Dr Oz and the never-ending infomercial

Many pieces about Dr. Mehmet Oz start something like this: “Dr. Mehmet Oz, respected cardiothoracic surgeon…”.  I have no idea what kind of surgeon he is, and I’m betting most people who write about him don’t know either. Given his extensive training, he’s probably a technically good surgeon.  Looking at his list of publications, he’s done some interesting work.  So why has he gone off the deep end of imaginary medicine?

Two reasons come to mind: either he’s a true believer and is able to hold onto real medical science and superstitious health ideas at the same time, or he’s in it for the money.  Or both.

He sure seems to be in bed with some sketchy people.  Over at his website he’s posted the “Oz-Approved 7-Day Crash Diet.” Oz has helped developed evidence-based guidelines on the prevention of heart disease, so maybe it’s only the title that’s wacky.

Nope—the whole thing is out to lunch. It’s a diet developed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a name well-known to medical skeptics. His writings seem to indicate a belief that all diseases are preventable, and that diet is key to this prevention. No sane physician would argue against proper diet in the prevention and treatment of disease, but no knowledgeable physician would argue that proper diet can prevent all heart attacks and strokes.

Given the source of Dr. Oz’s “crash diet”, we need to examine the details. Is it standard evidence-based dietary advice dressed up fancy, or is it something only tangentially related to reality?

The secret? It’s not a starvation diet, but the exact opposite. His plan allows you to eat all you want and still lose weight. The key is in feasting on nutrient-dense foods – rich in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants – that are low in calories. Many of the superfoods you are familiar with fall under the nutrient-dense category. According to Dr. Fuhrman, the more of these kinds of foods you eat, the faster you will lose weight.

Stepping back a few hundred yards, we’ve got to remember a few simple facts: to lose weight, you have to expend more calories than you ingest. To feel sated, you need to pick foods that are more satisfying per calorie.  It’s pretty much that simple.  Which means it’s not easy.

The quote above is wrong in so many ways. What is the “exact opposite” of a starvation diet? I would imagine a gluttony diet. Any time someone tells you “eat all you want and still lose weight” they are wrong—unless they can change how much you want, for example, with moderate doses of amphetamines. Eating properly can help curb appetite, but not often down to the needed level.

He goes on to describe certain “super foods” that are “antioxidants”, have “antiangiogenesis” properties, and other nonsense. Like many pieces of Oz’s I’ve examined, he leaps from hints gleaned in the laboratory to strong clinical recommendations, which is often a recipe for disaster.

I don’t think it’s fair to paint someone with guilt by association.  The fact that Oz has been recognized by Bastyr University, an institution dedicated to medical superstition, shouldn’t mean that he adheres to the same superstitions. But if he promotes dubious, hyperbolic, and counterfactual health information, he paints himself into an ugly corner previously reserved for hucksters, geeks, and carnies.

14 Comments

  1. Tsu Dho Nimh

     /  June 4, 2012

    certain “super foods” that are “antioxidants”, have “antiangiogenesis” properties, and other nonsense.

    If those foods had anti-angiogenisis properties, wouldn’t that also give them strong teratogenic properties?

    • Also, angiogenesis is an essential part of healing wounds.

      And doesn’t junk food have a lot of antioxidants in it? TBHQ is an antioxidant. So is palmitic acid (and all other saturated fats, IIRC), which will also raise your LDL cholesterol.

  2. Actually, Tsu, I thought angiogenesis was one thing we’re looking to suppress in tumors… so wouldn’t calling a food anti-angiogenesis be an attempt to say, “Looky, this superfood is anti-cancer” without actually making the claim?

  3. Carolyn Thomas

     /  June 4, 2012

    The cringe-factor when watching/listening to Dr. Oz advice is now approaching intolerable levels. This actually pains me to say this; 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, this cardiologist-turned-entertainer is now in danger of becoming a pathetic caricature of his former well-respected self. More on this at: “What Has Happened To You, Dr. Oz?” at: http://ethicalnag.org/2010/09/01/celebrity-doctors/

    But even aside from this preposterous “7-Day Crash Diet” advice, when Dr. Oz trots out his plastic surgery pals to demo their anti-aging procedures in front of his shrieking star-struck audiences, he is painting himself into an ugly corner indeed. It’s very sad to watch.

  4. So much for the CV. He is NOT in the World Economic forum’s (the bunch that meet at Davos) Global leaders of Tomorrow 1999.
    He is not a “Emmy Awarding winning host of “The Dr Oz Show”, 2012″
    at least not yet – the awards will be given in September.

    http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GLT_ClassOf1999.pdf

    • Academy Awards. Anyone can get them. Hell, Degrassi Junior High got an Emmy, and it’s a show you watch for the memes. (The pregnancy episode. They named the kid Emma in honor of the Emmy.) It does NOT impress us.

      Also, everyone knows the Academy knows nothing about science. Hollywood’s history with science has been, um, less than stellar. Or maybe stellar. So long as it’s a black hole with a crack in the event horizon.

  5. BuildBetterSleep

     /  June 5, 2012

    I find it interesting that you say “we’ve got to remember a few simple facts: to lose weight, you have to expend more calories than you ingest”. Is that a fact? Or a supposition. Read Gary Taubes “Calories In Calories Out” and find out that a calorie isn’t just a calorie.
    As for Dr. Oz, I’d agree that he’s bordering on “charlatanism”.

    • “Bordering”?

      It’s not that. It’s more that carbohydrate might make you hungrier. Either way, by the 90s, they were claiming weight gain was a result of carbohydrate deficiency (which contradicts the “calories in, calories out” formula), so the AHA fell into woo, and as I’ve said many times, when we do woo, it bites us in the butt. Every. Single. Time.

    • ccs

       /  June 11, 2012

      A calorie is still a calorie, and you must eat less than you expend to lose weight. Taubes is not a nutrition researcher, and does a poor job of analyzing scientific data about nutrition. I read his good calories, bad calories book back before I took any real nutrition courses for my major and liked it. Then I actually learned nutrition and realized he has no data to back up his claims. Here is a good deconstruction of his carbohydrate hypothesis of obesity that he championed in GCBC
      http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2011/08/carbohydrate-hypothesis-of-obesity.html

      As far as the post itself, yes Dr. Oz is a charlatan

  6. Popularizers are generally bad. The bad thing is, Dr. Oz is credited with inventing the “show them two lungs” method, something I saw in elementary school. (Nothing works better than evidence to end a manufactroversy like “does smoking cause cancer?” Why yes, yes it does.)

    I can’t help but think of three segments on The Drs….in a row!

    1) Colon detox
    2) Vaccines and autism
    3) Circumcision as a method to prevent HIV (Either way, it’s being marketed in South Africa as “you don’t need condoms, you don’t need to be faithful”. And it’s draining money from more effective methods. So, woo.)

  7. Karl Withakay

     /  June 5, 2012

    Red flag words ad phrases regarding diet recommendations:

    crash diet
    allows you to eat all you want and still lose weight
    phytochemicals
    antioxidants
    superfoods
    antiangiogenesis
    the more of these kinds of foods you eat, the faster you will lose weight

    to which we now need to add:

    Dr. Oz

  8. Thascius

     /  June 5, 2012

    Circumcision to lower the risk of HIV transmission isn’t woo. Of course there is a vast difference between “lowers the risk” and “eliminates the risk.” And if they’re saying “you don’t need condoms and you don’t need to be faithful” yikes! Of course in the not too distant past South Africa had a president who insisted HIV didn’t cause AIDS so there is a little bit of progress.

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