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snake oil, vaccines, woo

A letter to Dr. Oz for his In Box

Dear Dr. Oz,

I know the #OzsInBox question on twitter didn’t exactly go the way you or your social media team expected. You told Sen. McCaskill when she asked you about the so-called miracles and medically baseless products that you promote on your show that you view yourself as a cheerleader, but consider #OzsInBox a wake-up call that doctors (or at least the ones who don’t want to appear on your show to hawk a product) and a lot of other people think you are cheering for the wrong team.

It’s quite possible that you don’t care about all the push back from health care professionals, journalists, the government, and the public. After all you won an Emmy, have a successful show, and are probably quite literally laughing all the way to the bank. So if being Oz the brand instead of Oz the physician is all that matters to you then stop reading now.

You have an amazing platform. I hear from patients all the time, “But it’s Dr. Oz approved,” but I just sigh knowing that the product or cleanse or diet that you recommended can’t possibly help them  (but they paid $29.99 and delayed the evidence-based alternative waiting for it to work). Every week I tell two or three women that it is fine to have bread or a slice of cake (in moderation, like everything else). I see women who haven’t had a slice of bread or a piece of chocolate in three years and obviously it hasn’t helped them with their chronic condition because they are seeing me. You know what they do when I tell them when they can have a sandwich or dessert? They cry. Not just because they are so happy they can now have something they enjoy, but because they devoted so much energy to what can only be described as a wild goose chase and they feel duped.

I know you think you are using “flowery language,” but a lot of the products, diets, and people you promote on your show are perceived by every single health care professional not interested in appearing on your show as the antithesis of medical care. Don’t get me wrong passion is great, but beliefs without science are religion and you’re a doctor not a high priest.

In case you do care about the health of the nation instead of running an elaborate medical side-show here are 10 real suggestions for your “in box.” You’re a great communicator so while your producers might think this list isn’t miraculous enough for daytime TV I bet you could prove them wrong.

Respectfully,

Dr. Jen Gunter MD, FRCS(C), FACOG, DABPM

1. An evidence based show about vaccines. You could tour a manufacturing facility to prove there are no hidden dangerous secret ingredients. Guests could include Peter Salk (son of the Jonas Salk who in invented the polio vaccine), a survivor of the polio epidemic, a parent whose child has recently suffered from what is now a vaccine preventable disease, a scientist who has studied vaccine safety, and a journalist who has written credibly on vaccines. Seriously, this kind of show would build a lot of bridges with the medical community and a big mea culpa would get you tons of press. The only vaccine controversy is why you wouldn’t devote show after show to vaccine safety and systemically disprove the myths promoted by people like Mercola (see below).

2. Stop having Joe Mercola on your show. Did you know he promotes tanning beds? (in mercolaaddition to a host of other very unproven and biologically implausible ideas…and he conveniently sells most of those products!). And also ditch the FoodBabe. She has been discredited by numerous food scientists. Having these people on isn’t “controversial” or presenting “the other side,” it gives an air of credibility to people who are promoting dangerous and incorrect ideas. Manufacturing controversy may make for good TV, but it is bad medical care.

3. Please don’t use the word miracle. Ever. It lends false credence to the idea that losing weight is easy and due to some external force not under our control (weight loss is the thing you most associate with medical miracles, I believe you have mentioned at least 16). There are no medical miracles, just undiscovered science and lies.

4. Do a show about the National Weight Loss Registry. It is a longitudinal survey of people who have successfully lost 30 lbs or more and kept it off (spoiler alert – it involves cutting calories for weight loss and exercise for maintenance). I’m a member (I have maintained a 50 lb weight loss for 3 years). I was at a lecture on weight loss several years ago and when the expert spoke about the weight loss registry something clicked for me, “If they could do it, so could I.” A passionate discussion about it on your show might motivate others just like it motivated me. I also think it would be really good to hear stories from people who have been in the registry for years and to hear from the scientists who run it.

5. Do a weekly journal club. Pick an interesting article in a major journal and invite one or two of the authors and a couple of experts to discuss. The next mammography article that comes up would be a good idea because there is so much back and forth it’s hard to keep straight (just make sure you discuss how many women need screening to pick up a cancer and the fall out of false positives). Between JAMA, NEJM, BMJ, Lancet, Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Annals of Internal Medicine there is something worth talking about that applies to a lot of people at least once a week.

