From the beginning, television talk show hosts, and radio hosts before them, have given health advice and promoted health-related products, or at least allowed guests to do so. More often than not, the advice and products were wacky. No host—and not even the Surgeon General— has had more influence than Oprah, however. People have trusted her self-help guidance in all realms. Unfortunately, when it came to health and medicine, at least, much of the advice on her show was quackery.
Oprah helped Suzanne Somers promote “anti-aging” pills and potions. She repeatedly gave anti-vaccination crusaders a platform to espouse dangerous claims, without countering them. It’s hard to imagine how much money viewers wasted on useless or potentially harmful supplements and other products promoted on her show— and how many people missed out on the medical treatments they really needed as a result. In 2009, Newsweek’s hard-hitting cover story about Oprah’s peddling of modern-day snake oil was an eye-opener.
But Oprah may have affected the nation’s health most by making Mehmet Oz, M.D., her resident health expert. This led to his own TV show, as well as radio programs and newspaper columns, where he offers his own mix of sensible and questionable health advice.
Though Dr. Oz is a well-regarded cardiac surgeon and professor at Columbia University, on TV he suggests treatments for everything from endocrine disorders to cancer, and gives guidance about nutrition, weight loss, psychological well-being and sexual health—just about everything. Often that advice, especially when it comes from some of his guests, is dubious at best.
He is also an expert in complementary and alternative medicine. But his show often promotes far-out notions such as therapeutic touch, faith healing, homeopathy and “detoxifying” juice fasts—without providing convincing scientific support for them, and with little or no questioning of the claims. Even psychics and shamans show up, and their assertions are presented as plausible. And every week Dr. Oz gives airtime to unproven supplements and the latest “super foods.”
Dr. Oz undoubtedly knows a lot about cardiology, but don’t assume that the advice on his show is good just because he has a medical degree and seems trustworthy. If you’re intrigued by some tip or product on the show, research it yourself (and not just on the websites marketing the product) and consult your doctor. Getting tips about stocks or business ventures from TV shows or infomercials is risky business. Following health advice from TV celebrities can be even riskier.