Dr. Oz has transformed the wellness-industrial complex
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Secrets, Mysteries and Miracles:
The Wizardry of Oz
Dr. Mehmet Oz fancies himself as "America's Doctor," but it is more accurate to regard him as a nimble animal trainer, who has millions of decent, serious women jumping through hoops day after day (year after year) in large part for his own gratification and profit.
He has made what could have been an excellent public-service program on health and fitness into what is arguably the most sensationalistic tabloid medium in the country (although, almost as an afterthought, it purveys some important information as well).
He has created yet another form of addiction, which requires increasingly extreme and "mind-blowing" claims to keep its fans hooked. The Magical Mystery Tour is coming to take you away, to a place of SUPER SECRETIVE SECRETS that, as the good doctor says ominously, "you can't afford to miss."
In the process, he has transformed the wellness-industrial complex. It is jumping through his hoops, too, manically trying to keep up with the ever-more-obscure products and procedures he promotes as "life-changing."
People love Dr. Oz, and it's easy to see why: He is an adorable person. He comes across as charming and genuine. He is uniquely appealing in many ways, and there are aspects of his program that are surely changing his viewers' health habits for the better. He can be a riveting teacher.
Nevertheless, I believe that the exploitation of his fans' hopes and fears drives his program at least as much as his educational aims do.
His ongoing deluge of "must have" supplements, products and procedures keeps his viewers scrambling and his sponsors ecstatic.
A MEGADOSE OF MEGALOMANIA
A careful review of his recommendations reveals a disappointingly cavalier attitude toward scientific consensus, and toward the well-being of his viewers. Novelty and sensationalism are his program's mainstays. Through-the-roof ratings and the expansion of his Empire of Wealth (not health) are obviously his goals.
It's a shame that his values, like those of so many others, have become twisted by celebrity, riches and power.
It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.
But much of what Oz offers is a disheartening spectacle. I am very uncomfortable with the way in which his tawdry sensationalism disrespects and manipulates the earnest women who place their trust in him.
Oz has amped up the whole concept of "must-see TV" with an endless barrage of cliff-hanger, life-or-death teasers: "Can diet soda give you a stroke?"
"Is there a secret killer in your bathroom? Tune in tomorrow to learn the shocking facts!"
"Next: Dr. Oz’s audience members confess their deepest, most embarrassing health secrets!"
"Sitting is a DEATH WISH!" another promo declares. "Every hour in that chair INCREASES YOUR CHANCE OF DEATH by 11 percent!"
"Has a former TV celebrity discovered the Fountain of Youth? He'll disclose his startling regimen later this week!"
"Why do naked, morbidly obese women get paid too eat in front of men? You won't believe their stories!"
(If you're anxious to get to the 'wrinkles' part, just do a search for 'inane' and it will take you right down there, but this preliminary stuff is pretty SHOCKING and BIZARRE!)
COMING NEXT: SOMETHING THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!
Oz promises "miracle" plans and "magical" pills. There are "ancient secrets" (and "prehistoric" ones, too) "exotic cures" and "new research that will shock you." He has "three secret weapons to boost concentration," and some "bizarre shortcuts that you WON'T BELIEVE!"
He will tell you how to "stop and even reverse aging," "fake a face lift" and how to "cheat away 20 pounds." He promises to "bust myths," to "tell you things your doctor doesn't want you to know," to show you how to "blast off" fat by sipping tea. He vows to share a "special secret" that will enable you to "just sit there" and lose weight. "Save yourself from the 'triangle of death'!" "Look ten years younger in five minutes!" "The secret reasons you have to pee!" "The telltale signs of infidelity!" "Learn the 3 secret weapons to BOOST you concentration!"
He looks straight into the camera and says, "What I am going to share with you will change your life forever."
Then we tune in expectantly the next day, and our lives aren't changed for five minutes, much less forever. Yet we keep coming back for more.
"Tomorrow: Revelations that will change EVERYTHING you thought you knew!" "The 3 things you do every day that risk your family's life!" "New rules to supercharge your energy INSTANTLY!"
"7 secrets to being pain free FOREVER!"
"A common pill's DIRTY LITTLE SECRET!"
An "easy 10-minute routine will keep your metabolism revved up all day! "A super-secret ingredient with mind-blowing properties!" Learn about a “breakthrough supplement” that "tightens and firms your skin for 'forever young' beauty" and a "miracle in your medicine cabinet" that can "revitalize your life."
"Up next: Foods that make you feel younger and TURN BACK THE CLOCK!" "Could watermelon really be Nature's Viagra?"
BYE-BYE TO THE RAIN FOREST
Oz entices us with "secrets from the furthest reaches of the globe." (He's hyped so many "rainforest treasures" -- acai, guarana, graviola, cat's claw, Tamanu oil, gogi, mangosteen, Tongkat Ali, African Mango -- that one wonders if his program, which is aired around the world, is not ripping asunder this precious ecosystem.)
The Oz seduction continues:
"The one secret substance that tricks your brain into never aging!" "The amazing mystery foods that starve cancer cells!" "The Strangest, Most Bizarre, Weirdest Reasons You're Fatigued!" (Oz offers two strange, bizarre, weird remedies: Just get some prickly pear and cordyceps mushrooms. That wasn't so hard, was it? So stop being fatigued!)
"Can hypnosis unlock the demons that cause you to overeat? Watch a live hypnosis tomorrow that will help you lose weight. All you need is a willing mind, and the pounds will fall away!"
"Cheat," "fake" and "trick" are three of his favorite words. He is on the verge of being giddy about how easy things can be if you know his "secret shortcuts."
"If you care about your husband's life, you can't miss tomorrow's show," he says, looking earnestly into the camera.
This isn't medical advice. It's showmanship. He's playing magician, always with a graceful flourish and boyish charm.
He shouldn't bill himself as Dr. Oz. He should be "Mehmet the Magnificent," complete with a black cape and bouquets that he conjures out of thin air to flatter his most smitten audience members.
Oz's blaring, suspenseful promotions and fabulously enticing teasers come straight from the time-tested formula of such publications as The National Enquirer and Cosmopolitan -- "5 Surefire Ways to a Blow-Your-Mind Orgasm!" and "The Hidden Underseas Treasure that Will Transform Your Breasts into Irresistible Double Ds!"
SHAMELESS, TAWDRY TABLOID TELEVISION
Oz has translated this condescending "yellow journalism" into a daily, hour-long television show, which he's merged into an empire that includes three massive web sites, six best-selling books, syndicated advice columns in newspapers and three major magazines, a regular program on the Sirius satellite radio network, and membership programs and commercial partnerships that are rapidly becoming an unwieldy and ethically dubious mess.
Before he became the fantasy boy-toy of the coveted 25-54 female age demographic, Oz, 51, was a renowned cardiac surgeon at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and a professor at Columbia University. (He obtained an MBA while getting his medical degree. That must be coming in pretty handy.)
He has authored over 400 original publications, book chapters and medical books, and has received several patents, according to a speakers' bureau that books him for an undisclosed fee.
Forbes cited him as the third-most influential celebrity in the country in 2010, the bureau adds. He has been honored by Time, Esquire and the World Economic Forum. He was named a "Doctor of the Year" by Hippocrates magazine and "Healer of the Millennium" by Healthy Living magazine.
He's been a wonder boy pretty much his whole life.
Now he is The Master Puppeteer, with millions of fans and entire industries hanging on his every word. It's a shame that his words are often so ridiculous.
He is powerful in ways that Oprah never dreamed of (well she probably did dream), because he is dealing with The Four Most Vital Issues On the Planet: life and death, wrinkles and big butts.
Every time he names some "fabulous" new "solution," the Earth moves. A stampede begins. The race is on, ladies -- be ruthless!
GETTING A KICK OUT OF CONQUEST
It must blow his mind to contemplate the tumultuous free-for-all he creates across the country and around the world merely by uttering some crazy phrase like Acanthopanax senticosus or "rose petal preserves." He and his posse -- the guys backstage who put all this stuff together -- must be laughing their heads off (maybe even doing that jock thing when they slap each others' rear ends?). More in character, I guess, would be a little victory dance, in the style of Dick Van Dyke in "Mary Poppins."