6. Stop making gluten and sugar your bitches. They are not the root of all evil. People with celiac disease shouldn’t eat gluten, but that’s 1-2% of the population. If you ozsugarwant food that is universally bad and shouldn’t be eaten at all pick trans fats! You’re a heart surgeon you know what they can do. I’d be the 1st signature on any petition to get them banned. But gluten. Really? Have you ever been to France? They eat tons of gluten and outlive us in America. Gluten and sugar aren’t killing us, it’s over consumption of high calorie, low nutritional value food that is doing us in. Pass the croissants, but just one.

7. Do not use the word toxin unless you are talking about a toxin (in case you have forgotten toxins are poisonous substances produced by microorganisms, plants, or animals). The same goes for detoxify and it’s corollary cleanse. These words are meaningless and nothing makes an evidence-loving doctor see red faster than medical terms used inaccurately. It is aggravating day after day to explain to people who have watched your show that your liver and kidneys metabolize and remove waste products and hence lemon juice diets and colonics are not only a waste of time and money, but potentially harmful.

8. Do a show about the impact of the Supreme Court decision on the contraception mandate. This is very important, because beliefs are not medical facts (I know I’m being repetitive but this idea matters, it’s kind of like legislating that supplements are good even though no study shows that they do anything except make expensive pee). But back to contraception, if I write about IUDs I reach several thousand people, but you reach hundreds of thousands. We don’t use IUDs enough in this country and you could help change that.

9. Talk about domestic violence. Mention it here and there. Often. How many women (and men, but I guess your demographic mostly skews female) do you think are in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship? Right. I know there is no domestic violence product or quasi-professional book to pitch, but I bet if you spoke about DV regularly some of your viewers might become empowered enough to see their situation and make a change.

10. Rethink using psychics on your show. Psychic isn’t short for psychiatry or psychologist, so no, psychics are not the new therapists. And if John Edward was such an amazing psychic wouldn’t he have warned his good buddy not to ask questions on Twitter?

 

***

November 15, 11:50 am PST Update

I thought of a critical #11. It’s a late entry and 11 is a weird # for a list, but I think it’s worth adding!

11. A medical book of the month club. There are great medical books that are wonderful reads.  Some are evidence-based and prescriptive, some look at fascinating chapters in medical history, and some just tackle interesting or provocative medical subjects. Here are three that I’d suggest, but Panic Virus is also great and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is amazing (I just can’t find my copies for the photo).

Books

 

 

 

 

Discussion

32 thoughts on “A letter to Dr. Oz for his In Box

  1. Thank you for this. My elderly mother listens to Oz, and I have to keep telling her that he is full of crap.

    Posted by Postosuchus | November 15, 2014, 8:56 am
  2. obvious you need your own show as a counterweight, Jen. I am willing to help out.

    Posted by Kevin Ault | November 15, 2014, 9:26 am
  3. Kudos, kudos, kudos. You have just made my day. Thanks for a perfect letter to Oz. How could he not be moved by it? Sadly, knowing the kind that he is, your words will go in one ear and out the other. He simply will not allow even a spark of cognitive dissonance to distract from his mission: ratings, money, relentless promotion of all things pseudo-medicine.

    Posted by Tor Strasburg | November 15, 2014, 9:41 am
  4. Brilliant. YES! With the following Oz has he could do a lot of good instead of lining his pockets and hanging out with celebrities. I vote for your show!

    Posted by bethhavey | November 15, 2014, 10:02 am
  5. Very nicely done – thanks for your thoughtful treatment.

    Posted by Michael Reed | November 15, 2014, 10:26 am
  6. I was wondering if anyone else out there also thought that Dr. Oz isn’t the magician he makes out to be. Nice summary. He could build a lot more credibility, in my book, if he took up ALL the suggestions on your list of 11.

    Posted by elizabetcetera | November 15, 2014, 12:26 pm
  7. Great letter Dr Gunter ! I follow you on Twitter and you’re always interesting. Long live Evidence-based Science & Medicine ! VJB, PhC.

    Posted by Vincent | November 15, 2014, 12:35 pm
  8. Perfect pitch for your own show!

    Posted by Michelle holland | November 15, 2014, 1:02 pm
  9. Bravo! I hope Dr. Oz listens. I love your ideas for topics.

