Yesterday Dr. Mehmet Oz basically admitted before a Senate subcommittee hearing that many of the claims he makes about weight loss supplements are not based in fact.
“I can’t figure this out, Dr. Oz – I don’t get why you need to say this stuff when you know it’s not true,” complained Senator Claire McCaskill in a hearing before the Senate subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance. “When you have this amazing megaphone, why would you cheapen your show?”
Replied Oz: “I actually do personally believe in the items I talk about on the show. I passionately study them. I recognize that oftentimes they don’t have the scientific muster to present as fact. Nevertheless, I would give my audience the same advice I give my family, and I have given my family these products.”
The weight loss products Dr. Oz is talking about are, of course, the many supplements that have achieved mega-success after a mention on his show, a phenomenon now known as “the Oz effect.”
And while he admits they’re “controversial,” he also argues that they’re a necessary “crutch” for the two thirds of American adults now classified as obese.
“If the only message I gave was to eat less and move more, which is the most important thing people need to do, we wouldn’t be very effectively be tackling this challenge, because viewers know these steps and they still struggle,” he said. “So we search for tools and crutches for short-term support so people can jump-start their programs.”
Further defending the role of his show, he adds: “I would rather have a conversation about these materials on my stage than in back alleys.”
So what are the weight loss supplements getting Dr. Oz into hot water? A quick rundown:
1. Forskolin: In the hearings, McCaskill brings up Forskulin, reminding Oz that he called it “lightning in a bottle” and “a miracle flower” in an episode of his show this past January.
What it really is: A chemical found in the roots of the plant Plectranthus Barbatus that’s been used in traditional medicine to treat high blood pressure and heart disorders.
2. FBCx: Oz counters McCaskill with a defense of FBCx, “which is basically a fiber and we know that fiber when taken correctly is a very effective weight loss tool.”
What it really is: A type of fiber called alpha-cyclodextrin that’s been used to lower cholesterol and bind triglycerides. The term FBCx is an abbreviation for “Fat Binding Complexer” and is basically just a branding term.
3. Raspberry Ketones: Dr. Oz has called it: “A number one miracle in a bottle to burn your fat.”
What it really is: A compound derived from red raspberries that may help regulate adiponectin, a protein that affects metabolism.
4. Yakon Syrup: Dr. Oz has termed it “a metabolism game-changer.”
What it really is: A syrup extracted from the root of the South American plant Smallanthus sonchifolius that can be used as a lower calorie alternative to sugar.
5. Saffron Extract: Dr. Oz touts this “miracle appetite suppressant” for its ability to banish cravings.
What it really is: A spice culled from the plant Saffron crocus, used in Asian and Middle Eastern cooking.
And 5 More: Other weight loss “miracles” touted by Dr. Oz include Sea Buckthorn, Capsiberry, Garcinia Cambogia, African Mango Seed, and Green Coffee Bean extract. In fact, it’s Green Coffee Bean extract that got Dr. Oz into trouble in the first place.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced last month that it was charging one company, Florida-based Pure Green Coffee, with false and deceptive advertising after they sold half a million bottles of green coffee bean extract (at $50 a pop) following a Dr. Oz episode discussing the supplement.
Do any of these weight loss supplements actually work?
We simply don’t know, because there aren’t reliable studies showing that they do. In some cases, extrapolating from other uses in either modern or traditional medicine, it seems possible that they could have weight loss benefits. (Here are 7 weight loss supplements that have at least some scientific data to back up their efficacy.)
But given the lack of studies, they also could have side effects or even pose serious risks at the concentrations necessary to cause significant weight loss.
And then there’s the problem of cost. “It’s a major problem when people are spending more and more money and they’re gaining more and more weight,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
After chastizing Oz, McCaskill asked for his support in a movement for stronger consumer protection. “l know you care about America’s health,” she said. “You are being made an example of today because of the power you have in this space. We didn’t call this hearing to beat up on you but we did call this hearing to talk about a real crisis in consumer protection.”
Oz’s response: “I want to be part of the solution, not the problem.” Let’s see what that means in practice. What do you think of these products – fraud or fad worth trying?
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