Before any given episode has ended, women are already Googling like mad to find where to buy the products he's hyping and to place their orders on the spot.
"Dr. Oz can, with one mention, single-handedly wipe out the nation’s supply of a formerly obscure herb," writes Suzanne Shelton in Natural Products Insider. She adds that "there have been persistent concerns about his accuracy."
My concerns about his accuracy have been persistent since I saw my first episode of "The Dr. Oz Show" one year ago.
Oz's co-executive Producer Amy Chiaro tells Forbes magazine that after the Neti Pot was mentioned on the show, its sales rose by 12,000 percent. Internet searches for the nasal irrigation system alone rose by 42,000 percent.
Products mentioned on the show "have a habit of being conspicuously absent from store shelves the day after being blasted into notoriety by Dr. Oz," Forbes magazine says. "Is the TV doctor trend creating a nation of heath-disordered people? Do we have unrealistic expectations of health, by being constantly bombarded by the latest secrets, tips, and fads?"
NASCAR FOR NUTRITION AFICIONADOS
Many fans admit that they go screeching from store to store, trying to find today's "miracle" product before it sells out: "the ugly fruit," jujube seeds, black garlic, Indian gooseberries, Boswellia, red mineral algae, African mango and sea buckthorn berries.
Time after time, Oz's "superfruit" du jour "explodes onto the scene," and promptly becomes a craze "that borders on mass hysteria," according to the produce manager at Whole Foods in Atlanta.
Oz's characterization of the obscure African mango as a "daily must" for losing weight created an aggressive, cutthroat online industry. Oz described the extract as a "breakthrough supplement" and a "miracle in your medicine cabinet."
But then he discovered the REAL weight-loss "miracle" is raspberry ketones (this will be discussed in depth in Part Two). What I learned, with a bit of investigative work, is that this supplement contains no raspberries and nothing remotely tied to a raspberry plant. It is nothing but a chemical substance created in a laboratory. He said each capsule contains 1,000 concentrated raspberries. That is simply not true.
Moreover, it has never been tested in humans. The rats that were administered the chemical got the equivalent of 57 capsules a day to get a weight-loss effect. And researchers said that even one capsule can have serious side effects in some people.
Even so, at least dozens, if not hundreds, of sites are now selling these "natural wonders" -- some of which were launched exclusively to exploit the hysterical global demand Oz instigated for raspberry ketones -- and many try to convince prospective consumers that their competitors' products are adulterated, diluted or contain no active ingredient (they all are). Huge amounts of money are changing hands.
The show's fans are scanning one Oz-related message board after another to find out if anyone out there has located any Kudzu (you can get on a waiting list), any Shizandra berries (an ancient Chinese "secret" to boost energy and alertness) or Magnolia Bark (to get rid of the methane gas in your intestines and thereby "help in the fight against global warming") (plus it "kills bad breath within 30 minutes!") or white kidney bean extract ("Taken along with a high-carb, high-fat meal, it will block calories from being stored as fat!") (Wow -- yet another dream come true!) (This is not to be confused with white bean extract, which "speeds up your metabolism and prevents carbs from being absorbed!").
WOMEN, AS ALWAYS, TRYING TO COLLABORATE AND COOPERATE
Across the web, the questions are flying: Did anyone find the bilberry? The butterbur? (but did you know it's a carcinogen and can be toxic to the liver? Uh oh -- Oz forgot to mention that!) Did you locate any bonito peptides or burdock, any black raspberry or black currant (although Oz neglected to tell us about the extract's possible interactions with antibiotics, blood thinners, blood pressure-lowering agents, antioxidants, anti-ulcer drugs, antidepressants, antivirals, immunomodulators, NSAIDs, COX 2 inhibitors, Vitamin C, and herbs and supplements with similar effects.)
(So I guess we ought to find another "superfood" to protect our night vision and to give us thick, lustrous hair! )
Women have been known to buy up entire stocks of various new Oz "must haves" and put them on eBay, marked way up, of course.
The Knox Village Soup Shop in rural Maine, has a big sign in its window boasting: "The Top 100 Oz Products: We Have Almost All of Them!"
A MAD SCRAMBLE TO PRODUCE AND DISTRIBUTE OZ 'PICKS'
A survey of online nutritional-supplements retailers revealed that one product after another that has been featured on the Oz show in the past several weeks is "on back order." Several sites have "introduced" new products in response to Oz programs -- white kidney bean extract, for example, and L-carnosine -- but the ads are essentially just place-holders; the actual supplements are still in the process of being produced.
The massive, venerable mail-order nutrition company Puritan's Pride succumbed in Spring, 2012, and created a new section for "buzz worthy" products. It currently includes 21 "hot" new items, all of which have recently been featured on "The Dr. Oz Show," although Puritan's Pride declines to mention his name.
Sales of PGX fiber ($40 for a month's supply) jumped 900 percent after the Oz endorsement in 2011, according to the eVitamins site, but now Oz's new best fiber friend is big advertiser Metamucil. Nice knowing you, PGX! Stay regular!
Another sensation, Sephora's Living Proof hair treatment ($42 for 8 oz.), has been selling out repeatedly since Oz told viewers it "reduces your hair's porosity 100 percent" ("sealing in ALL of its moisture"), "increases its resistance to breakage nine times" and "gives it the look and feel of virgin hair." (No it doesn't, just read the user reviews.) (Or review your Physiology 101 textbook.)
Oz's spiel on behalf of this product was lifted word for word from Sephora's online promotional material. Moreover, it is not a "natural" product -- its ingredient list contains 19 chemicals and two oils.
The so-called "Oz effect" proceeds, unabated: Harried clerks at Whole Foods and other nutrition outlets put up signs saying, "NO RASPBERRY KETONES!" and "TEMPORARILY OUT OF L-ARGININE," "NO UMEBOSHI PLUMS IN STOCK!" and "WE DO NOT CARRY PURSLANE!"
(Actually, Whole Foods does carry purslane at its Maui, Hawaii, store, where it's characterized as "an edible weed," but it "sells out within hours after we restock it.")
Proprietors of online Asian shops express utter exasperation as their sites crash in the mad scramble for some obscure delicacy, such as black squid ink, that Oz has deemed "simply unparalleled."
He refers to the ink as being "one of the world's greatest superfoods." I must admit: I did not know that.
There sure seem to be a lot of superfoods out there. His show can endure as long as he keeps finding new ones.
Hundreds of sites have posted single-day web traffic records after an Oz recommendation.
OZ IS THE NUTRITION INDUSTRY'S ENERGY BAR
According to the Natural Products Association in Washington, D.C., "The industry has been completely turned upside-down. Dr. Oz is calling the shots."
(The same is true in dermatology and cosmetic surgery. Doctors are being inundated with inquiries about "miraculous" wrinkle creams and procedures that their patients have seen on "The Dr. Oz Show," and some patients are assertively price-shopping before they even get an assessment of their suitability for the procedures in question.)
Even grocery stores, gyms, spas and chiropractors' offices are prominently displaying "as seen on The Dr. Oz show" products, and the web is packed with promotions, many of them grossly misleading.
The website NaturalProductsInsider.com notes that "The industry has repeatedly benefited from the 'Dr. Oz effect,' where sales spike when he recommends anything, whether it's astaxanthin, acai, IP6, spirulina, you name it."
He's their man!
I can visualize Oz pulling the strings, yanking the chains.
He is laughing. It isn't an evil laugh. It is the delightful and delighted laugh of a sweet, impish, well-adjusted boy who is having the time of his life.
IS HE A MEDICINE MAN WITH A SEXIST FEATHER IN HIS CAP?
He pulls one breathtakingly brilliant supplement after another out of his magician's hat, loading up his faithful female viewers with all sorts of bottles containing "vital," "incredible" nutrients, both mainstream and obscure. We need entire pantries just to store them all.
But when he's addressing men, it's a different story. In his Esquire magazine advice column, he wrote, "All you need is a complete daily multivitamin plus DHA-omega-3 fats. Add some extra vitamin D if the multi doesn't give you the 1,000 IUs you need. That's it."
What are we to make of this extraordinary gender discrepancy? Does he love women more, or does he just think we're more naive, desperate and impressionable?