    Posted by Susan | November 15, 2014, 2:30 pm
  10. Dr.Jen, i am no fan of Oz but your sanctomonious demagoging is so outlandish, it serves no one! You are way too programed in medical factoids. You assume that anything outside that box is quackery when all of your facts are also unproven as the ” proof” is dynamic! For instance, you know zero of what Mercola’s tanning bed recommendations are and why! He recommends responsible exposure to a quality tanning bed if you live in a latitude devoid of sun in the winter. This UVB exposure wil stimulate natural Vitamin D production. This is not to get tan for the prom! You really just display your ignorance here. Your opinions are just as dangerous as Oz’s bc some uneducated readers may think you are level headed and well educated. In the future, keep your opinions to yourself si you first do no harm!!!!

    Posted by Richard | November 15, 2014, 4:48 pm
    • You’re quite funny!

      The recommended exposure for tanning beds is zero. They are banned in some countries.

      Posted by Dr. Jen Gunter | November 15, 2014, 4:57 pm
    • You must be, what is it called, a Poe. Or something struck a chord in you, as you seem a bit reactionary. This is Dr. Jen’s blog – why in god’s name, should he keep his opinions to himself? There is not one iota of demagoguing or sanctimoniousness to be seen. Every sentence he wrote has merit and substance. Each recommendation was spot on and completely reality-based and rational. What a show that would be, indeed! No ad hominem, no inflammatory language, no hype, and no dogmatism was on view in the letter, either. And no unfounded claims. Mercola, on the other hand, is all about peddling potions, pills, nostrums, devices and various (“super”) food items; he makes a living on selling unfounded claims and pseudo-science. He and Oz are soul-mates. Dr. Jen, on the other hand, is solidly steeped in science-based medicine. That you can’t see this shows how compromised your cognitive capabilities are. Your head is too full of knee-jerk reactions to be rational. All you’re doing is yelling, and you didn’t even offer one single rebuttal to any one of the many detailed points made in the letter. Weren’t his ideas interesting, entertaining, educational, creative? Go ahead, read them again and take them apart. I’m sure you have plenty of good ideas. All you’ve shown so far is “Mercola, good; Dr. Jen, baaad”. Are you sure you’re not a shill for Big CAM, perhaps Big Supplement?

      Posted by Tor Strasburg | November 15, 2014, 5:47 pm
    • Do you know what they call “alternative medicine” that is proven to work?

      Medicine.

      (PS…tanning beds have no proven use….go outside for exposure to sunlight for vitamin D production. Even in overcast weather, one gets sunlight exposure…it’s called daylight, and even in winter in the northernmost latitudes of the USA, there is 8 hours of it.) wake up imbecile. You don’t need self-proclaimed “experts” like Dr Oz.
      ….most self-respecting doctors think he’s a scamming charlatan.

      Posted by Paul Johnson | November 16, 2014, 2:43 am
      • Many people can’t go outside for significant sunlight exposure, especially not in winter. There are plenty of people who commute in the dark both ways November to February. And even in summer, if you work indoors your opportunity for sun exposure is very limited. Thankfully vitamin D supplements exist.

        Posted by Anat | November 18, 2014, 12:30 pm
    • If like me you live where sunlight is in short supply, just take vitamin D supplements. You get your vitamin D without the cancer risk.

      Posted by Anat | November 18, 2014, 12:25 pm
  11. Standing ovation, Dr. Jen. Oz the Magnificent’s numbers might fall if he followed your recommendations — but then he would be doing something approximating good health care.

    Posted by Liz Ditz | November 15, 2014, 7:16 pm
  12. what does a narrow Supreme Court decision about contraception covered by very few closely held companies have to do with health. Besides how many IUD’s have been taken off the market because of damage to women ? On a lower level your almost as bad as Oz.

    Posted by Jamie Leiser | November 15, 2014, 9:22 pm
    • In case you aren’t just trolling and are really that obtuse contraception is Health Care and the Supreme Court choosing beliefs over science is a dangerous precedent. Go read Ginsburg’s minority dissent, it sums up the concerns and potentially dangerous ramifications quite nicely.

      One IUD was taken off the market in the 70s. You do know how to Google, don’t you? The safety record for the 2 IUDs on the market in the US is unparalleled.

      Posted by Dr. Jen Gunter | November 15, 2014, 9:46 pm
  13. Actually, I have a suggestion for a book on domestic violence. It’s “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft.

    Posted by mybodymystory | November 15, 2014, 9:24 pm
  14. Most TV shows, even news, is entertainment, people should remember that. Also people need to take responsibility, get educated about nutrition it’s all online. Plant-based for the win!

