Diets fail. Not just often, but almost always—90% of the time. If diets worked we wouldn’t have a worldwide obesity problem. And obesity is a problem that needs to be solved. The prevalence of obesity has doubled since 1980. As a public health issue, there are few determinants of illness that are more destructive, as obesity contributes to the growing rates of diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. There’s no “one true cause” of all illness, but obesity comes pretty close. When people ask me for the single most important thing they can do for their health, my advice (after quitting smoking) is to (1) ensure you keep your weight under control and (2) exercise in any way possible.
Despite its tremendous impact on health, I’ve only blogged about obesity in an indirect way—by pointing out what doesn’t work. Dr. Oz is my perpetual source of bad health information with his regular promotion of bogus “weight loss” supplements like the green coffee bean “miracle”. I’ve also criticized eating programs like the fads of “Eating Clean”, gluten “intolerance”, or harmful diet delusions like “detox”. It’s the typical skeptical science blogger approach—spot pseudoscience, debunk it, and hope you did something good. But none of my posts have focused on what one should do—just what you shouldn’t. Over at Science-Based Medicine (where I also blog) Dr. Mark Crislip recently commented that what science-based medicine advocates support manifests in what we oppose. He’s right, because that’s the easy approach. Using the principles of science-based medicine, there’s an awful lot to oppose in the current writing and popular opinion on how to treat obesity. And my professional advice in the role of a pharmacist has been limited to steering people away from supplements, and then giving some basic advice about dietary planning. Anecdotes and platitudes. I admit that I’ve told patients to “eat less and exercise more”. I haven’t seen pharmacists do much more, though I like to think that pharmacists can and should be playing a much larger part in obesity management and treatment.
“One of the most important discoveries I believe we’ve made that will help you burn fat – green coffee bean extract” – Dr. Oz, September 10, 2012, Episode “The Fat Burner that Works”
Dr. Mehmet Oz may be biggest purveyor of health pseudoscience on television today. How he came to earn this title is a bit baffling, if you look at his history. Oz is a bona fide heart surgeon, (still operating 100 times per year), an academic, and a research scientist, with 300+ or 400+ (depending on the source) publications to his name. It’s an impressive CV, even before the television fame. He gained widespread recognition as the resident “health expert” on Oprah, and went on to launch his own show in 2009. Today “The Dr. Oz Show” is a worldwide hit, with distribution in 118 countries, a massive pulpit from which he offers daily health advice to over 3 million viewers in the USA alone. For proof of his power to motivate, just look at the “Transformation Nation Million Dollar You” program he launched in 2011, enrolling an amazing 1.25 million participants. Regrettably, what Oz chooses to do with this platform is often disappointing. While he can offer some sensible, pragmatic health advice, his show’s content seems more focused on TV ratings than medical accuracy, and it’s a regular venue for questionable health advice (his own, or provided by guests) and poorly substantiated “quick fixes” for health issues. (And I won’t even touch Oz’s guests like psychic mediums.) One need only look at the number of times the term “miracle” is used on the show as a marker of the undeserved hyperbole. Just this week, Julia Belluz and Stephen J Hoffman, writing in Slate, itemized some of the dubious advice that Oz has offered on his show, with a reality check against what the scientific evidence says. It’s not pretty. Continue reading
I can’t keep up with Dr. Oz. Just when I thought the latest weight loss miracle was raspberry ketone, along comes another panacea promising results with no effort. This time, it’s green coffee beans.
Everyone knows Dr. Oz, now. Formerly a guest on Oprah, he’s got his own show which he’s built into what’s probably the biggest platform for health pseudoscience and medical quackery on daytime television. In addition to promoting homeopathy, he’s hosted supplement marketer Joe Mercola several times to promote unproven supplements. He has been called out before for promoting ridiculous diet plans, and giving bad advice to diabetics. And don’t forget his failed attempt to actually demonstrate some science on his show, when he tested apple juice for arsenic which prompted a letter from the FDA about his shoddy methodology. His extensive track record of terrible health advice is your caution not to accept anything he suggests at face value. Yet it continues to frustrate me that pharmacies see his endorsements as a boon for sales of supplements, rather than what they really are – an obstacle to science-based health care. So when the sign in front of my local pharmacy started advertising “Green coffee beans – as seen on Dr. Oz”, I tracked down the clip in question. The last time I saw Dr. Oz in action when when he had Steven Novella from the Science-Based Medicine blog as a guest, where there was actually a exchange (albeit brief) about the scientific evidence for alternative medicine. Replace Dr. Novella with a naturopath, and you get this: Continue reading
Retail pharmacy is a competitive business, and these are tough economic times. And as I’ve pointed out before, retail pharmacies are increasingly selling ethically questionable products like homeopathy, positioning them as alternatives to real medicine. So I guess I should not have been surprised when a blog reader, (who is also a very prominent Canadian pharmacy leader) passed on the following to me from Pharmacy Development Services – a program to profile and promote products recommended by Dr. Oz: Continue reading
Right on schedule, once January 1 rolls past, you see the advertisements for weight loss products. And pharmacies want their share of your resolution-related spending. This past weekend, a national pharmacy chain dedicated two pages of their flyer to “fat burners” and other products that promise a slimmer, healthier you. But before you make any purchase, keep this in mind: Continue reading
Diet products are common in most pharmacies. Consumer demand is one factor, with obesity proliferating to the point where the majority of Canadian adults are now overweight or obese. Compounded with the reality that there are no easy solutions when it comes to weight loss, the weight loss industry is working overtime developing new products. Some healthy skepticism is called for, on the part of both consumers and pharmacists. Given the prevalence and accessibility of pharmacies, pharmacists are well positioned to play an important role in helping the overweight and obese.
Let’s review one product advertised widely in Canada: Chili Burn from the manufacturer New Nordic. The ad has the headline “I hated the extra pounds on my body!” “I’m am really surprised how well the Chili Burn tablets worked!” The ad then makes the following claim:
The product increases the amount of calories your body uses in a day, without any needed dietary changes or added exercises. As your body burns and wastes more calories, you steadily but surely, lose weight.
It sounds too good to be true. Continue reading
I grew up in the seventies and can remember some of the food fads well. There was the whole oat bran thing, the fondue set, quiche, Jiffy-Pop, and loooong salad bars at restaurants. And to treat the inevitable weight gain, the apple cider vinegar diet emerged. It was huge for a while, and like other ineffective diets, it disappeared. Well, for those with fond memories of the seventies, or perhaps new to the supposed power of fermented apples, the apple cider diet is back. This time, in convenient pill form.