As you know (unless you’ve been living under a rock with no access to cable for the past year), Oprah Winfrey has recently retired from her daily talk show after 25 years on the air. I was an off-and-on viewer for decades, like many of you. But her departure may leave some doctors rejoicing. Why? Because, according to physician Dr. Jen Gunter:
“Oprah is the Supreme Empress of medical woo, disseminating the greatest combination of medical mumbo jumbo and snake oil the world has ever seen.”
Former Winnipegger Dr. Jen is an obstetrician/gynecologist, pain specialist and author of The Preemie Primer whose views represent a surprisingly large number of concerned former viewers, including me. I especially liked Dr. Jen’s succinct wrap-up of the four big reasons she will not miss Oprah:
“1. Talking about The Secret. That’s a nifty little book that says good stuff happens to you if you only believe that it will. I guess that means that everyone with cancer, well, you just didn’t wish enough to be healthy. The Secret is insulting. Yes, thinking positive does have an impact on health, but The Secret implies that if your life sucks or that you are sick, well, ultimately it’s all your fault for not wishing it all away. Apparently, if you have cancer or heart disease, well, you just didn’t wish hard enough to be well.
“2. Giving anti-vaccine nut job Jenny McCarthy air time (two shows!) – never mind that there is not any published research to support McCarthy’s beliefs that vaccines cause autism. I guess the staff at Oprah’s show don’t bother with a little thing called fact-checking. After McCarthy appeared on Oprah, she was launched into the daily newspaper headlines – and pediatricians everywhere still haven’t recovered. And measles, well, that’s on the rise. And pertussis.
“3. Giving Suzanne Somers a platform to spout off about her bizarre bio-identical hormone obsession. Hormone replacement therapy has real risks, even more so for women like Somers who are breast cancer survivors. Somers is apparently far more of an expert than, say, a reproductive endocrinologist.
“4. Promoting Dr. Christiane Northrup. Northrup tells women not to get the HPV vaccine because in her opinion HPV isn’t the cause of cervical cancer, but a weak immune system is the culprit. Never mind that Northrup hasn’t published one research article and that the Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded to the researcher who made the connection between HPV and cervical cancer. Another biologically implausible idea of Northrup’s is that dyspareunia (that’s painful sexual intercourse) is due to male circumcision. Yup. I have seen many partners of women with dyspareunia, wracked with guilt that they caused their partner’s condition.”
© 2011 Dr. Jen Gunter
Read more from Dr. Jen Gunter at her blog.
See also: Why Oprah Is Not Your Doctor
Hmmm. Have to disagree with this one. Some people may have different, even wacky, ideas but better to have them publicly aired and people can form their own views. We do not want only the voice of doctors and pharma to be heard. Also as we know, not all that is paraded as “medical science” is valid. Hence not everything that is viewed as “unscientific” is wrong.
Hi Dr. Joe – thanks so much for your comments. Trouble is, when Oprah speaks, the “Oprah Effect” takes over. She once told Newsweek interviewers: “I believe my viewers understand the medical information presented on the show is just that—information—not an endorsement or prescription”. But as Dr. Gunter suggests, the influence of the powerful “Oprah Effect” was such that public airing of these views is far more likely to result in rubber-stamp acceptance, no matter how “different or wacky” they are.
With all due respect to Dr. Joe’s comment, the difference between somebody like Oprah supporting alternative therapies and your average neighborhood health food store trainee is that when Oprah endorses something, that product or treatment or fad is WIDELY assumed by MILLIONS to be of bona fide benefit, not just theory. Somebody who wields that kind of awesome power must thus be even more cautious in flogging ANYTHING on the air or in her magazine. I too have cringed at some of the so-called health “experts” she has devoted an entire hour of free publicity to over the years.