What has happened to you, Dr. Oz?

The show biz career of Dr. Mehmet Oz has been on fire ever since he started in 2003 on the Discovery Channel. The first guest on that show was one Oprah Winfrey, who dubbed the charmer, “America’s Doctor”. Dr. Oz now spends his time writing best-selling books on diet and beauty, and hosts a hit TV show. One wonders when he has time to practice cardiology anymore.

Less cardiology would seem to be a tragedy.  His useful book Healing From The Heart made a profound impact on me when I read it after my own heart attack in 2008. But in an unprecedented frenzy to win TV viewers and boost ratings, the skilled cardiologist-turned-entertainer is now in danger of becoming a pathetic caricature of his former well-respected self. 

You may have witnessed the latest embarrassing low point in which he trotted out a trio of his smarmy cosmetic surgery pals to demonstrate their expensive and oddly disturbing anti-aging procedures on live audience volunteers, all women, of course. The rest of the star-struck crowd cheered as if this were an old time religious revival, and as if it were perfectly normal to eavesdrop on syringes filled with who-knows what injected beneath a patient’s eyes in public by a doctor who kept asking her camera guy: “Can they see this?”

If you did catch this show, you might agree that some of the medical advice Dr. Oz is now peddling is what the watchdog site Respectful Insolence has aptly described as “ranging from fairly pedestrian to pure quackery”.

Like Oprah, when Dr. Oz speaks, millions of people listen. He’s made some startling claims over the years, according to an interview in Forbes, like those about the alleged anti-aging properties of resveratrol, a substance found in red wine.

“Even Oprah looked a tad skeptical as Dr. Oz, sitting in hospital scrubs and holding a bowl of green pills, once described his belief that drinking red wine could substantially slow aging. To get enough resveratrol, however, you’d have to drink 24 bottles of wine a day. Or, you could just take a resveratrol pill.”

Last year, the New York Times questioned Dr. Oz’s association with Hearst-owned RealAge.com and the way in which pharmaceutical companies use the website to reach consumers. Dr. Oz, a spokesman for and advisor to RealAge.com, solicits visitors to this site to fill out detailed health questionnaires to discover their “real age,” then turns that information over to pharmaceutical companies, which then target-market drugs to these individuals.

A quick browse around the RealAge.com website comes up with some troubling “facts” about more of his anti-aging promises.

Dr. Oz is very big on anti-aging these days, although as the The Los Angeles Times described him in June, he “prefers sensationalism to science, and his claims for achieving extreme longevity are unproved and overblown.”

For example, in his RealAge.com article Six Foods to Keep Your Mind Young, I learn that if I eat one cup of soybeans every day, I will magically become 0.4 years younger than my chronological age. Really?  No explanation of how Dr. Oz proves this number is offered. Other articles include The Nearly Dirty Dozen: 10 Frisky Foods (Fill Your Cart with Sexy Food) or how about Eat Fat, Get Younger? Do these catchy titles sound like the work of a credible cardiologist to you?

They’re not meant to be. Dr. Tom Linden, a professor of medical and science journalism at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill told the Los Angeles Times that today’s celebrity doctors can be divided into two broad categories: medical journalists and medical showmen. I suspect Dr. Oz has morphed into the latter. Dr. Linden explains:

“Journalists operate under journalistic principles. The showmen operate outside the sphere of journalism and are in the world of informational entertainment.”

And Dr. David Halle, professor of sociology at UCLA, speculates that the limited time patients now get for doctor visits and their increasingly restricted access to specialists have combined to push people towards the media and the Internet with celebrity experts like Dr. Oz.

“The risk is that these celebrity doctors deliver one-size-fits-all medicine.”

Meanwhile, Respectful Insolence cites these other examples of questionable “advice” from Dr. Oz, clearly meant to enhance television ratings, not health education:

  • mud baths for arthritis, which probably don’t actually help the pathology of arthritis but might make people feel better for the same reason that a warm bath makes people with arthritis feel better
  • black cohosh and sage for menopausal symptoms, even though the evidence for this is weak at best
  • infrared saunas for the prevention of colds and flu, even though there is virtually no evidence that they are effective
  • cupping for circulation, which is “pretty much pure quackery” according to Respectful Insolence

All of these were demonstrated on audience members in what seemed disturbingly like a session with persuasive faith healers.

Right now, his daily Dr. Oz Show is on TV in the background as I write this. He’s playing one of his goofy audience participation game shows while pitching Four Libido Super-Foods that he claims will “save your relationship”.

I am so embarrassed for him.

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22 thoughts on “What has happened to you, Dr. Oz?

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Very well put. Perhaps something does happen to decent, skilled, respected professionals when the bright lights of television (and Oprah’s stamp of approval) lure them into show biz? Perhaps they actually start listening to the flattering mobs around them and then start buying their own BS?

    It’s kinda like the Emperor’s new clothes – somebody should have quietly taken Dr. Oz aside years ago and told him the truth about this embarrassing slide towards cheeziness. While you can tell that much of his content was well-meaning at first (he does cover useful medical information at times) it’s almost like his producers have already run out of the good topics by now – hence the pathetic repeat of these tacky anti-aging themes and sensational attention grabbers like those libido-enhancing foods. Ouch.

    It’s tragic, I think, because a person of his celebrity status could now be using that status to encourage women to embrace the reality of aging rather than continue like all other media influences to make us feel less-than-adequate and in need of his cosmetic surgery friends.

    I honestly hope that Dr. Oz reads this article, although that will likely never happen.

