(reposted from Highya Team June 18, 2014)
Ah, the infamous Dr. Mehmet Oz. This physician-cum-popular daytime TV personality might just be the best thing that has ever happened to the nutritional supplements industry, with his multiple shows dedicated to weight loss “miracles” such as Garcinia Cambogia, Raspberry Ketones, Green Coffee Bean Extract, and probiotics. This is because, after a supplement is featured on his show, something known as the “Oz effect” kicks into high gear—more specifically, sales of these supplements go through the roof. In fact, according to NBC News, Americans spent more than $2.4 billion on weight loss supplements last year, a huge part of which was undoubtedly driven by the claims made by Dr. Oz.
However, as we’ve outlined many times here on HighYa, the truth is that the clinical evidence supporting the efficacy of these supplements is flimsy at best, and often non-existent for humans (e.g. tests were performed on mice, rats, or in petri dishes). As such, when we researched many of these supplements and found that Dr. Oz wholeheartedly endorsed their use, we couldn’t help but wonder why a physician would make these claims based on massively insufficient evidence, and why no one in a position of authority had called him out on it.
Well, it appears that Dr. Oz’s time has finally come, which we’ll talk about next. But more than this, we’ll also explore a bit about Dr. Oz’s background, why the nutritional supplements industry behaves as it does, and what we can all ultimately learn from this experience.
Dr. Oz Gets Called Out on His Nutritional Supplements Endorsements
As we mentioned in our article about Fake Celebrity Endorsements, Dr. Oz recently became livid about having his name used to hawk a variety of supplements from different manufacturers, even going so far as to fly to San Diego in order to directly confront the CEO of Tarr about the use of his images and videos in order to promote their supplements.
As such, he attended a Senate subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance yesterday, where he was scheduled to testify about false and deceptive advertising, specifically relating to many of the problems he’s faced with manufacturers using his likeness without his permission. However, chairwoman Claire McCaskill quickly turned the tables on Dr. Oz and pointedly questioned him about many of the claims he makes on his show. In fact, according to this CNN article, Mrs. McCaskill specifically asked why Dr. Oz makes these claims when “the scientific community is almost monolithic against [him] in terms of the efficacy of the three products [he] called ‘miracles.’”
In response to this questioning, Dr. Oz stated that he “passionately studies” the supplements featured on his show, but that he uses “flowery language” in order to give his audience “hope.” Afterword though, he admitted that many of the claims he makes “wouldn’t withstand scrutiny from the Food and Drug Administration.”
But the unfortunate truth is that neither Dr. Oz nor nutritional supplements manufacturers are beholden to the FDA for the claims they make, which we’ll get to in a moment. For now though, ask yourself: “Is it right for anyone, especially a medical professional, to give someone false hope?” This then begs the question; is Dr. Oz really a doctor at all? Let’s take a closer look.
What are Dr. Oz’s Medical Credentials, and What’s His Reputation within the Medical Community?
Before becoming America’s “most-loved TV doctor,” Dr. Oz graduated from Harvard University in 1982 before receiving dual medical and MBA degrees from the University of Pennsylvania in 1986. From there, he became a cardiothoracic surgeon and teaching professor at Columbia University, where he continues to perform surgeries every Thursday. On top of this, Dr. Oz established Columbia’s Cardiovascular Institute and Integrative Medicine Program in 1994, and even holds a patent for a muscle tissue preservation solution. As such, if you ever thought that Dr. Oz wasn’t a physician, or at the very least that he wasn’t a reputable member of the community, it’s safe to say that this assumption can be permanently placed aside.
With this said, many members of the medical community often wonder (as do many concerned consumer groups like HighYa) whether he’s doing more harm than good by making outlandish claims on his show. This is because many of these claims are based on very little, inconclusive, or non-human-based clinical research, which is the antithesis of what modern medicine is all about.
So, why is it that Dr. Oz makes many of these statements? Well, according to this 2013 Forbe’s article, “The big question, to me, is whether that man, the surgeon who, after years of cracking people’s chests, gives it to the audience straight and gross and gory and scares them with the reality of their biological selves, whether that guy could have succeeded on TV without all the appeals to energy fields and homeopathy and a new “miracle” supplement every week.”
This is an important question that we’ll answer in the Bottom Line section, but first, let’s briefly discuss why both Dr. Oz, as well as consumers looking for a “weight loss miracle,” are in the position we’re in.
Nutritional Supplements: The Wild West of Consumerism
As we detailed in our Nutritional Supplements Buyer’s Guide a few months ago, the nutritional supplements industry is almost completely unregulated. In fact, other than being required by the FDA to expressly state that the “FDA has not evaluated the claim. The disclaimer must also state that the dietary supplement product is not intended to “diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease,” because only a drug can legally make such a claim,” supplements manufacturers can make essentially any claim they want about their product, without having to back them up with a shred of evidence. In fact, the FDA doesn’t become involved at all until enough consumers have expressed their frustration at being scammed, or in a worst-case scenario, experienced harm as a result.
A pile of nutritional supplements
On the other hand, the FTC does actively monitor “deceptive advertising of fraudulent cure-all claims for dietary supplements and weight loss products,” but the reality is that their enforcement lacks any meaningful bite. As an example of this, we mentioned the case of Jesse Willms in our recent Affiliate Marketing article, who essentially stole more than $100 million of consumers’ hard-earned money by making false claims about his nutritional supplements. However, after the FTC finally got involved, Mr. Willms was forced to pay a hefty fine, but walked away without so much as a single criminal charge being filed against him.
As you can see, with billions of dollars at stake, and without sufficient law enforcement available, nutritional supplements manufacturers have a huge incentive to mislead—and often outright lie to—consumers. For a complete rundown of what you can do in order to avoid many of these less-than-scrupulous manufacturers, be sure to read through HighYa’s Nutritional Supplements Buyer’s Guide. But specifically in reference to Dr. Oz, what can we take away from this whole ordeal?
Bottom Line: What Can We Learn About Dr. Oz’s Senate Subcommittee Appearance?
While this is admittedly an extreme example, imagine the following: During a routine visit to your doctor, you find out that you have diabetes. As soon as you’re informed of this, your physician then claims that a new miracle supplement has been recently made available to the public, which can magically balance your insulin levels without and kind of side effects. Because of this, you immediately rush out, spend an exorbitant amount of money to buy it, and then take the supplement for 8 weeks as directed by the manufacturer. Unfortunately, after this is all said and done, you don’t experience any relief for your diabetes.
As such, you return to your doctor and inform him that the supplement did not cure your diabetes, that it was extraordinarily expensive, and that after doing some research, you found only the flimsiest of clinical evidence showing that it works. To this, your doctor simply responds that he wanted to use “flowery language” in order to excite you and give you hope. Would this seem like a satisfactory response from a medical professional? Almost certainly not.
We use this example to outline the basic premise of Dr. Oz’s TV show, which is that he’s a physician with your best interest in mind, and as such, the advice he gives could be construed as coming from a medical professional who has thoroughly reviewed the subject matter. However, this simply isn’t the case. As evidenced by Dr. Oz’s statement before the Senate subcommittee that he uses “flowery language” to excite his audience, the truth is that he’s a TV personality first, and a physician only as a distant second. In short, he appears to be more focused on ratings than on providing sound medical advice.
Because of this, it’s up to you to do your due diligence when researching any nutritional supplement you’re thinking about taking. But the good news is that you’re not alone, because HighYa’s always on your side to help you separate fact from fiction, and hype from hope.
The HighYa team is passionate about helping you avoid scams and make better purchasing decisions about everything the internet has to offer.