(He told women that saliva "works very well" for sexual purposes, but in Esquire, he confided to the guys that K-Y Jelly is a "staple" of his medicine cabinet, right up there with the Pepto and the Band-aids.) (Is this one of those "too much information" situations?)
Who is getting the short end of Oz's healthy, handsome schtick -- men or women?
DR. OZ AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE
Oz has created an engine of fame and fortune for himself, but it requires ever-more-exotic fuel to keep it running.
For example, now he's pushing Moxibustion as "the next big thing for pain relief." It's an acupuncture technique involving moxa, the herb mugwort (Isn't that some Harry Potter potion? It would fit right in with the tone of the Oz show).
In Moxibustion, Oz says, the moxa herb "can be burned in stick form as the acupuncturist hovers and swirls the stick of burning moxa above various acupuncture points." Would swirling incense cure your pain? Does Harry have a secret word he uses to make impossible dreams come true?
Some of the products Oz has highlighted "seem to be labeled solely in Chinese characters, which ought to put up a red flag to consumers who are worried about safety and efficacy," according to NaturalProductsInsider.com.
In spite of all the craziness that has emanated from "The Dr. Oz Show," he certainly deserves some of the credit for the dramatic increase in the use of several important, heretofore underused nutrients. He should also be credited for an expanded public awareness of what a wholesome diet entails.
OZ BECOMES A 'BRANDED MEDIA PERSONALITY'
In 2009, Oz's program (which is currently in a running battle with Dr. Phil for number one daytime talk show ) began innocently enough -- or as innocently, anyway, as any ambitious, big-budget network infotainment product can begin.
Oz now represents "the future of the branded media personality," according to Crain's Business Weekly. "The empire of Oz is a rare example of synergy at work: a media kingdom," it reported in 2010. The TV show's ratings have gone up in double digits since its launch, which is unprecedented, according to John Weiser, president of distribution for Sony Pictures Television, a co-producer of the show.
The original plan seemed to be to educate viewers about the body's complex and beautiful processes and to provide health information about common diseases. Oz has presented many highly informative lessons on human physiology, generally accompanied by large, dramatic video illustrations.
During these segments, he seemed very much like a dedicated college professor, and his audience appeared to be up to the task of being educated in a sober, adult fashion. It was a pleasure to watch and to sense the mutual respect between "teacher" and "students."
TURNING IT INTO A CHILDREN'S GAME SHOW
Kitschy elements were being interspersed more and more often, though, and the show's tone devolved into a combination of "The Price is Right" and "Pee Wee's Playhouse." While it still provided some useful, sensible health information, it soon placed entertainment at the forefront.
It decided to make learning fun and colorful -- a party! There developed a kindergarten atmosphere as Oz announced, with wide eyes and a hushed voice, that a "mysterious remedy" was coming next.
His respect for his audience -- and his role as a doctor -- seemed to erode as he began giving priority to being the David Copperfield of magical physiological processes. Increasingly, he seemed to regard his fans as gullible babes in the woods, or as pawns in his onstage frolics.
The program became a big, bright play-date venue, with sophomoric demonstrations and a tiresomely melodramatic game-show vibe.
At the same time, Oz's handlers apparently decided to mold him into a sex symbol.
A PLAY DATE WITH A HUNKY PLAYMATE
He would transition from being America's Doctor to being AMERICA'S BOYFRIEND! It seemed like a great idea back in the bull pen, where all the show's other ideas were hatched.
Oz said, "Cool -- I'm in!"
It quickly became preposterous. A scream track, much like the laugh tracks used by sitcoms, was added, to make Oz's appearance onstage seem more electrifying. There are also a bunch of men whose job it is to stand in back and obnoxiously cheer and hoot on cue throughout the show, to rouse the audience into the desired uproar.
Oz is awfully cute, of course -- just ask the hundreds of audience members who were instructed, before showtime, that when their names were called, they were to shriek, jump to their feet, wave their arms in the air hallelujah-style, hug everyone in sight, perhaps shed a tear or two, and then dash down the stairs, hurling themselves into his arms. (This happened over and over again for months, each time an audience member was summoned onstage).
IN OZ'S ARMS, THEY TREMBLE AND HYPERVENTILATE
Oz's lucky "chosen ones" seemed to be living their wildest dreams as they remained locked in a breathless embrace with their matinee idol for as long as possible. They gazed up at him with the anguished longing of teenage girls. Oz patted their shoulders, laughing self-deprecatingly at their star-struck trembling. When he made remarks such as, "Do you have high blood pressure?" the blatantly rehearsed, eyelash-batting, bosom clutching reply was, "I do now, Dr. Oz!"
It was pathetic. It was very annoying. Someone -- a level-headed producer, or perhaps Mrs. Oz herself -- finally put an end to this orgy of full frontal embraces, sobs and lovelorn screams (although Mrs. Oz says she has no worries about her husband's fidelity. "He's married to his work," she says).
Those who join him onstage now relate to him in a poised, adult fashion. It seems that they, like most TV audiences, are willing to follow instructions faithfully, whatever they may be.
DARTS, BALLOONS, FOAM BASEBALL BATS
One day, there was a big mesh enclosure that was filled with live butterflies. It was to illustrate -- guess what? -- your stomach. This was the program's picturesque but gimmicky entree into a discussion of digestive health.
There was the tension-filled "truth tube," which seemed reminiscent of the '50s (like the "isolation booth" on "The $64,000 Question"), where nervous guests stood to hear their vital statistics.
Then there were the swooning audience members who were ordered to "come on down!" to play roles in Oz's dismayingly primitive demonstrations of physiology, which had a "Mr. Wizard" aspect to them, except that Mr. Wizard appeared to have a higher regard for the intellectual development of his "assistants" than Dr. Oz does.
One poor woman had ten seconds to dash across the stage and dump as many big tubs of goopy yellow "fat" into a container as she could. She was The Thyroid. Then, a heavy ball and chain ("Are you kidding me?" she said) were put around her ankle, and she was issued the same challenge. She was really slowed down, of course, because now she was (the sign around her neck reminded us) The Hypothyroid.
If I were a first-grade teacher, I think I could find a more effective, and certainly more humane, way to convey this concept. And I'm neither a teacher nor a doctor.
THE TINKER-TOY APPROACH TO TEACHING ANATOMY
Large, surprisingly simplistic, Tinker-Toy models of bodily systems -- made of plastic tubing, foam rubber and stretchy fabric in primarily colors -- were more puzzling than instructive.
More than one poor woman has had to play the role of "poop" as she gamely made her way through a slippery, claustrophobic colon, until she emerged as a "bowel movement."
Another woman was handed a catcher's mitt and pressed into the role of "kidney" while others threw "toxins" at her.
A massive toothbrush was given to one "assistant" so she could swipe away the bright yellow foam balls (bad breath!) that were stuck on a four-foot-tall red tongue.
Then there was the coveted, please-please selection of "my assistant of the day," which Oz approached with an aura of suspense and urgency, tiptoeing over to a file cabinet and picking out a folder "at random."
Oz grandiosely ensconced the flushed, breathless lady in a white lab coat and hauled out both healthy and diseased human organs, placed delicately on white napkins. He had her put on latex-free purple nitrile gloves and wincingly handle the diseased kidney, the rotting lung, the bloated heart, the lovely brain, the smooth albeit rubbery vaginal canal. These segments were actually very interesting, despite the overwrought way in which they were sometimes presented.
IT'S LIKE HAVING SCHOOL AND RECESS AT THE SAME TIME!
Oz has had audience members pouring caustic fluids on styrofoam "tissues," using a squirt gun on various "invaders," climbing up and through various "organs," and ripping up mock membranes to show how they degrade and bleed.
He's used various clumsily contrived game-show formats -- like "Jeopardy," for example -- in a dubious effort to entertain while being informative. In some cases, "contestants" have raced across the stage in their high heels to grab a cantaloupe or a bag of pinto beans, and tried to scoot back to their stations before their competitors did. The winner got to keep her bag of beans.
The ever-modest Oz has even gone into the "dunking booth," daring his guests to answer questions correctly and get the chance to "Drench the Doc" (which they always do, whether they answer the questions correctly or not). That doll -- he is such a good sport. But isn't the whole drenching dynamic an idiotic, time-wasting distraction?
