Dr. Oz: Trustworthy or the Last of the New-Age Quacks?

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Question: If Dr. Oz knows so much about losing weight, how come Oprah is so fat?

I love Oprah and would never criticize her for accepting her body.  However, she made Oz famous.  She is his mentor, and if anyone should benefit from his vast knowledge of miraculous cures, she should.  So why can’t he help her?

The answer is that too often, the brilliant Mehmet Oz is a quack.  He doesn’t offer legitimate weight loss advice that relies on science-based medicine; instead he offers a soft barrage of fluff aimed at junior high school girls.  He frequently endorses fraudulent health supplements of all sorts, despite mountainous medical evidence that they do not work, and when serious scientists criticize him, he shrugs them off by saying such programs “offer his audience a broader perspective on health”.  Sure.  For twenty years, reporters have given the same disingenuous line about climate change, but all their ‘balance’ did was make us warmer. 

Dr. Oz has recommended three diet products that became overwhelmingly successful after he discussed them: Garcinia Cambogia, Raspberry Ketones, and Green Coffee Bean Extract.  Unfortunately, none of them work.  Here’s a quick comparison between his claims and reality:

Garcinia Cambogia

On Oct 29, 2012, Oz called Garcinia Cambogia the “newest, fastest fat buster.”  He described it as “a breakthrough,” “magic,” “Holy Grail,” “revolutionary”, and “almost a miracle cure”, and said, “I want you to write it down; it may be the simple solution you’ve been looking for to bust your body fat for good.”  His pitch was hypnotic; I actually thought about buying Garcinia Cambogia until I remembered that for years, I’ve been making fun of people who tout ‘magic in a bottle’.  The active ingredient in Garcinia Cambogia, hydroxycitric acid, is not new; it has been studied for nearly 20 years.  And it doesn’t work.  It isn’t a Holy Grail full of diet pills; it is an empty bottle of magic.

Raspberry Ketones

Dr. Oz  called raspberry ketone supplements a “miracle in a bottle.”  (That’s almost right.)  As you probably guessed, there’s no proof for this claim.  Studies on raspberry ketones have been conducted on rodents or cells, never on people, and there is no reason to believe that the minor weight loss shown in rats will also be seen in humans.  So why does America’s doctor call it a miracle?

Green Coffee Bean Extract

A “miracle fat burner!” “One of the most important discoveries made in weight loss science!”  Yet another miracle, according to Mehmet Oz.  But not according to researchers, who analyzed the three published studies of green coffee bean extract and wrote, “the studies are all of poor methodological quality.  More rigorous trials are needed to assess the usefulness of green coffee bean extract as a weight loss tool.”  The only study with a successful outcome was funded by Applied Food Sciences, a manufacturer of green-coffee-bean supplements.  Oz must have known that (we do!), but he didn’t mention it on his show.

You may have noticed that the three stories in the previous paragraphs are identical: in each case Oz shamelessly touted a valueless product, knowing that the legitimate scientific community was monolithic in opposing his latest pixie dust but confident that his recommendation would ultimately increase his audience.  And he was right.

I spent several hours researching this piece before I began to write it. And then, just as I was beginning to conclude that Dr. Oz was a charming but incompetent fraud, I changed my opinion.  I read a detailed study of him by Michael Specter in The New Yorker.  Mehmet Oz has been married for 26 years to Lisa LeMole, a bright, intense woman who still lives in the Seventies, the Age of Aquarius.  The Seventies were a Willy Wonka decade: every soul was sweet, every heart was full of love, and Fairies flew everywhere.  (I still have Tinkerbelle’s autograph somewhere.)  You could close your eyes, hold hands with a few friends and strangers, and mystically spread your love around the world.  You could make your back yard crop of vegetables grow strong and tall by simply chanting over them, but you could never use store-bought fertilizers; they would ruin the plants’ aura.  During the Seventies, people believed in the healing power of magic and in the evils of the Establishment.

Specter writes, “Lisa is intelligent, articulate, and unconventional; she eats no meat (Oz does),and is wholly opposed to genetically modified foods.”  (Oz is ambivalent about GMOs, despite mammoth evidence of its safety.)  “Also, she has repeatedly expressed reservations about the value of some vaccinations.  In 2009, when public-health officials urged Americans to vaccinate their children against the H1N1 strain of influenza, Lisa Oz said that she had no intention of doing so.”  Oz said publically that he disagreed but was powerless to change her decision.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, America’s Doctor, is happily married to a woman who was willing to let her children suffer and die rather than abandon her politics.  And since he did nothing to stop her, he was not sufficiently frightened by her bullshit beliefs to protect his children.  A stronger, more rational person would never compromise his children’s health and safety.  (I should add that there is no question about the safety of vaccines.  The theory that they cause autism has been thoroughly disproven, although it continues to be supported by cranks like Jenny McCarthy.  Google “Do vaccines cause autism” to learn more.)

Lisa Oz is a master of Reiki, an ancient Japanese art based on the primitive notion that an unseen, undetectable, life-giving source of energy flows through our bodies.  Reiki master believe they can harness that force to heal the body.  (If they can harness it, why can’t they demonstrate it?)  Lisa may be daft but she isn’t hurting anyone except her children.  However, Dr. Oz has brought Reiki practitioners into the operating room, saying “Not everything adds up. It’s about making people more comfortable.”  More comfortable?  His cardiac patients are heavily sedated.  They don’t know who is in the room.  Oz could have brought in a Reiki master or a guy with a snow cone machine; his patient wouldn’t know the difference and snow cones would have comforted his nurses, who need it.  The serious point: America’s Doctor does not accept the principles of science-based medicine.

Last week I saw Oprah on TV and was surprised at how much weight she had gained.  I idly asked my wife why Dr. Oz hadn’t helped her.  At the time, I thought Mehmet Oz was a charismatic mountebank who had charmed his way past Oprah to become “America’s Doctor”.  But I was wrong.  Oz is brilliant according to the many brilliant people who have worked with him.  And his audiences adore him, even though he dispenses a strange mixture of excellent advice and pseudo-scientific claptrap.  He is very successful, but he would have had been even more successful if he had come of age during the 1970’s, the dreamy Age of Aquarius.  Mehmet Oz isn’t a fraud and he isn’t incompetent.  However, he isn’t America’s Doctor, either.  He is Doctor Aquarius.