Oprah Under Fire for Promoting Quackery

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

Medical experts are finally speaking out about the variety of New Age and otherwise bad medical techniques being touted regularly on the Oprah Winfrey show.

Two high-profile publications have featured critiques of the media maven in the past month for promoting all kinds of untested quackery. In a May 15 expose in Salon.com by Rahul Parikh, M.D., Winfrey was taken to task for promoting dangerous medicine without adequately informing viewers of the risks involved.

One of the most egregious examples he cited was a show featuring Dr. Christiane Northrup, who helps women with thyroid conditions by connecting “the mind, the body and the spirit.”

Dr. Northrup claims that thyroid dysfunction in many women develops as a result of “an energy blockage in the throat region, the result of a lifetime of ‘swallowing’ words one is aching to say. In the name of preserving harmony, or because these women have learned to live as relatively helpless members of their families or social groups, they have learned to stifle their self-expression. These women may, in fact, have struggled to have their say, only to discover that it doesn’t make any difference — because in their closest relationships they have been defined as insignificant.”

Northrup later admitted to Dr. Parikh that this belief is not based on medical science but on Ayurvedic and other Eastern approaches to health.

Even though Winfrey proclaimed Northrup to be “just the best doctor,” she neglected to mention that there is absolutely no medical evidence at all to support the idea that thyroid disease is the result of an “energy blockage” or a woman’s inability to assert herself.

Another example were two shows featuring actress and self-proclaimed health guru Suzanne Somers who promotes an untested and dangerous therapy to combat aging known as “bioedentical” hormones.

“’Bioidentical’ is supposed to refer to drugs that mimic a woman’s endogenous hormones,” Dr. Parikh explains. “Somers argues that these hormones are more natural, more effective and safer than what doctors prescribe. In reality, however, there are no good medical studies to back up those claims.”

In Somers book, “Ageless: The Naked Truth About Bioidentical Hormones,” which Winfrey enthusiastically endorsed, Somers admits to using outlandish amounts of these hormones daily while taking 60 oral supplements a day. “Many people write Suzanne off as a quackadoo,” Winfrey declared on the show. “But she just might be a pioneer.”

Winfrey did allow doctors who were seated in the audience to respond, but one of these doctors, Lauren Streicher, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist, told Dr. Parikh that Winfrey gave her little time to seriously rebut Somers. In addition, many of her comments were edited out of the show, such as when she told the audience that Somers’ “experts” had no medical degrees or clinical experience.

In addition to promoting a variety of New Age self-help books such as A Course in Miracles, Ronda Byrne’s The Secret and Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth, both Dr. Parikh and another article appearing in Newsweek took Winfrey to task for promoting a dangerous face lift technique called a “thread lift.” It involves inserting sutures under the skin to tighten tissue. What no one bothered to mention are the serious problems with the procedure such as indentations, bunching, dimpling, broken threads, and facial asymmetry.

Winfrey featured another untested face lift cream, Restylane, which doctors inject into the eyelid to eliminate wrinkling. Again, no mention was made of the risks which include severe eye swelling and blood clots that can lead to blindness.

In response to this criticism, Winfrey said in a statement:  “For 23 years, my show has presented thousands of topics that reflect the human experience, including doctors’ medical advice and personal health stories that have prompted conversations between our audience members and their health care providers. I trust the viewers, and I know that they are smart and discerning enough to seek out medical opinions to determine what may be best for them.”

But what if they aren’t?

Unfortunately, Winfrey intends to continue her crusade of promoting untested medical cures. According to Newsweek, she is planning to launch her own cable television channel that will reach 70 million homes. Called the Oprah Winfrey Network, it will include Oprah-approved programming on health and living well. In announcing the deal, Oprah said, “I will now have the opportunity to do this 24 hours a day on a platform that goes on forever.”
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