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The Wizard of Oz

written by Marsha Seidelman, M.D.
on Friday, 2nd January ,2015

I'm often asked what I think about Dr. Oz's advice. The Dr Oz Show has almost 3 million viewers per day, which makes him an influential source of medical information. He dresses in surgical scrubs, takes advantage of his standing as a physician, and excitedly reports about 'miracles' for weight loss and advocates for 'anti-aging' breakthroughs. It's difficult to brush it all off as nonsense since sometimes it does include accepted medical advice.

For this article, I perused Doctor Oz' site (www.doctoroz.com) to see what I've been missing. I watched a video on his site for forskolin, a long term homeopathic treatment for blood pressure, angina and asthma. He had the audience take 'belfies' - i.e. selfies of their bellies - then photo- shopped the fat away to show what taking forskolin would do for them (note that the clothing on these belfies didn't match what the viewers were actually wearing, but whatever - not important). Then he demonstrated with a torch and an inflated model of a belly how - literally - the pills would burn away the overlying fat and not only leave beautiful muscle behind but build muscle at the same time. Imagine that - without any mention of exercise.

A paper titled “Reality Check: There is no such thing as a miracle food” in the journal of Nutrition and Cancer countered Oz’s assertion that endive, red onion and sea bass can decrease the likelihood of ovarian cancer by 75 percent. (1)

During a June 18, 2014 Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing, Dr. Oz testified on Capitol Hill about diet scams. Senator Claire McCaskill, the chair of the Senate's Consumer Protection panel, told CBS News, "I've got no problem with celebrity endorsements of any product but I do have a problem when a science-based doctor says something is a miracle when there's no science to back it up." (4) Sen. McCaskill called out Oz for endorsing Forskolin, Garcinia cambogia and raspberry ketones as viable weight-loss supplements.

He was criticized for helping to promote green coffee bean extract for weight loss after a study was published about its benefits. The evidence turned out to be falsified, including the patients' weights. It was such a poor study that the Federal Trade Commission filed a legal complaint for false advertising against the the company that sponsored it, Applied Food Sciences, and had them pay a 3.5 million dollar settlement. Unless there was proof that Oz knew that the green coffee bean study was flawed, he couldn't be held liable for supporting its results. Perhaps he could have or should have known better, but he took the data in good faith, as we often do with studies.

I sometimes do tell patients that I believe that a one-time larger dose of Vitamin C works at the onset of cold symptoms or that chondroitin sulfate might help their knee pain - but I'm quick to add that the studies do NOT support these claims. The advice comes from personal anecdotal experience.

As physicians, we are sometimes given information that appears valid but later turns out to be inaccurate. Estrogen is a major player in this regard - many of us placed our post-menopausal patients on it, then changed our recommendations when other reports followed -- so these things happen. Dr. Oz has just followed more invalid or unproven recommendations than most.

I bring all of this up because of a December 17th article in the British Medical Journal that evaluated the claims he made. The authors recognized that TV is one of the most important mass media sources of health information. (They didn't mention ladydocscornercafe - I guess we need to advertise in England.) They randomly selected 40 episodes each of The Dr. Oz Show and The Doctors, two internationally syndicated medical or health TV daily talk shows. They looked at shows from early 2013 and evaluated 80 recommendations made on those shows in the given time frame.

For the Dr. Oz Show, evidence supported almost half of his claims, contradicted 15% and was not found for 39%. For The Doctors, there was supporting evidence for 63%. Their conclusion, in this major medical journal is that, "Approximately half of the recommendations have either no evidence or are contradicted by the best available evidence. Potential conflicts of interest are rarely addressed. The public should be skeptical about recommendations made on medical talk shows." (2)

With millions of viewers, whatever he recommends, data or no data, the pills fly off the shelf.

Save your money when it comes to these miracle cures of losing weight without changing your nutrition or exercise routine. It can't happen! And although many of the over-the-counter supplements are harmless, they are unregulated, and we can't give a blanket recommendation of safety. Use your good judgment if you watch these shows and check with a reliable source - a website or your health care professional - if you have questions about their validity. If you see information about a study and you wonder about how relevant it is, think about some of the points in my previous article - "Don't Believe Everything You Read."

My own go-to source to check on supplements is nccam.nih.gov, the website for NCCIH - the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, at the NIH. According to their website: "The center’s research priorities include the study of complementary approaches—such as spinal manipulation, meditation, and massage—to manage pain and other symptoms that are not always well-addressed by conventional treatments… The center’s research also encourages self-care methods that support healthier lifestyles and uncovers potential usefulness and safety issues of natural products."

Keep an open mind, but keep questioning - remember, if it sounds too good to be true ….


1) http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/12/19/half-of-dr-ozs-medical-advice-is-baseless-or-wrong-study-says/?tid=hp_mm&hpid=z3

2)Televised medical talk shows—what they recommend and the evidence to support their recommendations: a prospective observational study
BMJ 2014; 349 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g7346 (Published 17 December 2014)  Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g7346

3) http://www.people.com/article/dr-oz-weight-loss-supplements-green-coffee-bean-fbcx-forskolin-garcinia-cambogia-raspberry-ketones

4) http://www.cbsnews.com/news/dr-oz-endorsed-green-coffee-bean-diet-study-retracted/

Tags: miracle cures, supplements

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