    Posted by willkriski | November 16, 2014, 5:30 am
  15. Brava, Dr. Jen – You’ve taken the high road in responding to Dr Oz as well as the many people who have come out swinging, one way or another. I seldom watch TV anymore, but if Dr Oz or any other credible person were to run a show such as you suggest, I’d re-think starting up my cable again.

    Posted by William Lundy | November 16, 2014, 6:08 am
  16. Quite a blog post.The half-truths of Dr. Oz and of that Mercola fellow are so dangerous. I do wish, however, that more doctors would start recommending remedies that have been proven effective over the centuries outside the purview of western medicine. E.g., instead of prescribing Z-packs at the drop of a phone call for colds, start recommending neti pots to clean out sinuses and prevent the bacterial infection that often accompanies colds. When western doctors start widely recommending remedies outside of western medicine that are proven effective, hacks like Mercola and Oz will have less power to spread their misinformation and hype. Where possible, get us off the pharmaceuticals and back on natural remedies. As a profession, rather than as scattered individual doctors.

    Posted by Matt | November 16, 2014, 7:53 pm
    • Please do list the “remedies that have been proven effective over the centuries”. And give evidence substantiating your claims. You seem to have a back to nature theme going on. Smacks of the naturalistic fallacy and an appeal to antiquity. Many things in nature are terribly harmful, dangerous. Before modern medicine, it was not a pretty picture for mankind, with a markedly short life, wrought with disease and tooth decay. Although it’s been said ad infinitum, just as there is no such thing as western or eastern physics, or mathematics, or chemistry, there is no “western” medicine. There is only medicine. Medicine that works or medicine that doesn’t work. You’re upset with all of medicine because doctors aren’t recommending neti pots enough? Geez…

      Posted by Tor Strasburg | November 16, 2014, 10:38 pm
  17. Oh my – THANK YOU! YOu summed up so well what I’ve been saying for years, too. As a dentist, we don’t have to deal with QUITE as much quackery as physicians do, but trust me – it bleeds over more than enough to rile us up, too, plus making our jobs more difficult.
    I’ll definitely be Evernoting this for future reference and may just have to link to in a blog post of my own – wonderful job!

    Posted by Charles “Chip” Payet | November 17, 2014, 3:58 pm
  18. Dear Jen, I would watch a tv show where you do all the things you recommend to Dr. Oz. By contrast, I don’t watch his show but I can’t tell you how often I have to tell people that he’s full of crap and a snake-oil salesman. I work at a grocery store to pay tuition for my B.S. Biochemistry that I’m pretty close to earning, and we have an entire aisle of the store devoted to vitamins and fad pills. It depresses me every time I see someone buying them. I’m definitely not qualified to dispense medical advice, nor would it fly for me to discourage sales on the clock, but I want to take these people aside sometimes and just explain things to them, like how anthocyanins don’t seem to be very good antioxidants in vivo, how the Atkin’s diet will make your heart and kidneys hate you, how your brain needs glucose to function (biosynthesizing ketones are a last resort thing), and how saturated fat intake is probably a much better indicator for risk of developing atherosclerosis than cholesterol in general because it lowers transcription rates of LDL receptors via SRE-BP and LDL is only engulfed by macrophages that then convert into foam cells if it’s modified somehow (oxidized, glycosylated, acetylated, etc.).
    I was even upset at the CBS story tonight about vytorin because the slant on the news story made it out to be some amazing breakthrough even though dietary cholesterol (the differentiating factor between it and normal statins) affects blood cholesterol levels by such a small amount and last time I checked the recommendation on statins was “you have to have previously had a heart attack or stroke for them to be a good idea because inhibiting HMG-CoA Reductase is not a terribly good idea.” People should probably know that they kind of need the ability to synthesize steroid hormones endogenously.

    I’ll add one suggestion to the list of topics to possibly address, that might help bridge the doctor-patient trust gap that people like Dr. Oz are creating: do a segment or series of segments explaining the difference in agenda between physicians and capitalist pharmaceutical companies. Straight up tell people that money is what motivates the latter, but that there are plenty of people in the health _care_ industry that do not work that way, aren’t interested in merely doping people up on pills for profit or kickbacks, and do care about the health and well-being of their patients up to and including whether a specific type of treatment is really appropriate for them.

    Posted by Michael Kendrick | November 17, 2014, 10:16 pm
  19. I wholeheartedly endorse the medical book of the month club. Charlatan and Better would be two great first choices

    Posted by Bartkid | December 11, 2014, 8:07 am

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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