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ICYMI: As TV doctor, Mehmet Oz provided platform for questionable products and views [The Washington Post]

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The Washington Post: As TV doctor, Mehmet Oz provided platform for questionable products and views
Now a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, Oz has made his medical background and his popular TV show a centerpiece of his campaign
By Colby Itkowitz and Lenny Bernstein
October 3, 2022

Key Points:

  • Mehmet Oz looked directly into the camera and introduced his daytime television viewers to a “controversial” weight loss approach: taking a hormone that women produce during pregnancy combined with a diet of 500 calories a day.
  • In fact, there was little uncertain about the HCG Diet. Numerous studies conducted years before Oz’s show had shown that the fertility drug does not cause weight loss, redistribute fat or suppress hunger. Ten months later, the Food and Drug Administration warned seven companies marketing HCG products they were violating the law by making such claims, and the agency issued additional warnings to consumers in subsequent years.
  • Nevertheless, Oz revisited the topic in 2012, providing a platform for the same weight loss doctor, who claimed that HCG worked.
  • During the show’s run from 2009 to 2021, Oz provided a platform for potentially dangerous products and fringe viewpoints, aimed at millions of viewers, according to medical experts, public health organizations and federal health guidance.
  • The treatments that Oz promoted included HCG, garcinia cambogia — an herbal weight-loss product the FDA has said can cause liver damage — and selenium — a trace mineral needed for normal body functioning — for cancer prevention, among others.
  • “He spouts unproven treatments for things and supposed ways to maintain and regain health,” said Henry I. Miller, one of 10 physicians who in 2015 tried to have Oz removed from the faculty at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Miller described Oz, in his view, as someone who has been an advocate of “quack cures.”
  • Cohen, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an expert on dietary supplements, said that Oz used his reputation as an elite physician to undermine trust in legitimate medical practice.
  • “What’s really sad about the situation is how he used all that prestige and authority to then lead people down a path of nonsense,” Cohen said. “It undermines all of us, all of us trying to be credible physicians, doing the right thing.”
  • HCG and severe food restriction can be dangerous themselves, the FDA said. The agency said in late 2011, when it issued the warning letters between the two Oz episodes on HCG, that it had received reports of blood clots in the lung, cardiac arrest and death among people who injected themselves with HCG.
  • [Oz] has hosted psychics and a proponent of “iridology,” the belief that examining patterns in the iris yields diagnoses for any part of the body.
  • When a team of Canadian researchers examined episodes of his show in 2014, they found “believable or somewhat believable” evidence for just 33 percent of the 80 recommendations and claims they randomly selected and then reviewed.
  • “Everybody wants to know what’s the newest, fastest fat buster. You’ve been stopping me on the street, emailing me. Even my family’s asking the same question. How can I burn fat without spending every waking moment exercising and dieting?” Oz said in one episode before introducing viewers to garcinia cambogia, another supposed weight-loss supplement. “Well, thanks to brand new scientific research, I can tell you about a revolutionary fat buster. You heard it here first.”
  • “You may think magic is make-believe, but this little bean has scientists saying they found that magic weight-loss cure for every body type: it’s green coffee beans and when turned into a supplement this miracle pill can burn fat fast for anyone who wants to lose weight,” Oz said on his show in 2012, according to online clips. “This is very exciting and it’s breaking news.”
  • Oz promoted more than weight loss promises on his show. He also frequently offered unproven, and in several cases disproved solutions for dire health circumstances, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s, as well as providing a platform for people to discuss the debunked conspiracy that vaccines cause autism.
  • In 2011, Oz claimed a diet of “endive, red onion, and sea bass” could decrease ovarian cancer by up to 75 percent, suggesting people have the “power of prevention in their grocery cart.”
  • “What I love that you’ve been able to accomplish is you move past the oranges-are-good-for-you stage to specifically, this is how they work to kill off cancer cells, just the way chemotherapy can. For the first time ever, we’re going to talk about some cutting-edge foods that work and why they work,” Oz said.
  • The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance challenged that claim, and after reviewing the studies the Oz producers used, the organization determined the data was “not strong enough to support the claims made on the program.” In 2014, researchers published an article in the peer-reviewed medical journal, Nutrition and Cancer, that critically revisited Oz’s promotion of “anti-ovarian cancer” foods, concluding there is no evidence that any one food can reduce cancer risk.
  • Oz also promoted selenium supplements — a mineral found in foods like Brazil nuts — in 2012, calling them the “holy grail of cancer prevention.” Several medical reviews, including by the National Institutes of Health, said there’s no evidence that selenium could stop cancer. The NIH also warns that “extremely high intakes of selenium can cause severe problems, including difficulty breathing, tremors, kidney failure, heart attacks, and heart failure.”
  • In 2015, 10 doctors from around the country appealed to Columbia University to take a stand against Oz by removing him from its medical school faculty.
  • “He has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain,” they wrote to Lee Goldman, dean of the faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine.

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