    Thank You for your fine work here on this website – always a thoughtful and provocative and well-researched effort.

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  2. Interesting – thanks for this info. Is it inevitable that otherwise honorable professionals become sucked in by their own celebrity? Look at the formerly smart and folksy Dr. Phil whose average daily TV show is now approaching a really bad Gerry Springer episode. And the reality seems to be that with both Phil and Oz, you have your basic smart men with inexperience and wooden delivery style “onstage” as they go from mildly interesting talk show guests to uncomfortable-looking talk show hosts.

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  3. Thanks for this – straight to the point and SO TRUE. One wonders if these celebrity “medical showmen” like Oz ever take a good hard look at themselves in the mirror and long for the good old days when all they did was provide brilliant medical care?

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  4. Oh I thought I was the only one who felt this way, I started off really enjoying his interviews on Oprah but you are so right, something has now gotten into him that makes his new show positively unwatchable for me. Is it because he seems to be trying so hard to be “entertaining” instead of being a credible medical doctor?

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  5. According to his biography posted on about.com he is not, nor ever was a practicing cardioligist. He received an md and mba, and was a professor of cardiology.

    The reality is television is a visual medium and informative lectures dryly given tend not to play well. Even in college, the more popular lecturers are one part showman.

    They (Dr. Phil etc.) have all women audiences, because its daytime television. Check it out.

    And geez, where is this all “doctors must be pure” schtick coming from? Practically all doctors are shills for the drug companies, or have some sort of investments/business interest/whatever going on. The medical profession is capital intensive and profit driven. When I see doctors driving hondas instead of bmws, then I will change my mind; As long as I continually see doctor’s lots at hospitals filled with high end luxury vehicles, no doctor is “pure”.

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    • Bruce, you seem to be missing the point entirely. It’s not about whether Dr. Oz drives a Honda or not, or how much money doctors make (or whether his viewers are women!) This article is about celebrity docs who become “medical showmen” by featuring content that’s driven by TV ratings, not science.

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    • Bruce, my father is a doctor and, funnily enough, drives a honda. He has also never accepted any “perks” (vacations etc) offered by numerous drug companies. There are some great doctors out there who take the high road and also take really good care of their patients. Don’t paint everyone in the medical profession with the same brush.

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  6. Dr. Oz also supports and vigorously advocates for routine infant circumcision, contradictory to the available research and current ethical concerns, on account of his personal cultural bias. The roles of ‘television doctor’ or ‘day time television celebrity’ scream ‘snake oil merchant’ to me.

    Truly, if presenting ethical, well-researched, balanced pieces was profitable, there would be hundreds in his place.

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  7. Thank you!! I just found this. If you’re spending all your time on TV, like he is, you don’t have time to treat patients and keep in touch with medical reality.

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    • Dr. ZDogg, I’m still laughing out loud at: “It immediately became so quiet in the room, I swore I could hear the ultrasonic echo waves daintily reflecting off the nearby patient’s calcific mitral annulus.”

      Love your video….

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        • Are you kidding me? I’m a longtime fan. In fact, I was going to repost your ‘Code Gold: The Greatest CPR Hits EVER!’ on my other site, Heart Sisters, but thought it might be a bit much for some of my newly-diagnosed cardiac survivors over there. Instead, I’ll just invite folks to check it out for themselves here.
          Cheers,
          C.

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  8. Drs. ZDogg and ZDadd MD – what a pair you are. Your dad’s adorable. Now stay away from Coke. And his stethoscope. And microwave popcorn, of course . . .

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  9. Correct that “reaches millions” part. Oz is peddling his wares in India now too. So, the correct number would be “billions”. And as a nation that officially recognized ayurveda/homeopathy/snake oil as proper medical disciplines and actually grants our tax money to teach these to people and qualify them, we are just primed for his kind of namby pamby BS.

    Well written. I caught a couple of episodes, and I must say if I could keep the medical side of my brain anesthetized, I would enjoy it. My mom is a lawyer and she seemed to love his showmanship and the way he handled the whole audience. The show was, of course, utterly ridiculous as he stated a myriad unscientific shit in one episode itself…

    Its a pity to know that he started off as a good doctor and how he has degenerated… oh what a fall we had, my countrymen!

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    • Thanks so much for your comments, Dr. P – interesting that your mother enjoys his “showmanship”, which is the very thing (aside from those iffy medical facts!) that most annoys me. He is indeed a popular and powerful voice. When he speaks, people do listen, whether he’s right or not.
      Cheers,
      C.

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  10. Carolyn, you are so right. Here it is 2012 and I saw one of his shows a few weeks back where I think his show was entirely about supplements. I was thinking what is he trying to sell? But what does the average person know. They take it all in. I try to research anything that I may take or my parents take which is how I came across your site. Keep up the good work!!

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  11. Dr Oz is nothing but a big commercial board for companies that can’t sell their products without his aid and he makes a huge profit on those items he promotes. Wonder if he cares about what he is doing to people that actually believe in him, because he is a heart surgeon and people feel that he would not steer them wrong.
    Aside from promoting all the stuff that he is promoting on his show, each week something different and the health effect that it may have on some people the financial hardship he causes can be devastating.
    He has promoted so many diet solutions stating that if you take this pill or that pill you don’t have to exercise or go on a diets and you will lose all the weight you want to, knowing full well that that is a bunch of bull, but he is making a fortune what does he care.

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  12. everyone should be educated in basic medicine… and human diseases and health… most of us can do very well with the basics, instead of having to rely on “experts” who have money making motives.. learning how to evaluate medical claims… is more important than learning about any number of other things..

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