risk of Death in Half”. That, at least, was pretty funny.