Blog Post

Congress Grills Snake Oil Pedding Dr. Oz

dr oz 2The famous cardiothoracic surgeon turned New Age guru, Dr. Mehmet Oz, was grilled by Congress last Tuesday for making misleading claims about various weight-loss aids.

Fox News' Dr. Manny Alvarez reports that Dr. Oz, best known for his daily talk show, The Dr. Oz Show,  sat before members of the Senate's consumer protection panel on June 17 for a long scolding about making misleading claims about various weight-loss aids, particularly, the diet supplement known as green coffee extract.

Green coffee extract (GCE) is produced by grinding up raw, unroasted coffee, then soaking it in alcohol to draw out the antioxidants, most notably its chlorogenic acid.  (Chlorogenic acid is also contained in significant quantities in roasted coffee beans so there's some question as to why it has to be green coffee beans). This ingredient supposedly helps people shed pounds very quickly, or so the good doctor says.

How does he back up his claims? First, he cites a study by Joe Vinson of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania that was published in the online journal Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy in which patients who took the extract lost more weight than those who did not.

The problem with this study is that it was very small (only 16 participants), very poorly controlled, and had a host of other problems which are described here.

green coffee beansOz decided he was also going to conduct his own study on GCE and selected about 100 women from his audience. Some received the real pills and others a placebo. He later reported on his show that "We found taking green coffee extract doubles your weight loss."

"Sounds fantastic. But let's take a closer look at his study," writes Michaeleen Doucleff of NPR.  "It lasted two weeks. And on average, the women who took the coffee extract dropped 2 pounds, while those who got the placebo lost an average of 1 pound. Was the difference statistically significant? We don't know. Oz hasn't published the experiment, and his people didn't respond to our request for comment."

Surely a surgeon of his skill was aware of how shabby this "research" was, but that didn't stop him from trumpeting the drug's "miraculous" qualities on his show.

This is what led him to a seat in front of a Congressional panel last week.

"I get that you do a lot of good on your show," Chairman Claire McCaskill told Oz at the hearing, "but I don't get why you need to say this stuff, because you know it's not true."

Oz insisted that he really believes in the supplements he talks about on his show, but that he sees them as "short-term crutches".  He also told the panel that he sees his job on the show as being a kind of cheerleader who offers hope to people, even if that means hyping alternative healing methods and whatever scant evidence he can find that might support them.

Goodnighties magical pajamas Goodnighties magical pajamas

This would explain why he touts outlandish thing such as magical pajamas known as Goodnighties and "De-Stress Squeeze Socks" to help people relieve anxiety through aromatherapy.

He's also hosted hypnotist Paul McKenna who attempted to hypnotize the viewing audience during a show, apparently without any regard to those viewers who might have actually been hypnotized and then suffered some kind of post-hypnotic effects which are quite common.

Occult artists are also featured on his show such as numerologists Glynis McCant who added up people's ages and birth dates in order to give "readings" to his audience.

But what do we expect from a man who was criticized by his fellow doctors for performing Reiki on patients in his operating room?

Dr. Manny sums up the problems with Dr. Oz very succinctly: "He wants to be a doctor, but at the same time, he wants to be a talk show host and entertain people."

And because medical information is quite boring to the average person, the pressure to improve ratings may have "transformed Dr. Oz into less of an educator, and more of an entertainer."

This is evidenced by the fact that over time, his show featured fewer and fewer genuine medical professionals and more and more "snake oil" salespeople, Dr. Manny says.

"And all of this razzle dazzle has ultimately led to Congress' stern criticism."

By the end of the hearing, Oz admitted that there was no such thing as a miracle pill for weight loss and offered to help the panel "drain the swamp" of supplement hucksters who are peddling a variety of sham weight loss products to a vulnerable public.

If he doesn't take some serious steps to clean up his act, Oz will be flushed down the same drain as the rest of them.