Separate the science from the science fiction

“I’d love to see something about the latest hype out there. For example, I heard that Dr. Oz was telling people that red palm oil is a miracle weight loss food and now health food stores can’t keep it in stock. It would be interesting for you to sort out truth from fiction on some of these trendy foods and/or supplements.”,  requests  Enlightened Eater Facebook fan, Alison Smiley.

Separating the truth from fantasy can indeed be a tough task, Alison, especially when you’re dealing with someone like Dr. Mehmet Oz.  Health professionals with bona fide credentials, such as Dr. Oz, who intersperse science with fiction  make it very difficult to see that they are essentially snake oil salesmen.

Dr. Oz is indeed a cardiac surgeon and someone who did seem to want to communicate  legitimate science way back when he became a medical expert on Oprah. But somewhere along the line – maybe when he got his own show – he decided that ratings were more important than translating medical and nutrition research into valid advice.

If you watch  and listen to the words or phrases he uses, hyperbole is the only way to describe it. “Miracle cures”, “revolutionary products”, “cutting edge”, “secret”,  and “stop the aging process”  are just a few examples of Dr. Oz’s favourites.

Burn more calories is turned into “ignite your metabolism” or “turbocharge your metabolism”.  And with the visual power of television, he fires up a ferocious torch to signify how red palm oil quickly burns fat.

It is amazingly seductive to many. But unfortunately, most of it is science fiction.

Dr. Joe Schwarcz, in his Montreal Gazette column, evaluated Dr. Oz’s  red palm oil episode. I love his conclusion where he  states “As is usually the case with Oz’s miracles, there is a seed of truth that then gets fertilized with lots of verbal manure until it grows into a tree that bears fruit dripping with unsubstantiated hype”.  Schwarcz refutes each of  the  miracle claims one by one.

There are a few key words that should raise red flags for you when you’re hearing about a new product and trying to decide if you should believe it or not. And most of them are those that I described above as being Dr. Oz’s favourites –  “miracle cures”, “revolutionary products”, “cutting edge”, “secret”, and  “stop the aging process”.

Simply put, there are no secret  or miracle cures. If they were indeed so amazing, they would certainly be well known. If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

It’s very easy, though,  to be fooled by the promoters of various products. They may show you studies which demonstrate the benefits of that expensive supplement or food you should be buying. But the research may not be worth the paper it’s written on.

Firstly, to check on the validity of research, you need to check out whether it has been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.  This means that the study design is evaluated by other scientists who are experts in the area that is being investigated. It’s no guarantee as we’ve seen in a growing number of studies but currently, it’s the best guidance we have right now.

Checking out supplements on the internet can sometimes be even more difficult. The number of sites selling an assortment of products seems to grow by the day.

Here’s some great advice on how to check out a website from the U.S.  Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institute of Health.

As well, check reputable online sites such as the Mayo Clinic  and Consumer Labs.
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Are you a fan of Dr. Oz? What are your thoughts on what he promotes? Please share in the comment section below.

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Categories: Rosie's Rants, Your Questions Answered

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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12 Comments on “Separate the science from the science fiction”

  1. Patty
    June 11, 2013 at 5:51 am #

    Thank you for being one of the few to expose that Dr Oz hasn’t always done his homework. It is unfortunate that he is endorsing these types of products.

    • June 11, 2013 at 7:08 am #

      Thanks for your feedback, Patty, but I have to say that I don’t think that I am one of the few exposing him. I think that the numbers are rapidly growing as he chooses higher television ratings over science and social responsibility. It is very sad.

  2. Avril Fernley
    June 11, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

    I enjoy reading your column so much. I don’t like Dr. Oz and I don’t watch his show but someone told me that he said you should always take Vitamin D3 (instead of D) with an Omega 3 supplement for both to compliment each other. I currently take 1000 IU/2x per day (doctor’s orders) of D3 (doctor only mentioned 2000 IU of D) but do not take the Omega 3 at all although I try to get salmon as often as possible. What are your thoughts please? Thanks.

  3. June 11, 2013 at 8:46 pm #

    Thanks for the feedback about my columns, Avril! To answer your question about vitamin D and omega-3 supplement, it is not necessary. Yet again, it seems that Dr. Oz is trying to let the world in on a big secret but the problem is that many of these so-called secrets or bits of advice are not based on scientific evidence.

    Vitamin D supplements do not require the use of other supplements to be effective. Eating salmon frequently may provide more benefits for you than omega-3 supplements. There are some cases, though, when omega-3 supplements may be advisable or prescribed by a reputable health practitioner. As for vitamin D2 or D3, it appears that either is fine to keep blood levels of vitamin D at optimal levels.

    I would also advise that, for your health, you continue with your practice of avoiding the Dr. Oz show!

    • June 12, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

      Is it true that you should be taking Vitamin D with a healthy fat to ensure absorption?

      • June 12, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

        Gayle, since vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it does require some fat for the best absorption. And while any fat will do, ideally, it should be a healthy one.

  4. Avril Fernley
    June 11, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

    Thanks, Rosie. I appreciate your advice and I think I’ll leave Dr. Oz on t.v. with my set turned off!! Catch you next time and keep serving up the sensible advice!

  5. Jennifer Burnham
    June 12, 2013 at 6:43 am #

    Thanks, Rosie, for debunking Dr. Oz! I have watched a few of his shows but got “turned off” – as did my television! – when I saw all he seemed to be doing was promoting yet one more pill or potion. Initially I was a fan, but no longer. As for you – carry on the excellent work you are doing – if I need to go to the right person, I’ll continue to come to you!
    Jennifer (RD, retired)

  6. June 12, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

    I find his ‘advice’ confusing – one day he has an ‘expert’ espousing a vegetarian diet, and then the next day it’s all about paleo.

    Tried the red palm oil. It had no apparent effect!

    • June 12, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

      Unfortunately, I think that Dr. Oz’s advice has become about what the most sensational story of the day is. I don’t think that scientific evidence has much to do with his choices!

  7. Linda
    August 8, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

    I have always wondered how Dr. Oz can keep promoting all of these weight reduction solutions.. one after the other. Always something new. If they all worked, wouldn’t we be seeing more thin people? Number one per person would be Oprah..wouldn’t it????

    • August 9, 2013 at 10:05 am #

      Thanks for your comments, Linda. One point, though, Dr. Oz doesn’t always promote new “solutions”. He frequently makes them seems like they are new because of the hyperbole he uses -something like well-kept secret or breakthrough information etc. His description of Garcinia Cambogia as a new weight loss aid is a perfect example. It was first discredited years ago! As for seeing all thin people, if Dr. Oz’s hyperbole about a lot of products were true, we would see the end of disease!

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