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.
- the Forbes magazine piece on Dr. Oz
- the Respectful Insolence article called Dr. Mehmet Oz: Gone Completely Over To The Dark Side
- Jane Brody’s piece in The New York Times on RealAge.com and Dr. Oz
- When Doctors Go Retail: Is It Okay To Sell Products?