This article was originally published in December 2021This week, TV personality and cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz announced he was running for Senate via Pennsylvania. A conservative Republican, he’s actually lived in northern New Jersey for many years. Though the grumblings regarding residency have begun, it’s not a major issue. He’s been renting a house in Bryn Athyn, Montgomery County since last year. He’s always been PA-ish, receiving his MD and MBA from the University of Pennsylvania. But we can move on from residency complaints. There are more important concerns.
For decades, Dr. Oz has been more pop culture than politics. From his early guest appearances on Oprah to landing his own syndicated talk show, he’s been conversing with the public in our living rooms for some time. In many instances, his medical advice on heart conditions (his specialty) and other physical ailments were sound. Others, not so much. From miracle diets to de-cramping leg soaps, his promotions and endorsements have been criticized by physicians, publications, and even the government.
Does this mean he wouldn’t make a proper candidate? Not necessarily. But when it comes to public health, a doctor’s word needs to carry more weight than worry.
More than half of the recommendations on medical talk shows, including The Dr. Oz Show, have involved products with almost no evidence behind them — and some even contradicted medical research — according to a study done by the British Medical Journal.
To be fair to Dr. Oz, diet fads that are nature-based are fascinating to many Americans and I’m sure he was excited to be involved as a health-conscious physician. In February 2014, he claimed raspberry ketones were “the No. 1 miracle in a bottle to burn your fat.” He enthusiastically explained how he learned about a hormone, adiponectin, that, he said on his show, “naturally tricks your body into thinking that it’s thin.” He then showed balloons representing fat cells in liquid nitrogen for a demonstration. He equated those balloons deflating to what happens to fat cells when raspberry ketones enter the body. It made an impressive visual.
The problem was the lack of evidence from studies to prove anything of the sort would happen after taking this product. Could this have been an honest misunderstanding of the complexities of weight loss in humans and not rats (or balloons?) Possibly. But it’s telling. Accountability matters when advising the public.
That same year, the Federal Trade Commission brought a lawsuit against a Texas company that used a study of unsupported claims to show weight-loss “miracles” involving a coffee extract. That product was featured on The Dr. Oz Show. The company later agreed to pay the FTC $3.5 million and “ensure scientific substantiation” for any future weight-loss claims.
Dr. Oz testified before the Congressional Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance about his advertisement of products formerly featured on the Dr. Oz website, and on the air. They, and his colleagues in the scientific community, took him to task on his judgment — a skill he would need in government.
As a physician, he has consistently stated a strong desire to help people and I believed him; I still do. But not all of his efforts involved the holistic wellness game. When Covid-19 hit the US, his endorsement of another product, this time an anti-malaria drug, was in a different league.
Remember hydroxychloroquine? Dr. Oz spoke about using this to fight the virus, though its effects on Covid were unproven. A French doctor, Didier Raoult, conducted research on its effects on the disease, but findings were never published in a peer-reviewed journal, academic journal, or study. Many patients were near death already when taking the drug. The side effects included heart damage. Dr. Oz considered this drug worth investigating, worth using. Donald Trump, his friend for many years, pushed to order thousands of vials.
As of November 5, 2021, Didier Raoult now stands accused in France of several breaches of the medical code of ethics related to the promotion of hydroxychloroquine against Covid-19 as non-validated treatment. Sanctions are pending. Judgment is expected.
Regardless of what one believes in their heart, evidence is crucial in science and the law. Any person who fills a Senate seat will have a responsibility to make well thought-out decisions. It’s not for the “sorta, kinda” approach. When Dr. Oz tweeted out his intent to run, he made some bold, decisive statements. Maybe this is a new leader who has learned his lesson in seeking the whole truth, nothing but.
In the video, he “took on the medical establishment to argue against costly drugs and skyrocketing medical bills.” That I believe he would argue. As someone who worked in a hospital for four years, I know doctors were just as upset for friends and family as we were about costs. But do I believe the lavender soap once featured on his show and others can cure my leg cramps? I’m not sure. My sheets would smell nice and calming, at least.
Is perception reality when it comes to another television personality taking a crack at our government? I have no idea. What I do know is that the US Senate has the power to decide some major issues that affect all of us — beyond healthcare. I’m not sure if it’s the right place for a doctor who plays one on TV and in real life simultaneously.
Come on back after the break.