I envision those who put "The Dr. Oz Show" together as a bunch of college interns who don't know much about either medicine or television. They are doing this on the fly. They are constantly trying one approach and abandoning it, introducing some exciting new device and then slipping it back into the toy chest.
Thank god they ditched the fatuous "no embarrassment zone" (an embarrassment in itself), during which guests asked disgusting and obviously rehearsed "spontaneous" questions, such as "If I pick my nose too much will it get bigger?") (Oz always "just happened" to have elaborate video prepared to answer these questions).
GOO, SLOP AND SLIME
But all sorts of gooey concoctions are still being slopped on guests' faces. Slimy "softening miracles" are being poured into their hair. They are pressed to taste barf-inducing tidbits ("You're right, Dr. Oz, it's not that bad"), or obliged to get into one uncomfortable position or contraption after another (a bathtub filled with ice is "one of the easiest ways to lose weight!")
Oz employs the "ick factor" to great effect.
"What the yuck?" is the title of an upcoming show. "We probe the most disgusting questions you have about your body!" (as opposed to "the most embarrassing questions," which have already been covered ad nauseam).
A promotional clip shows a woman confiding that she has "terrible, explosive diarrhea." Everyone, especially she, is shocked as he slams his fist down on a big, soft tube, and colored goop comes blasting out the end of it.
During one of his "Miracle Foods From Around the World" segments, he comes close to puking when he tastes "stinky tofu," a "miracle delicacy" that "smells and tastes like a dead body." He is a bit less wary of "corn smut," or Huitlacoche, and the word "smut" seems to cheer him up.
He goes into high gear with his "ick" fetish, clearly enjoying himself as he reveals "shocking hidden health hazards." He has his audience groaning with the news that half of them have eyelash mites and 40 million Americans harbor intestinal parasitic worms "that are clamped to your insides, sucking nutrients." They can grow up to 50 feet in length and live inside you for 25 years, he declares.
They could be "THE SECRET REASON YOU'RE EXHAUSTED!"
He admits that he "loves poop" and has had several graphic discussions of color, texture, shape, flotation and frequency. (He claims that an "S" shape is essential. I hope that's not true.)
Bowel function is certainly a cornerstone of good health, but he "lays it out" in ways that probably aren't necessary for an informative discussion:
One day the entire audience was holding up covered plastic cups of their own urine, giggling uncomfortably, as Oz described the implications of color and clarity variations.
Another day, the guests were required to bring a pair of their "used panties" so that Oz could tell them about various "telltale signs" hidden within that might have health implications.
"Could your panties be trying to tell you something that could save you a lot of heartache?"
This stuff was just mildly off-putting, but things got outright offensive, in my opinion, when Oz had an intervaginal ultrasound performed onstage. I question the motivation for showing such a graphic, intimate test, rather than simply describing it and its purpose. A woman guest had an alarmingly large, phallic tube (covered, for some reason, with a condom) pushed inside her. A large screen displayed the images, which were way too unclear to be helpful to the audience.
MAYBE HE'LL BE NAMED PEOPLE'S 'SEXIEST DOCTOR ALIVE'!
Like any successful con man, Oz is truly charismatic -- the George Clooney of health. He is modest, good-natured, and genuinely interested in learning. He is intelligent and compassionate. He is energetic, engaging, and just plain fun. He connects beautifully with total strangers.
He does that cute lower-lip thing that Bill Clinton made famous. He's got come-hither eyebrows, like Pierce Brosnan. In his crisp navy scrubs, with that lithe body and jauntily handsome face, he is sexy in a harmless way: You want to tousle his hair. He ought to be with Cirque du Soleil -- he could be the daring young man on the flying trapeze (with the greatest of ease).
He is also admirably collegial. He welcomes to his show, with great respect and warmth, experts who might be regarded as competitors, such as three renowned, best-selling health gurus, Drs. Andrew Weil and Neal D. Barnard, and Deepak Chopra.
He often makes surprisingly modest remarks such as, "I didn't know that....I've never heard of that before....what you've said is fascinating, it's really got me thinking." I have found it impossible not to be fond of him, even though I am appalled by many aspects of what he does.
THE EMPIRE STRIKES FORTH
The money is absolutely piling in as his empire grows exponentially. Forget about his cardiac practice! If he can fit in one open-heart gig per week, he's fine with that, just to keep the "heart surgeon" moniker credible.
Oz has already corralled well over a million people into the facilities of longtime sponsor Weight Watchers (which must be mighty grateful) in order to enlist them in "Transformation Nation: Million-Dollar You."
Those who join can attend a "free" Weight Watchers meeting, and will be eligible to win the $1 million jackpot. I think this is what the MBA types call "synergy."
It is billed as a "free, life-changing program to get America healthy."
Lesson One is vintage Oz:
"Learn to burn fat and blast calories in only 5 minutes a day!"
Weight Watchers and a "powerful team of health professionals" will preside over your struggle to become "a new you."
Oz is projected to earn up to $10 million this year from his TV show alone. Then there is his massive Dr. Oz web site. He has also created another site, Sharecare, which "seamlessly partners" with both the "Dr. Oz Show" site and with local healthcare conglomerates around the country.
YET ANOTHER 'SIGHTING' OF THE UBIQUITOUS DOCTOR
It is unclear why a second Oz web site was needed, but it is one more dizzyingly ambitious health venue, supported by major Oz advertisers Dove skincare products and Weight Watchers. The site provides dozens of health categories -- each of which has several commercial sponsors -- and Q&As.
Oz's partner in this new site is Jeff Arnold, a founder of WebMD. If you go to the Dr. Oz Show site and pose a question or enter a search keyword, you may be automatically switched to the Sharecare site, which -- rather than providing the information from the Oz show that you might be seeking -- performs a general search of its own articles and columns.
As of March 12, 2012, Oz -- through Sharecare -- has purchased RealAge.com. This is a bit of a tangled mess: Hearst bought RealAge from Oz collaborator Dr. Michael Roizen for between $60 million and $70 million in 2007. Though its net income -- and the fees it was paying Oz -- were not public, it was posting about $20 million in annual revenue when Hearst acquired it, according to the New York Times. Its current revenues are described as "under $50 million." (see more on the ethics imbroglio over the sale of personal medical data by RealAge in Part Three.)
In any case, RealAge has changed hands again and is now firmly ensconced within the glittering Land of Oz.
The combined company will have 16 million to 17 million active users, according to Medical Marketing Media.
OZ GETS MUCH RICHER -- IN THE DATA HE CONTROLS
RealAge's test, which has been taken by 29 million people since it launched in 1999, will be incorporated into Sharecare's site registration.
Ironically, amid all this Oz-controlled online material, the easiest way to get concise recaps of Oz shows is via the several websites launched by his fans, who essentially transcribe every segment of every show. In general, they are doing a decent job of it, and their sites are packed with ads. Their business plans turned out to be extremely astute.
(There are also several message boards and a Facebook page on which Oz and his "ridiculous," "insulting," "fraudulent" and "bogus" claims are savaged by women who can't believe that he is still on the air. Even his own web site is clogged with exasperated remarks by viewers who are incredulous at his hypocrisy and inconsistency.)
STUPIDITY CAN'T BE GOOD FOR ANYONE'S HEALTH
I have heard Oz make many remarks that were scientifically dubious or just plain silly during the year that I've tuned in.
One example is: "All you need for a blissful night's sleep is to eat a banana. It will put you right out."
Or: "Onions are better for you than yams." (That is literally like comparing apples and oranges. They're both nutritionally excellent, in different ways. But if you were forced to subsist on only one of them, the yam would win out.)
Or: "Two tablespoons of almond butter before bed makes four hours of sleep as good as eight."
But the stupidest remark I've ever heard him make was this:
"Nothing is more embarrassing than looking older than you should. Let's all get busy and prevent embarrassing wrinkles!"
Did you really mean to make such an inane statement, Dr. Oz? What is wrong with you? You're the one who should be embarrassed.
