Oprah Winfrey first referred to Mehmet Oz as “America’s doctor” in 2004, during one of his earliest appearances on her television show, and this label apparently stuck. Now he has his own show, and for several years, has regularly touted a series of questionable—often patently fake—remedies and concepts to an adoring, and uncritical, audience. Now, however, and probably long overdue, his hand has been caught in the proverbial cookie jar.
Oz’s most recent transgression—but not the most outrageous—follows a charge brought by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that he is involved in a scam to deceive consumers through fake news sites and bogus weight loss claims: He now touts the use of the dietary supplement Pure Green Coffee as a potent weight loss treatment that supposedly burns fat. The FTC alleged that weeks after Oz’s promotion, several individuals, who control various companies—NPB Advertising, Inc and others—began marketing through sites that featured excerpts from Oz’s show and testimonials from “consumers” who were paid for their participation. They also set up sites that featured mastheads of fictitious news organizations such as Women’s Health Journal and Healthy Living Reviewed, as well as logos they appropriated from actual news organizations, like CNN and MSNBC. The FTC charged the defendants with falsely claiming that users of their product could lose 20 pounds in four weeks, 16% of body fat in 12 weeks, and 30 pounds and four-to-six inches of belly fat in 3 to 5 months. “Not only did these defendants trick consumers with their phony weight loss claims, they also compounded the deception by advertising on pretended news sites, making it impossible for people to know whether they were seeing news or an ad,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
But how can Oz be connected to such shenanigans? This man has credible medical credentials, being licensed to practice cardiovascular surgery in a respected medical facility. To the vast majority of us “real” physicians, he has become a laughing stock. Although Oz supposedly never endorses specific brands, and it states on his Web site that invoking his name is not allowed. But when it comes to sales, the differences are blurred, for statements “as seen on ‘The Dr. Oz Show’ are often as valuable as the words “recommended by Dr. Oz.”
For futher background reading, I would refer you to an article by Michael Specter (February 4, 2013) in the New Yorker Magazine, appropriately titled: “The Operator: Is the most trusted doctor in America doing more harm than good?” Specter noted that in the past, Oz’s recommendations, even when unsupported by data, have usually done no harm. Lately, however, he seems to have moved more firmly into the realm of tenuous treatments for serious conditions. On one recent episode, “Dr. Oz’s 13 Miracles for 2013, he included “a revolutionary” new way to live years longer: “It’s red palm oil.” He went on, “Its red color is perfect, because I think of it as a stop sign for aging.” Specter asked Oz several times why he promotes that kind of product, and allows psychics, homeopaths, and purveyors of improbable diet plans and dietary supplements to appear on the show. He said that he takes his role as a medium between medicine and the people seriously, and he feels that such programs offer his audience a “broader perspective” on health.
But such revelations are really nothing new: Oz was recognized the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) that promotes critical thinking through grants for outstanding educators, scholarships to inspire skeptical students, and annual conferences showcasing the best of skeptical thought. Every April Fools Day, this organization honors the five worst offenders who are intentionally or unintentionally pulling the wool over the public’s eyes, providing awards to the most deserving charlatans, swindlers, psychics, pseudo-scientists, and faith healers—and to their credulous enablers, too. The awards are named for both the mythical flying horse Pegasus of Greek mythology and the highly improbable flying pig (Pigasus) of popular cliche. In 2009 and 2011, the Pigasus Award went to Dr. Mehmet Oz, “who has done such a disservice to his TV viewers by promoting quack medical practices that he is now the first person to win a Pigasus award for two years.” Dr. Oz, through his syndicated TV show, has promoted faith healing, ‘”energy medicine,” and other quack theories that have no scientific basis. Oz has appeared on ABC News to give legitimacy to the claims of Brazilian faith healer “John of God,” who uses old carnival tricks to take money from the seriously ill. He’s hosted Ayurvedic guru Yogi Cameron on his show to promote nonsense “tongue examination” as a way of diagnosing health problems. In March 2011, Dr. Oz endorsed “psychic” huckster and past Pigasus winner John Edward, who pretends to talk to dead people. Oz even suggested that bereaved families should visit psychic mediums to receive (faked) messages from their dead relatives as a form of grief counseling.
Finally we note that, in his article of May 26, 2014 entitled Diet Lures and Diet Lies, Frank Bruni, Op-Ed columnist for the N.Y. Times, has pointed out another bogus product, Garcinia Cambogia. “According to the label, the pills contain the powdered extract of an exotic fruit for which quasi-mystical claims are made. It blocks fat absorption, or at least it might. It suppresses appetite, or so a few people have reported. It regulates emotional eating, in unproven theory.” Dr. Oz described Garcinia Cambogia as; “The Holy Grail of Weight Loss”. Citing “clinical studies”, Oz emphasized that this “dual action fat burner” could be the magic ingredient that helps you lose weight, “even without diet or exercise!” But the facts state otherwise: After scouring the scientific literature, I discovered that this product, containing the presumed active ingredient, hydroxycitric acid, has been, to some extent, studied scientifically. A pooled analysis of nine studies, published in 2011, showed that although the analysis revealed a small difference in weight loss favoring hydroxycitric acid over placebo, gastrointestinal adverse events were more common in the treated group compared with placebo, which, in itself, could have explained minor weight loss. On balance, however, the analysis showed no convincing effect on weight reduction.
So with all this underwhelming information, your best bet is to avoid the Oz show entirely, but if you can’t, take it purely for its entertainment value and don’t be misled into spending any money on his recommendations!