Under pressure from Congress, celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz on Tuesday offered to help “drain the swamp” of unscrupulous marketers using his name to peddle so-called miracle pills and cure-alls to millions of Americans desperate to lose weight.
Oz appeared before the Senate’s consumer protection panel and was scolded by Chairman Claire McCaskill for claims he made about weight-loss aids on his TV show, “The Dr. Oz Show.”
Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon, acknowledged that his language about green coffee and other supplements has been “flowery” and promised to publish a list of specific products he thinks can help America shed pounds and get healthy — beyond eating less and moving more. On his show, he never endorsed specific companies or brands but more generally praised some supplements as fat busters.
McCaskill took Oz to task for a 2012 show in which he proclaimed that green coffee extract was a “magic weight loss cure for every body type.”
“I get that you do a lot of good on your show,” McCaskill told Oz, “but I don’t get why you need to say this stuff because you know it’s not true.”
Oz insisted he believes in the supplements he talks about on his show as short-term crutches, and even has his family try them. But there’s no long-term miracle pill out there without diet and exercise, he said.
“I actually do personally believe in the items I talk about on the show,” he said. “I passionately study them. I recognize they don’t have the scientific muster to present as fact but nevertheless I would give my audience the advice I give my family all the time, and I have given my family these products. Specifically the ones you mentioned, then I’m comfortable with that part.”
“The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products you called ‘miracles,'” McCaskill said. “When you call a product a miracle, and it’s something you can buy, and it’s something that gives people false hope, I don’t understand why you need to go there.”
Within weeks of Oz’s comments about green coffee — which refers to the unroasted seeds or beans of coffee — a Florida-based operation began marketing a dietary supplement called Pure Green Coffee, with claims that the chlorogenic acid found in the coffee beans could help people lose 17 pounds and cut body fat by 16 percent in 22 weeks.
The company, according to federal regulators, featured footage from “The Dr. Oz Show,” to sell its supplement. Oz has
no association with the company and received no money from sales.
Last month, the Federal Trade Commission sued the sellers behind Pure Green Coffee and accused them of making bogus claims and deceiving consumers.
The weight-loss industry is an area where consumers are particularly vulnerable to fraud, Mary Koelbel Engle, an associate director at the FTC, testified at the Senate hearing. She said the agency conducted a consumer survey in 2011 and found that more consumers were victims of fraudulent weight-loss products than of any of the other specific frauds covered in the survey.
Oz stressed during the hearing that he has never endorsed specific supplements or received money from the sale of supplements. Nor has he allowed his image to be used in ads for supplements, he said.
“If you see my name, face or show in any type of ad, email, or other circumstance,” Oz testified, “it’s illegal” — and not anything he has endorsed.
The supplement industry brings in over $2.5 billion in the U.S. each year, and the majority of the industry’s profit comes from people looking for a pill that will help them lose weight. While the thought of a magic weight-loss pill is nice, unfortunately no such thing exists.
According to a 2012 study in which Oregon State University researcher Melinda Manore reviewed the evidence surrounding hundreds of weight loss supplements, “no research evidence exists that any single product results in significant weight loss — and many have detrimental side effects.”
Manore – a professor of nutrition and exercise sciences at OSU and science board member for the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition – looked at supplements touted to do the following:
- Block absorption of fat and carbohydrates
- Increase metabolism
- Change body composition by decreasing body fat
- Suppress appetite
She found that most weight loss supplements had no randomized clinical trials (which are the standard of evidence for FDA-approved drugs) examining their effectiveness, and most of the research studies were significantly flawed, and in some cases very biased. For the few products that did show some indication of weight loss, the weight loss advantage was limited to two pounds or less when compared to the placebo groups. Furthermore, most of these supplements were tested as part of a reduced calorie diet — which would lead to weight loss whether or not you took a pill.
“For most people, unless you alter your diet and get daily exercise, no supplement is going to have a big impact,” Manore said. What people want is to lose weight and maintain or increase lean tissue mass. There is no evidence that any one supplement does this. And some have side effects ranging from the unpleasant, such as bloating and gas, to very serious issues such as strokes and heart problems.”
Manore concluded, “The key to weight loss is to eat whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean meats, reduce calorie intake, and to keep moving. Adding fiber, calcium, protein and drinking green tea can help, but none of these will have much effect unless you exercise and eat fruits and vegetables.”
This is the same sensible weight loss advice we have known for years, yet the supplement industry continues to tell us otherwise. The better path is the one built on solid proof that weight (fat) loss is best attained safely by taking the following 3-ingredient “pill”:
- Reducing total calorie intake to create a caloric deficit
- Consuming those calories via healthy sources (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins)
- Moving/exercising to preserve lean tissue and assist with the calorie deficit
Weight loss isn’t easy — and there’s no pill out there that will change that.
But the good news is that thousands of people, through hard work and commitment, manage to lose significant amounts of weight and get healthier in the process. The same behaviors that lead to weight loss — namely, exercise and healthy eating — also reduce the risk of diseases ranging from diabetes and heart disease to cancer and Alzheimer’s.
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