SAVING FACE: OZ ESCORTS US INTO A WRINKLE-FREE WORLD
Oz knows that his 25-54 age demographic is freakishly obsessed with wrinkles, and his show targets its resources to exploit his fans' anxieties.
Paradoxically, a reporter who interviewed Oz in 2010 said the doctor looks youthful on TV, but he more than looks his age when he isn't "expertly lit and wearing makeup."
"His skin is really quite wrinkled, and he has dark circles and bags under his eyes," the reporter said.
Oz showers his viewers with endless "surefire" ways to "erase the years." So why doesn't erase a few of his own, if it's so easy and so important?
"Eat just one cucumber a day (peeling and all) to look five years younger!" he exhorts his ever-trusting fans.
You eat one, sir!
I have never heard Oz suggest that women can be beautiful while simply letting nature takes its course. He characterizes wrinkles, as I noted earlier, as "embarrassing."
This is asinine and irresponsible.
GROW UP, OZ: WRINKLES ARE NOT THE DEVIL
Why can't he be an adult, and a chivalrous man, about this frivolous obsession, and help women enjoy the quite interesting, normal process of aging? It's ironic that one of his most faithful commercial sponsors, Dove, ran a classy, artfully designed "campaign for real beauty," encouraging women to embrace each phase of their lives with grace and self-acceptance.
But he is relentless in loading up his fans with lists of concoctions, pills and procedures that can keep hideous old age at bay.
"You're getting older, and everything's sagging," he says menacingly. "Here's what to do when it all goes south," promising to reveal the "anti-aging secrets of the top supermodels!"
When celebrity dermatologist and best-selling author Nicholas Perricone was a guest last year, he said, "Wrinkles are a choice. If you consume an anti-inflammatory diet high in Omega-3 and in antioxidants from colorful produce, your skin will remain pristine."
(Even so, Perricone has made millions selling creams, lotions, toners, serums and other "cutting edge" products. His latest is "Cold Plasma," $155 per ounce, which "helps correct the ten most visible signs of aging: wrinkles, enlarged pores, dryness, redness, discoloration, uneven skin tone, impurities, loss of firmness, loss of smoothness, and loss of radiance.") (He also sells a month's worth of skin-friendly vitamins for $85.) (I'm going to keep eating my chard.)
Following suit, Oz has come up with one "secret" and "mysterious" and "foolproof" recipe after another to "banish wrinkles forever" and give you "perfect skin." He promises to introduce you to the top ten anti-aging herbs and spices, a "wrinkle-fighting smoothie" and "breakthrough wrinkle fighters" as well as "exotic foods that smooth, strengthen and revitalize your skin for a lifetime." He will soon reveal a "new technique" that "made 100 percent of people look years younger."
He promises to tell you how to "trick your face into thinking it's had a facelift. You'll lose 10 years instantly!"
'MIRACLE PILL' HAS THE BITTER AFTERTASTE OF ABSURDITY
"Could it be the fountain of youth?" one of his promos blared. He promised to share "the secrets the beauty industry doesn't want you to know."
"The miracle pill to stop aging -- even reverse it -- is l-carnosine," Oz declared majestically. This supplement "not only reduces wrinkles -- it also improves brain function, energy and vision and may prevent Alzheimer's," he added.
The Natural Standard Nutritional Supplement Database (an esteemed research organization to which Dr. Oz links on his web site and which provides the Mayo Clinic source material on supplements) doesn't even have an entry for carnosine or l-carnosine, although it lists hundreds of both common and obscure nutrients and herbs. Natural Standard provides letter grades for the effectiveness of substances in promoting a wide range of benefits.
The exhaustive website of Dr Andrew Weil, a famed MD and holistic-health expert (and regular Oz guest), also has no mention of carnosine, nor does the prestigious Linus Pauling Institute's micronutrient encyclopedia.
Nutrition powerhouse Puritan's Pride didn't offer it among its huge inventory of supplements until weeks after Oz mentioned it, and it remained "on back order" for several more weeks, until its first shipment arrived.
GNC has carried carnosine for some time, at $66 for a month's supply, and states only that it "protects cell membranes" (with a disclaimer that this is an unproven effect).
OZ IS ROUNDLY OUTVOTED ON THE CARNOSINE ISSUE
"There isn't enough information available to know whether or not carnosine is safe, and there certainly is insufficient evidence to know whether it is effective in slowing the aging process," WebMd concluded, despite Oz's assurance that it can miraculously reverse aging.
Occasional Oz guest expert Dr. Joseph Mercola said on his website that "carnosine itself is not very useful as a supplement, as there are enzymes that rapidly break it down. It is likely best to get dipeptides such as this one them from foods rather than seeking to outsmart nature."
Oz regularly refers to his rigorous "medical research team," which he claims thoroughly studies every product and procedure he recommends. Yet time and again, he peddles pills that are flatly repudiated by his own favorite guest experts and by online databases, including those of the National Institutes of Health, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine NCCAM), Linus Pauling Institute, WebMd, Natural Standard, and several prestigious university medical schools.
So where is his "team" getting its information?
After naming carnosine the "fountain of youth," Oz switched gears (as always) to another anti-aging miracle. (start your engines, ladies!)
Astaxanthin, he said, is “the No.1 supplement you’ve never heard of that you should be taking."
The FDA has approved it as a coloring agent for fish and animal feed. It also has antioxidant properties. This is one of dozens of formerly unheard-of supplements that was suddenly, out of the blue, in huge demand.
The National Standard database of herbs and supplements doesn't even acknowledge its existence.
Dr. Andrew Weil's assessment is: "I've seen no human study that has shown that astaxanthin as an isolated dietary supplement delivers any of the claimed benefits."
But Oz was already off on his Next Big Thing: He decided that "the SECRET ORGAN that's sabotaging your skin is your pituitary! Your growth hormone is falling off a cliff! That's where the wrinkles come in!"
Thank goodness he had an "unbelievably effective" solution (and now maybe we don't need to buy carnosine and axtaxanthin?): "Fenugreek tea stimulates growth hormone and fights sagging skin!"
"A few small studies have found that fenugreek may help lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes," according to the National Institutes of Health database. "There is not enough scientific evidence to support the use of fenugreek for any other health condition."
The active ingredient in fenugreek is the amino acid l-arginine, which Natural Standard says is effective only to "diagnose a pituitary disorder or perform a growth hormone reserve test."
(Oz also urges viewers to use l-arginine for weight loss.)
Dr. Weil credits l-arginine not with any dermatological or weight-loss benefits, but rather with "potentially helping to lower blood pressure," although no teabag would provide nearly enough of the active ingredient to have any therapeutic benefit on blood pressure or anything else -- a concentrated supplement would be required.
Another wild goose chase, Oz -- thanks a lot. It's like he's turned life into a big, long scavenger hunt!
THE CORNUCOPIA OF REMEDIES SPILLETHS OVER
"Get rid of everything else and use only cocoa-butter cream," was one subsequent Oz tip of the day, in case nothing else was working (although a year earlier, he had denigrated this product and urged fans to look for moisturizers that contain onion juice and other "collagen-builders").
And this is essential, Oz says: It has been determined that the most effective time to apply wrinkle cream is after 9:30 p.m.
Have you noticed that he has schedules for us to follow that affect almost every aspect of our lives? First, his big no-protein green drink (but didn't he also advocate 30 g. of protein within 30 minutes of rising?), a jolt of high-powered tea, a yoga pose, a pita wrap, a cup of berries, or some string cheese, or a banana burrito (?), five minutes of mindful breathing, a canned-pumpkin facial masque, two tablespoons of something (?), a lavender bath, some meditation or maybe gratitude journaling, a particular bedtime prelude (valerian, pistachios, so many surefire tips) -- it's all mapped out for us, with military precision.
But now (how do we fit these in?): "There are five NEW superfoods to add years to your life and keep you looking young!"
Oz confides that black garlic strengthens your skin, jicama eliminates crow's feet, and Jerusalem artichoke will fade dark spots.
Black garlic, according to Dr. Andrew Weil, may have a slightly higher antioxidant content, but it is basically for "foodies on the lookout for the next novelty item." It is also very expensive, he adds, recommending that we stick with good, old-fashioned garlic, which truly is a superfood, particularly when eaten raw.
