Dr. Mehmet Oz, known to millions as simply Dr. Oz, is a Harvard graduate and a professor at Columbia University. So why is his advice and talk show under fire from the medical community? Let’s take a look behind the curtain at the history and the controversy, shall we?
Early Years and Education
Mehmet Cengiz Öz was born in Cleveland Ohio on June 11, 1960. His father Mustafa was a surgeon who emigrated from Turkey in the 1950s on a medical scholarship. By the age of 7, Mehmet says he knew he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Mehmet was raised in Delaware and attended the tony Tower Hill School in Wilmington. Next, he attended Harvard University, receiving a B.A. in 1982. For graduate school he went to University of Pennsylvania, getting an M.D. from their School of Medicine as well as an M.B.A. from Wharton; this gave him both medical credentials and business savvy.
Dr. Oz spent seven years training at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City, and was regarded as an exceptional heart surgeon. In 1995 he opened up the Cardiac Complimentary Care center there and has been a professor at Columbia University’s department of Surgery since 2001.
Experimenting in Alternative Therapies
In spite of his training, Dr. Oz was never completely satisfied with modern Western medicine and began to consider treatments that other doctors found questionable. One of the first times he raised eyebrows in the medical community was when he mailed letters to 100 cardiologists asking them to participate in clinical trials involving the use of hypnosis, meditation, and hands-on healing in conjunction with their surgeries. Most thought he was “a little crazy, but I feel we are neglecting our patients in a crucial way,” he told the New York Times.
Dr. Oz went ahead in spite of the concerns. His first study seemed to show patients who use self-hypnosis before surgery were less depressed and had fewer side effects than those relying solely on medication. As he began to do more studies and discover benefits from some of these alternative practices, he published his first book Healing from the Heart: A Leading Heart Surgeon Explores the Power of Complimentary Medicine in 1998.
Early Media Appearances and Controversies
His first television show was called Second Opinion with Dr. Oz, which appeared on the Discovery Channel in 2003. It only lasted one season but through the program he met Oprah Winfrey who became a good friend. Oprah started having him on her show as a medical expert, often calling him “America’s doctor.” Oz discussed a lot of important health topics like type 2 diabetes but he talked about how to look younger, too. On some programs, he to touted the anti-aging benefits of reservatrol, a natural chemical found in red wine. But in order to be truly effective, Oz said it should be taken in pill form.
Because of Oz’ mention, shady supplement companies sprung up practically overnight selling reservatrol in spite of the lack of conclusive scientific evidence about its benefits. They would often use Dr. Oz’s name and/or likeness to sell bottles, bilking customers for hundreds of dollars.
Although Dr. Oz doesn’t endorse any specific brand (“Doctors shouldn’t sell products,” he has said) the huge sales of any ingredient after his mention has been dubbed The Doctor Oz Effect.
The Dr. Oz Show and Green Coffee Extract
The Effect grew exponentially when Dr. Oz premiered his own show in 2009, produced by Ms. Winfrey for her OWN Network. It is said to have over 4 million viewers a day and is broadcast in 118 countries. The good Doctor has dispensed a wide range of advice on over 500 shows so far.
Some of this advice appears to be questionable. A notable incident is when Dr. Oz began promoting the “miracle” weight-loss effects of green coffee extract. A fake doctor appeared on a segment that claimed a scientific paper proved green coffee extract helped women lose an average of 18 pounds. The “doctor” was fined by the FTC for $9 million dollars and the study was retracted.
Dr. Oz Goes To Washington
Because of the green coffee incident and others, in 2014 Dr. Oz was called before Congress to testify about these various weight loss ingredients he often promotes. Dr. Oz said that while he “passionately” believes in them, he admitted they “don’t have the scientific muster to present as fact.”
Doctor Oz continues to be in the hot seat for his advice. After his testimony, the British Medical Journal selected 40 episodes and evaluated 479 of his recommendations, finding evidence for only 46 percent.
Fire Dr. Oz!
In April 2015, a group of 10 physicians wrote a letter to Columbia University, requesting he be fired from his post as vice chairman of the surgery department. Doctor Oz defended his practices, turning around and questioning the bias and ethics of the letter-writers, pointing out that one did prison time for Medicaid fraud.
The Doctor does have his supporters. In an Op-Ed in the New York Times, writer Bill Gifford examined the BMJ study and concluded Oz was wrong only 11 percent of the time “not ideal but hardly ‘egregious.’” In addition, Gifford pointed out that Dr. Oz talks about important health issues not usually heard on mainstream TV. Oprah has defended Dr. Oz and continues to produce his television show, but recently pulled the plug on his radio program. So far, he continues to serve on the board and work at Columbia.
Bottom Line: Is Dr. Oz Trustworthy?
We do not doubt the experience or credentials of Dr. Oz. The Dr. Oz Show, while certainly containing questionable segments, has an overall positive message on staying healthy and the importance of diet and exercise. If you do watch the program, remember:
- This is a talk show designed to provide daytime entertainment and may not be based entirely on facts, as Dr. Oz has admitted himself.
- Dr. Oz never specifically promotes any particular supplement or product. "If you see my name, face or show in any type of ad, email, or other circumstance it's illegal," Dr. Oz said in his Senate testimony.
- Have a healthy dose of skepticism, particularly when he uses words like “miracle” (which he often does).
- Do your own research on sites like WebMD or the Mayo Clinic and take a close look at the clinical studies (we tell you how to read them here).
Let us know what you think of Dr. Oz below!