Dr. Oz Loves His Snake Oil

There was a time when I wanted to like Dr. Oz. Sometimes when I was flipping through the channels I’d come across him giving solid, down-to-earth advice. But these days I’m more likely to see him peddling some new “nutritional supplement” as a miracle fat-burning cure.

Julia Belluz and Steven J. Hoffman have a long article at Slate looking at some of Dr. Oz’s recent claims, Dr. Oz’s Miraculous Medical Advice, which pretty much confirms my suspicions:

In Dr. Oz’s New York City studio, garcinia extract—or hydroxycitric acid found in fruits like purple mangosteen—sounded fantastic, a promising new tool for the battle against flab. Outside the Oprah-ordained doctor’s sensational world of amazing new diets, there’s no real debate about whether garcinia works: The best evidence is unequivocally against it.

The miracle cure isn’t really a miracle at all. It’s not even new. Garcinia cambogia has been studied as a weight-loss aid for more than 15 years. A 1998 randomized controlled trial looked at the effects of garcinia as a potential “antiobesity agent” in 135 people. The conclusion: The pills were no better than placebo for weight and fat loss.

Oz’s standards for evidence seem to be pitifully low, yet his smooth, approachable show doesn’t let on about the confusing numbers behind his confidence:

To support the awesome assertions about the flab-fighter Garcinia cambogia, the doctor created on his TV show an atmosphere of accessible scientific certainty. He brought out researchers and physicians in white coats who discussed what they said was compelling evidence for the weight-loss panacea. There was an inspiring testimonial from a member of the audience. Plastic models even demonstrated how garcinia could suppress appetite and stop fat from being made. The show had the same easy manner as Oprah discussing Leo Tolstoy with her book club.

Throughout the episode, Oz maintained his trademark boyish wonder and excitement as he delivered a message many of us long to hear: A pill could help us “burn fat without spending every waking moment exercising and dieting” and even combat “emotional eating.” Oz peppered his excitement with some caution: “Please, listen carefully,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders and his hands raised defensively in the air, “I don’t sell the stuff. I don’t make any money on this. I’m not going to mention any brands to you, either. I don’t want you conned.”

I’m sure he doesn’t, but millions will go out to buy Garcinia anyway. I’m not sure what his angle is; Steve Novella suggests that the rush to push every new supplement is partially driven by the need to fill time and put out shows. Regardless, it sometimes seems that there is no medical fad that he won’t jump on.

  • UrsaMinor

    I smell fraud. Real snake oil is made from snakes, not some namby-pamby fruit.

  • The Other Weirdo

    The last time somebody offered a miraculous cure for fat, there was a near-apocalypse in London.

  • Noelle

    The last time I tried telling someone that the miracle cure she saw on the TV was snake oil, she totally did not get the reference and wanted to know where this oil of snake could be gotten.

    I don’t like Dr. Oz. He is a weird and annoying little man. He probably makes much more money in the snake oil business than he did in the cardiothoracic surgery business. If he paid any attention during med school, he’d know weight loss requires consuming fewer calories than one uses/use more calories than one consumes, no magic potions or elixirs needed.

    • UrsaMinor

      Reminds me of a Simpsons episode, but then practically everything does (if it doesn’t remind me a Futurama episode first).

      Crowd: We need a cure! We need a cure!
      Dr. Hibbert: Why, the only cure is bed rest. Anything I give you would only be a placebo.
      Woman in Crowd: Where do we get these placebos?
      Man: Maybe there’s some in this truck!
      [the panicky crowd push over a truck, boxes labeled "danger killer bees" break open, the bees go everywhere and everyone panics, one man puts a bee in his mouth]
      Man: I’m cured! I mean, ouch!

      • Noelle

        Drs. Hibbert and Nick are two of my all-time favorites.

      • http://WhoHasTimeForThis.com David Cowan

        Ursa, that rocked.

  • J-Rex

    “I don’t make money on this.”
    Maybe not directly, but he definitely makes money when people view his show because they believe he has the answers to their weight loss problems. Losing weight comes with very simple instructions, but is very difficult to do and that’s not what people want to hear. The more he tells people new discoveries with minimal effort, the more they’ll be excited to watch his show, and it will take weeks and months before anyone realizes it doesn’t work, but they can assume that it wasn’t right for them, so they can try whatever new thing he’s promoting now.

  • Charlie

    Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…

  • http://www.worldsworstmoms Tammy Soong

    Every seemingly reasonable guest who’s started a show after Oprah has turned into a crazy person.

  • Rich Wilson
    • Custador

      Hah! Thanks for that, Rich. Click the link to read the reviewers who gave it five stars (all sarcastically) – They’re hilarious!

      • Michael

        Yeah, I was glad to see literally every review was one serious star except the six that were five sarcastic stars.

  • A Reader

    The few minutes of his show I’ve seen have been enough to make me dislike him. He comes off as a pompous jerk imo. Plus, I believe I saw a promotion for his show where he brought on a psychic who claimed to see the dead. And said she’d “help” people. Um, no.