Jicama, Oz explains, is good for your collagen due to its Vitamin C content. Of course, there are many superior sources of Vitamin C, but they aren't the NEW SUPERFOODS that Oz needs to hold your interest. It also has "more iron than potatoes!" which isn't saying much. Lots of foods have more iron than potatoes.
Jerusalem artichoke's effect is attributed to iron, but the iron content of beans, greens and grains is higher, and its bioavailability has been definitively established, unlike the Oz choice.)
CURRANTS ARE AU COURANT, BUT IMPOSSIBLE TO FIND
He recommends black currants to protect your vision from the ravages of aging, but while everyone was out trying in vain to find some, they could have simply purchased blueberries, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, purple grapes or red wine, all of which are excellent sources of the anthocyanosides that are thought to protect vision. Black currant extract also comes with a long list of precautions and contraindications, as I outlined earlier. Oz chose not to mention them.
Milk mixed with lemon juice and brandy is "an excellent, excellent wrinkle remover," he said a few days later.
But then he urged the ladies to blend sugar, yogurt and almond powder to achieve "that ingenue complexion."
But then what is really TOTALLY cool is red wine and agave nectar, because of all that resveratrol. Sagging and blotchiness will vanish!
An ancient remedy that's considered "a modern-day miracle for tighter skin and erasing wrinkles" is to mix one teaspoon of organic honey with two tablespoons of heavy whipping cream. (None of these will work -- ask your dermatologist.)
Or "try green clay mixed with rose oil to draw the toxins out of your skin." (It won't draw anything out, ask your geologist) (or your dermatologist, if he's willing to answer more than one question per appointment -- good luck with that).
Have you achieved a "flawless radiance" by applying these luscious concoctions to your face? Have your wrinkles "evaporated"? Has your skin's "youthful elasticity" been restored?
ALGAE FROM THE SEA MAKE WAVES IN WRINKLE WORLD
Since your answer is very likely "No way!" there are countless "revolutionary new advances" that have been devised by the beauty industry to keep you young, and Oz doesn't seem to grasp the incongruity of promoting them, after promising us that whipping cream was miraculous.
One of Oz's top picks for 2012 -- it's from the ocean deeps, how scintillating! -- is Sephora's Algenist Concentrated Reconstructing Serum, which "boosts production of skin's key structural proteins: elastin, collagen, and proteoglycans to rebuild firmness and tone the skin. Facial contours are redefined to create a more toned and sculpted appearance."
(Ah, Sephora. Oprah loves this firm's overhyped, overpriced, but beautiful and fragrant products. Now Oz -- what happened to the brandy, almond powder and honey? -- has embraced them as well. This is another "cosmeceutical" that has dubious benefits, to say the least.)
It contains a "never-before-seen anti-aging ingredient, alguronic acid," Oz says. The cream costs just $95 for one ounce, and takes only 10 days to work.
According to the New York Times, this product has been scientifically tested only in a petrie dish, and even those data have not been released for peer review. Apparently, research isn't as important as a romanticized, picturesque promotional strategy.
"A compelling 'story' about a product’s genesis can be just as important for generating sales as the product’s demonstrable efficacy," the Times added.
Sephora's Allison Slater said it made sense to her that alguronic acid (a compound that purportedly protects microalgae cells) "could also protect middle-aged faces from environmental assault."
It may make sense to Allison, who gets paid to make sense of these things, but it's only a theory, dreamed up by a very unscientific marketing department.
“Think about how algae can live anywhere, live in the coldest of places, or the harshest of places, and think about translating that to skin care,” she said.
I'll think about better ways to spend that $95. I wonder how many millions of Oz's fans jumped onto this particular bandwagon. Have their wrinkles been "eliminated"?
AN EYE SHADOW THAT LASHES OUT AT CROW'S FEET
A new eyeshadow, which contains the "miraculous" macadamia oil, erases wrinkles while bringing lovely pastel shadings to your eyes.
Other recent remedies and preventatives have included:
"Take Vitamin E (an antioxidant) before going out into the sun to protect your skin from aging."
But don't consume antioxidants before going into the sun.
And don't wear antioxidant creams when you go into the sun.
But do use antioxidant creams when you're not in the sun, to reverse sun damage.
(My own "panel of experts" tells me this is all bogus.)
"Put cold potato slices or tofu over your eyes to smooth puffy skin," Dr. Oz advises (anything cool will decrease puffiness). Then, he adds, do 40 jumping jacks (!)
The soy in tofu, he claims, has been shown to increase collagen. Also, soy contains flavanoids that have been shown to decrease sun damage.
Neither effect has been documented via a topical application. If you want the benefits of tofu, eat it.
Putting a cucumber slice on your lips will moisturize them, Oz says, because it's 96 percent water. Or you could just pat some water on your lips and get a 4 percent superior effect. Neither is really a bona fide moisturizer, of course -- the benefits will evaporate within moments. You need a product such as Vaseline, Chapstick, or lipstick that will seal in the skin's natural moisture.
Topical applications of foodstuffs neither draw anything out of the skin nor put anything into it, according to research dermatologists. Oz repeatedly ignores this scientific fact.
THE FOOD GOES IN YOUR MOUTH, NOT ON YOUR FACE
One guest expert rightly said, "There's no point putting vitamins on the outside. You need to get them on the inside."
Nevertheless, Oz continues to whip up topical fruit concoctions because of the nutritional benefits that supposedly "seep" into your skin. He exuberantly rubbed papaya onto his face recently, mentioning its "softening" and antioxidant effects, and ate a slice as well.
Papaya does contain an enzyme, papain, which is commonly used as a meat tenderizer, but it works by "hydrolyzing the fleshly proteins." Does that sound desirable (hydrolyze means "the breaking down of a chemical compound")? And it's not clear that we would want our faces to be tenderized -- having the fibers "broken down" -- which isn't the same thing as "soft." Being tenderized makes it easier for our skin to be sliced and chewed!
The Natural Standard database warns the millions of people with gastroesophageal reflux disease, gastrointestinal ulcers, and those using blood thinners or medications that suppresses the immune system to avoid papaya, because its active agent, papain, can exacerbate their conditions.
Moreover, the FDA moved in 2008 to forbid the marketing of topical products containing papain due to reports of "serious adverse events."
Dr. Oz consistently fails to mention such warnings when he is recommending various health and beauty strategies.
HAVE YOU TRIED 'POWER WASHING' YOUR WRINKLES AWAY?
Among the foods that can "power wash" those wrinkles away, that can "make you look years younger" and "turn back the clock" are liver, squash, spinach, and salmon. Apricots give your skin "a healthy blush," he says, and cucumbers, blood oranges and eggplant offer "stunning" results. These are all nutritious foods that are good for our bodies, including our skin, but they do not "power wash" wrinkles.
Almonds keep your skin soft by filling it with moisture, Oz says. I don't think so. No nut fills your skin with moisture, but any nut or healthy oil fortifies the sebaceous infrastructure, which helps your skin retain water.
After Oz had told us to eat our broccoli and apples and peppers and all those other common age-defying foods, he had to branch "way out" to keep us coming back for more and to keep the ratings on their upward trajectory.
'DRAGON FRUIT' REARS ITS HELPFUL HEAD
So he urged us to imbibe the "ageless miracle" of Mexican Dragon Fruit "which reverses sun damage," (it is rich in lycopene, just as tomatoes are) (but tomatoes are so much easier to find!) and sea cucumber (an animal) "for extraordinary skin" (it is high in protein and Vitamin A, as are many common and much less icky foods).
Oz recommends sea asparagus "for perfect skin"(it is high in Vitamin A and folic acid, which help repair the dermis. If you don't feel up to going on an expedition to find some, the same nutrients are found in spinach, green vegetables and beans. Other natural sources of folate include asparagus, bananas, melons and lemons).
Use Irish Moss, to "eliminate dark circles under your eyes," Oz advises. (So why does he still have dark circles? Anyway, if you want to use something that's a bit more convenient, you will get high amounts of Vitamin K -- the active component of Irish Moss -- in leafy greens, such as Swiss chard, kale, parsley and spinach, broccoli and cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, liver, soybean oil and wheat bran, all of which avoid the questionable element of carrageenan in Irish Moss, which Dr. Weil says may cause ulcerations and cancers of the gastrointestinal tract.)
