Doctor Oz Syndrome

By now I hope you have seen John Oliver’s skewering of Doctor Mehmet Oz and his push for “miracle” and “magical” weight loss supplements.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth the 15-minutes.

Did you watch it? Excellent.  As you heard at the beginning of the clip, a news reporter talked about the “Oz Effect”.  Essentially, any company that gets mentioned by Oz typically experiences a massive uptick in sales, which is great for the company…not so great for the consumer.  As mentioned in the clip, one of the “magical” beans Oz pushed as a weight loss miracle supplement actually seemed to cause the onset of diabetes in lab mice.

Right, diabetes.

I said this on Facebook soon after seeing this clip:

I’ve always thought that Oz was nothing more than a snake oil salesman. Here’s a number for those of you who still defend the dietary supplement industry…1 in 3 – 1 in 3 do not contain the plant they claim to have. How can you possibly defend this business…and please, no deflection, no “the government can’t do better”, no excuses.

I don’t doubt that Oz (yes, I am intentionally not using the title he earned, in part because I’m not sure he deserves it anymore) started with good intentions.  I didn’t watch him when he started on Oprah, so I don’t know what kind of TV personality he was, but I would like to believe that way back then he would make statements that were backed by scientific research.

But as Oliver mentions, there is a problem with doing a daily talk show about medicine and health.  Eventually, if you’ve done your job right, you run out of exciting things that are based on fact to talk about.  Unfortunately, you’ve got a contract and you’re addicted to your ratings, so what are you, a Talk Show Host, to do?

This is where the Oz Syndrome kicks in.  Slowly but surely you start pushing toward the edges of scientifically validated advice and inevitably slip into anecdotal remedies.  From there it’s not a far jump into “magical”, “miracle” beans.

Sadly, it’s not just Oz that this happens to.  There are a lot of “Health” bloggers deep in the depths of the Oz Syndrome.  Again, I’m sure they all started out with good intent, but, much in the way Anakin Skywalker succumbed to the temptations of the Dark Side and the easy access to power over many, so too did these bloggers fall for the easy, unverifiable topics such as oil pulling, curing cancer (yes, curing) through eating, scare tactics about meat and “one diet fits all” dogma, somehow convincing thousands that they know what they are talking about.

These “health” bloggers are so concerned about maintaining a level of Internet visability, that they don’t/won’t check their facts and if challenged, will take on a Jesus-like complex that would be amusing if it were not so sad.

I digress.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have an issue with dietary supplements per se.  What I DO have a problem with is hucksters and snake oil salesmen like Oz pushing them on an unsuspecting public without truly coming clean about what it is they are doing and what it is they are pushing.  The fact that Supplement Companies can essentially put whatever they want on their labels and it doesn’t matter what they put in their bottle should scare the crap out of you.  There is really no regulation of the industry.

What Oz and fauxctors like him end up doing is emboldening the ever growing line up of Internet “Health” bloggers out there who hear about something that isn’t being sold by “Big Pharma” or the “Big Box Stores” so believe it must be good!  The key word here is “believe”.  There is no verification, there is no evidence based research.  They simply “believe” it, so it must be true.  The fact that some of these charlatans have the charisma of a preacher should not be lost on the general public.

To be fair, and in the spirit of full disclosure, this topic is particularly near and dear to my heart because I have a daughter with a variety of issues, including sensory integration, impulse control and anxiety among others – all issues that many of these flimflammers would claim they can cure.  As a parent of a child with autism, I’ve seen all sorts of “remedies” floated out there in the ether by bunco artists, claiming a child was cured of their autism because they “went gluten-free”, “went through chelation”, “took such and such supplement”.  I’ve watched too many of my fellow parents, desperate for answers, spend dollars they could not afford on these “remedies” that did absolutely nothing…all because Oz, or some college dropout in Colorado, or some other slick snake oil salesman got their hooks into them and led them down a path littered with empty, unproven promises.

It pisses me off.

So my suggestion is this – if you hear of something that sounds like a miracle or seems to be magical, ask for the proof.  Before giving your money to the woman with the big, shiny teeth or the guy with the slick hair, ask them for something other than stories.  If they quote numbers, as for the source.  If they name studies, write it down and look it up.  Do your own research, but be skeptical, because if you want to believe in something, googling alone will not protect you from the need to believe.

And if you ever see me beginning to suffer from the symptoms of Oz Syndrome, call me on it, put me in my place and knock me back into reality.