Dr. Oz Admits to Giving False Hope Over Miracle Drugs: “I Use Flowery Language to Engage Viewers”

Jager Weatherby on 19 Jun 2014 at 10:30am

Dr. Oz

We can rarely turn on the TV or open a magazine these days without hearing about the latest product being touted as the ultimate miracle for weight loss. Many of us know not to trust late night infomercials or ads with endless fine print, but we’ve come to have faith in the opinions of well-known and celebrated doctors.

Unfortunately, that might be something we need to reconsider.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon and host of The Dr. Oz Show, sat down before Congress on June 17, where he was accused of making false claims about products he’s supported on his show. Senator  Claire McCaskill initially called the hearing because of a recent lawsuit against Pure Green Coffee, which alleged that the company capitalized on the green coffee fad by marketing on fake websites and spouting bogus weight-loss claims. The Federal Trade Commission claimed that Pure Green Coffee began selling their product just weeks after the supplement was promoted by Dr. Oz. “We’ve all heard and seen the ads promising quick and substantial weight-lost without adjusting diet or increasing physical activity,” explained McCaskill, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance. “It seems too good to be true, and of course it is.”

McCaskill scolded Oz for making excessive claims about green coffee extract, as well as raspberry ketone and garcinia cambogia. “I don’t know why you need to say this stuff, because you know it’s not true,” she said. “When you call a product a miracle, it's something that gives people false hope. I don't understand why you need to go there.”

Oz defended the efficacy of the products, green coffee in particular, citing a “large, very good quality” trial performed in 2012. Yet, as Senator McCaskill noted, the  trial he was referring to consisted of only 16 people in India, and was paid for by the company who was producing the supplements.

Oz said he can’t be held responsible for what a company does to sell product, stressing that he’s never specifically endorsed one brand over another. (Some companies, however, have illegally used his image without his consent.) Nevertheless, Oz still backed up the claims he’s made on his show, saying that he “believes in the items,” studies them “passionately,” and has even recommended them to his family. It’s an odd statement to make considering the fact that he acknowledges the lack of scientific evidence to back up these claims. “I recognize they don’t have the scientific muster to present as fact, but nevertheless, I would give my audience the advice I give my family all the time.”

The emphasis on audience is an important one, as Oz also admitted to using “flowery language” to engage viewers. “My job is to be a cheerleader for the audience. And when they don’t think they have hope, when they don’t think they can make it happen, I want to look everywhere including alternative healing traditions.”
Fraud Products

Unfortunately, those without hope are the most easily preyed upon. According Mary Koelbel Engle, an associate director for the FTC who also testified at the hearing, a 2011 survey revealed that more consumers were victims of fraudulent weight loss products than any other kind of fraud covered in the survey. It’s a scary thought considering the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate these products.

“Just because you see a supplement product on a store shelf does NOT mean it is safe or effective,” says  the FDA website. “When safety issues are suspected, FDA must investigate and, when warranted, take steps to have the product removed from the market. However, it is much easier for a firm to get a product on the market than it is for FDA to take a product off the market.” Not only might some of these supplements contain toxic ingredients (even the ones claiming to be natural), but interactions with other medicines could have costly effects.

And it’s not just pills that we need to watch out for. Countless women have shared stories of procedures gone awry after hearing praises sung by doctors they trusted. As one RealSelf user recently wrote, “We pay quite a price for believing everything we hear and read. I think of all of the well-known Beverly Hills doctors who appears on Dr. Oz and The Doctors. Why wouldn’t you believe them?”

Back in 2012, another RealSelf user shared the results of a VelaShape procedure after hearing about it from Dr. Oz. According to the company, VelaShape is “the only FDA cleared device that effectively and safely contours, shapes, and slims the body by reducing cellulite and firming problem areas in as little as 4 treatments.” Unfortunately for thinkagain, however, VelaShape had the exact opposite effect of what the company promised. The procedure left her legs and butt looking lumpier than before, an outcome for which the providers of the treatment seemed to show little remorse.

VelaShape Before and After
“The results were very bad,” thinkagain wrote. “I should have been warned this could happen.” However, she also blamed herself for not doing her own research before the procedure, instead only listening to the opinions to those she thought she could trust. “After I got this lousy result, I Googled 'VelaShape makes cellulite worse' and found that, sure enough, I wasn't the only one this had happened to. [...] Learn from my mistake, ladies.”

The bottom line is this: Definitely don’t believe everything you see or read. Just because someone in the public eye, even a doctor, claims to have found the next “medical miracle,” you shouldn’t take that at face value. Do you own research, talk to other doctors, chat with other consumers on RealSelf. Whatever you do, think before you buy.

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Photo credits: Courtesy of The Dr. Oz Show; FDA on Flickr; RealSelf user thinkagain