AN IDEA THAT MERITS AN ICY STARE
Oz recommended applying "parsley ice cubes" to the under-eye area for a "firming effect" and an "infusion of antioxidants." (I wouldn't think of freezing the skin under my eyes; it is the thinnest and most fragile skin on our bodies. And no antioxidants would be infused.)
The next big thing was Black African soap (which you get from Ghana. Its secret is that it is made from plantain skins!) But maybe it's better to use olive oil soap, which "penetrates deep into the skin" (no it doesn't).
Is the sheer volume and absurdity of all these wrinkle-avoidance techniques beginning to change your perspective about the most constructive ways to spend your time and energy?
If you want more, they keep on coming -- and maybe one day, Oz will unveil a "fail-proof" remedy for aging which will actually work, and he can turn his program into the talk-show format that he's been yearning for. He wants to be the next Oprah, and I think he'd do very well in that role.
In the meantime, don't forget to chew one Acerola Cherry capsule every other day to "bring the youthful elasticity back to your skin."
OZ WOULD BE SWEETER TO ADVISE BETTER EATING HABITS
GTF chromium "stops wrinkles by cutting the amount of sugar in the blood," Oz says.
(If you have enough sugar in your system to cause wrinkles, you have more important things to worry about than your skin.)
If you do a search for chromium and wrinkles, all you'll find are references to Oz's statement; there is no corroborating evidence. Several leaps of logic, based on conflicting research, were required to make this recommendation.
It is true that a lifetime of eating excessive amounts of sugar can damage the collagen and age your skin (although, ironically, being fat seems to prevent wrinkles quite well). To reverse the damage, you need a good retinoid cream, preferably one that is prescription-strength. But the important thing -- for you skin and for your health in general -- is to slash your sugar intake, not take a pill.
To recommend the use of chromium as a wrinkle-fighter is a cavalier "take" on a very complex and still controversial aspect of our metabolism.
There are conflicting data on the effectiveness of chromium in controlling blood sugar, according to the Mayo Clinic. WebMd says its only "likely" benefit is to address chromium deficiency. Researchers are still "looking carefully" at the data to determine who might benefit from the mineral. Some experts believe that only people who are malnourished or have below-normal chromium levels should use the supplement, or have any hope of benefiting from it, WebMd adds.
"Not all studies agree, and if chromium does help reduce blood glucose, it' s not clear how big the benefit might be and who might benefit. More research is needed," according to the University of Maryland Medical School database.
There are significant contraindications and interactions pertaining to chromium. It seems prudent to lower blood sugar by eating less sugar rather than to take a supplement to clean up after one's poor dietary habits.
JUST PLAY CHINESE EMPRESS INSTEAD -- THAT'S MORE FUN
Trying a jade roller is more amusing than pill-popping anyway. Oz says it is "a secret weapon of the Chinese Empresses."
"It is very cooling, so it closes your pores, increases firmness and elasticity in your skin and decreases puffiness," he says, quoting online promotional material. (The emperors used it too -- how vain! And it also provides a lymphatic drainage massage for the breasts. You don't know what you're missing).
There were many Chinese empresses who lived practically at the beginning of Time, and who had "secrets" that our nation's hardy "beauty experts" have somehow excavated. It's refreshing to play Asian royalty for awhile instead of dealing with reality and taking pills. So I have rounded a few secrets up to help Oz expand on this lovely concept.
Empress Dowager Cixi kept sliced ginseng in her mouth to keep her body free of toxins, and she ate pearl powder -- yum -- to refine her skin. Pearl powder was a big deal back then, to be used both topically and internally.
Empress Lü Zhi, of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – AD 220), supposedly adored Tremella fuciformis. She started each day with a bowl of soup made from this edible jelly fungus, and she reportedly had great skin.
Princess Yonghe's Herbal Bean Cleanser is legendary for "expelling wind, stimulating the circulation, nourishing the skin and moisturizing the complexion." I love the multitasking involved in expelling wind and nourishing the skin simultaneously. It's exhilarating just to contemplate.
Also: ox hide gelatin is a MIRACLE WRINKLE FIGHTER.
Oz promised to present "24-hour remedies that will make you look years younger." Just rubbing in a mixture of olive oil, coffee grounds and sea salt will restore the "youthful you," he said. The audience member who had this mess smeared all over her face seemed to feel that it might really work. Unfortunately, she wasn't invited back the next day so that we could see how effective that 24-hour miracle had really been.
TEA FOR TWO: YOUR SKIN AND YOU
A secret three-herb tea "makes your cells think you're younger." (Do cells think?)
Or brew wormwood tea, drain the water and place the leaves directly on your face for 10 minutes, "to leave your skin looking radiantly smooth and refreshed." Dream on, people!
White tea, combined with green tea powder and lemon juice in a paste is the "amazing revelation about why Chinese women (as distinguished from Chinese empresses) are wrinkle-free," Oz says unpersuasively.
In Italy, women mash grapes over their faces "to pull toxins out of their skin and to keep them from having to go under the knife." (No they don't -- look at the data! A larger percentage of Italian women "would consider cosmetic surgery" [28 percent] than American women [25 percent]. Or just ask my boyfriend Giuseppe -- he's from there! Or fly over and attend the annual Miss Cosmetic Surgery contest in the lovely Italian coastal town of Rimini). The Florentine newspaper calls cosmetic surgery "a craze that's growing exponentially." Use those grapes either for wrath or for wine, like the good lord intended.
If you are drawn to the "flawless porcelain skin of a Geisha," just smooth saki, blended with oil, into your skin overnight, Oz counsels. (Actually, I think the porcelain flawlessness is from the opaque white foundation they wear. Have you ever seen what's underneath?)
PUT SOME SPICE IN YOUR STRIFE
For a "very effective, simply beautiful effect," dissolve cinnamon and nutmeg into hot water, Oz advises and apply to the skin. "It is a delightful wrinkle eraser, and it smells wonderful."
But then he told everyone a few weeks later to use cumin and coriander in hot water to achieve the same thing. Are we all wrinkle-free yet? I don't think so! Will we ever rise up and tell Oz to cease and desist with all this hooey?
When can we start using our kitchens for cooking again, instead of spending all this time on wrinkle recipes?
If you want to avoid all of his fruity, spicy hassles, just take two baby aspirin a day. According to Oz, "it will have a dramatic effect on the youthfulness of your skin. It kills inflammation, which causes the visible signs of aging."
(Didn't he say it was the drop in growth hormone which did that? And then didn't he blame it on blood sugar? And so many other things?)
Or use a bit of Evening Primrose Oil. "It won't let you down," he said.
Egg whites give you "an instant facelift," he added.
One of his "3 Mystery Ingredients" for a "more youthful you" is Argireline, which Oz characterizes as "a Botox alternative." It "works by inhibiting the release of neurotransmitters released by the brain that tell these facial muscles to tense."
This "remarkable cream relaxes the muscles that cause wrinkles," he says.
(So now it's muscles and neurotransmitters that are the problem! Should we still be doing the Dragon Fruit thing?)
A blog by and for pharmacists discusses the claims for Argireline, which have only been tested by scientists employed by the firm that is marketing it.
"Even if the product can actually inhibit the release of neurotransmitters, this would be problematic," editor Sharmai Pillay wrote. "Many of these neurotransmitters, such as epinephrine and dopamine, are required by your body to maintain your health. Inhibiting their release could have long-term health impacts."
If you are fond of "Dollar Store Age Defiers," buy a can of pumpkin and smear it on your face for a "smooth, even radiance," Oz counsels. Or get a Vitamin C moisturizer (good luck finding that in a dollar store) to firm and tone your skin. Guest dermatologist Audrey Konin said she had found some of the best brands of "C" serums as well as lip plumpers ("normally at least $15") in dollar stores. What bizarro world does she live in?
PUT A BAG OVER THAT BULKED-UP FACE
"Over the years the muscles in our face have gotten big and bulky," Konin said. "Relax the muscles and wrinkles with a cold compress of ginseng tea bag."
Are your facial muscles big and bulky? If so, I think you may need more than a teabag. A complete medical workup might be a more sensible strategy.
Oz's "Anti-Aging Cheat Sheet" includes noni juice ($30 per bottle), which he says was "discovered in the farthest reaches of the globe" (actually, it was Hawaii). "It is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and can help fight the formation of wrinkles by fortifying your skin's collagen infrastructure," Oz proclaims.
But his trusted friend, Dr. Andrew Weil counters, "Despite the health claims and the enthusiastic testimonials of customers, there is absolutely no scientific evidence that noni juice is an effective treatment for anything at all."
The National Institutes of Health database says, "Noni has not been well studied in people for any health condition." Lab results may "warrant further research for conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular disease," the agency concludes.
On his web site, Oz sensibly lists red bell peppers, brussels sprouts and guava as vitamin C-rich foods that build and protect collagen.
But he also recommends DERMAdoctor Photodynamic Therapy Noni Lotion, which is $85 for a 30 ml container. Its marketers claim that noni somehow "specifically captures the sun's rays, then converts and emits this energy as a highly focused visible red wavelength of light...that works to firm the skin."
At last, thanks to this breakthrough product, the sun and our skin can be friends again.
During a "no embarrassment" segment, an audience member said, “I heard using Preparation H can reduce bags under my eyes. Is that true?”
Oz answered: "Yes. Bags are caused by loss of elasticity in the skin. Luckily, hemorrhoid creams help tighten skin temporarily by constricting the blood vessels in the skin and reducing the swelling that causes bags under the eyes."
THE 'PREPARATION H' PEOPLE ARE 'HORRIFIED'
My call to Pfizer Corp., which produces Preparation H, elicited an unequivoval denouncement of the ointment's use for anything but hemorrhoids. "It can be dangerous," the representative said. A few days later, I received a follow-up email, stressing that the company does not endorse "off label" uses of the product, "which can cause a number of serious side effects, including hypertension."
Dr. Marc Siegel, a FOX News medical contributor, told FOXNews.com that the ointment can cause uncomfortable side effects such as rashes, as well as more serious systemic problems.
Oz said he was impressed by two "cosmeceuticals" that "really cheat your age," L'Oreal Revitalift Double Lifting Treatment (yet another retinol lotion) and Brazilian Peel Professional Strength Glycolic Acid ($78 for four applications).
But if his simple yet "miraculous" homemade remedies work so well, why spend all that money on costly, chemical-filled treatments?
And why feature one segment after another on advancements in expensive, temporary cosmetic surgery -- injections, ultrasound, lasers, peels, abrasions and "lifts" -- since Oz's "wrinkle erasers from Nature" are so effective?
I would love to know how Mrs. Oz preserves her youthful beauty. Does she whip up her husband's surefire concoctions in the kitchen, or does she have another surgeon in her life?
The same dermatologist who advised women to crush the decongestant pseudoephedrine into their eye creams for an "immediate lift" nevertheless injects very expensive hyaluronic acid under her patients' eyes to address the same problem. She demonstrated on the program.
IF OZ'S 'MIRACLES' DON'T WORK, COSMETIC SURGEONS AWAIT YOU
The latest advance for facial rejuvenation a year ago was focused ultrasound (Ultherapy), but it required two to three months for the full effect to appear.
Then there was a "revolutionary surgery" in which "you can lose 10 years in 30 minutes. One treatment. No downtime. No cutting."
A robotic face lift was described in another segment. It "involves the fast and accurate injection of fillers."
On one show, Oz "revealed two-cutting edge lasers that can treat multiple issues simultaneously, saving time, money and discomfort."
The Alma Pixel Q Switch and Sciton Broadband Light Microlaser Peel were portrayed as major breakthroughs.
Earlier this year, New York City’s Dr. Yan Trokel was introduced as "the only surgeon in the world" who performs the “Y-Lift” procedure. "It can take years off your face in a matter of minutes, all without stitches." He referred to it as the "lunchtime facelift" and said the entire procedure takes 15 to 45 minutes and lasts up to two years. Cost: $8,000. (Holy papaya!) The patient is able to resume daily activities "immediately."
It seems odd, if not suspect, if not outright hypocritical, for Dr. Oz to claim that his dozens of nutrients, foods and do-it-yourself preparations are "incredibly effective at erasing the ravages of time" and then to promote, with such fanfare, the industry of cosmetic surgery and of exorbitantly priced age-defying commercial preparations.
Most dismaying of all, of course, is that so much time and energy are devoted to the issue of wrinkles, which we should be encouraged to accept gracefully or ignore, and focus our energies on more important things.
In Part Two, I will divulge Oz's secret "tricks" and "cheats" for dropping those unwanted pounds WITHOUT MOVING A MUSCLE! Isn't that great??
In Part Three, I will expose ethical issues and conflicts of interest, as well as review some of his most EXTREME, BIZARRE solutions to life's most vexing problems (like stinky feet!).
ANOTHER 'ANCIENT REMEDY' WITH A SALTY PREMISE
Oz advises that you use the Himalayan Salt Inhaler Immunity Booster if you're feeling "run down." This $30 "ancient remedy," a ceramic container filled with Himalayan salt crystals, is used as an inhaler "to calm and cleanse your airways," he says, probably quoting the package. How does it calm? How does it cleanse? (What about the Neti Pot? What about snorting garlic puree and one-nostril beathing? How do we juggle this wonderland of nasal options and still have time for our eyes, ears, noses and throats, not to mention our bellies and butts (and wrinkles!)?
The whole inhaler premise is confounding to me. How can we tell if our airways aren't "calm"? How does the inhaler moisturize our airways? Where does the moisture come from (there is no water in the inhaler)? How does the salt get into our membranes? Wouldn't salt particulates draw moisture out of our membranes rather than adding moisture?
I checked several online sites, and everyone of course -- including Amazon.com -- had sold out.
The salt (which is "completely pure, since it's from the Himalayas") (get real, Oz, no place is pure anymore. And do you really think the salt is from there? ) "(makes your mucus membranes) better able to clear irritants." (I wonder if Oz knows that the world-famous pashmina goats are hanging out up there, in the Kashmir region of the Himalayas, undoubtedly peeing and pooping up a storm, as they are certainly entitled to do. So much for "completely pure" salt!)
Actually, a 2002 investigation by by the international nonprofit Tourist Watch and the Pakistan Holistic Health Society agreed that there are no salt mines in the Himalayas. The salt is actually mined in the Khewra mine in Pakistan, one of the largest, busiest salt mines in the world (and probably not very sanitary -- it's a big, industrial operation). The salt can contain up to 84 trace elements, some of them metals. It is unclear to me how this would benefit -- or damage -- your lungs and nasal passageways.
"I recently reviewed the mineral content of Himalayan salt sold by several natural products companies and wholesale suppliers. I became alarmed when I saw the fluoride content at whopping 192 mg.," says a 50-year nutrition health researcher and editor of Natural Health News. "I no longer recommend it for anything except as a gourmet conversation-starter. I certainly wouldn't breathe it."
Regular Oz guest Dr. Joe Mercola is peddling Himalayan salt for kitchen use, even though "the suppliers of this salt have no standard infrastructure available and we have to work through people that have no idea of how normal business operates. It has to be hauled through several countries and takes two years to get here." That doesn't sound too pure!
'VIBRATIONAL ENERGIES' -- SOUNDS LIKE IT'S MANY SPLENDORED
"It has vibrational energies," he adds. That doesn't sound too scientific! But it is representative of the wind-chimey, mystical benefits that are attributed to this salt by those who are trying to sell it.
In fact, none of the claims for this "miracle" substance, which is used in lamps and for bathing, as well as cooking and inhaling, has been substantiated, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Medical Center.
Himalayan salt, along with olive oil, has been named as one of the top ten global products that is most likely to be deceptively labeled, diluted or tainted. No health claims have been substantiated for the salt, according to a review of the literature by eHow.com, which concludes that it is yet another foodie fad.
It seems that Oz would have done a bit more homework on this product and the science behind it before causing an online stampede that has yet to end.
I find that irrigating my sinuses with a $1.00 turkey baster and plain old American salt works pretty well. Clean as a whistle without actually whistling. And much more thorough than a Neti pot.
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