Health Column: Be wary of Dr. Oz and other TV doctors

About a year ago, prospective customers kept walking into Shelly Scoggin’s Greenport health store, The Market, asking for obscure supplements they had heard Dr. Mehmet Oz endorse as weight-loss breakthroughs on his eponymous CBS television show. They were looking for items like white kidney bean extract and African mango seed. 

“Six people would come in a day going, ‘Do you have this? Do you have that?’ ” Ms. Scoggin recalled last week. It became such a regular occurrence that she started taping hand-written signs marked “Dr. Oz suggests” under certain products. Eventually, half a shelf was dedicated to supplements he had endorsed.

But there were no repeat customers, Ms. Scoggin said, so the signs were taken down. Gradually, she stopped carrying some Dr. Oz-approved supplements altogether, including the aforementioned products.

“We stopped ordering them because naturally, as people realized they didn’t give you immediate results, they didn’t come back,” she said.

That’s because, to some, Dr. Oz is “a quack and a fake and a charlatan.” That, at least, is according to Henry Miller of Stanford University, one of 10 doctors who recently wrote a letter calling for the TV personality and cardiologist to be removed from his post as vice chairman at Columbia University’s department of surgery.

“Dr. Oz is guilty of either outrageous conflicts of interest or flawed judgments about what constitutes appropriate medical treatments, or both,” the letter concluded.

He’s hardly the first celebrity doctor to be accused of phoniness. Dr. Drew Pinsky of “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” and Dr. Philip McGraw of “The Dr. Phil Show” have both been publicly accused of fraud, hypocrisy and exploitation at various times.

But does Dr. Oz deserve all this vitriol?

As with anything, it depends on who you ask.

Steve Siegelwaks, owner of Green Earth Natural Food Markets in Riverhead, thinks Dr. Oz is “usually fairly accurate, but occasionally he’ll touch upon a substance you’d never find in the field … I would say that half the supplements he refers to either aren’t in the marketplace yet or have never been in the marketplace.”

Certain mainstream products Dr. Oz promotes, like coconut oil and apple cider vinegar, do have merit, Ms. Scoggin said. The former is supposed to speed up metabolism and the latter can aid digestion.

She stressed, however, that “there is no miracle anything. I don’t think [Dr. Oz] is a liar or that these things don’t really work. I think there are properties in some of the things he talks about that can support energy or weight loss, which seems to be his big thing. But you can’t just take a pill to solve all your problems.”

People like Grace Kelly-McGovern of Kings Park have a markedly different opinion of the embattled doctor. Two decades ago, when Ms. Kelly-McGovern’s son was 5, he got so sick he required a heart transplant, she said.

The Columbia University cardiologist who performed the lifesaving surgery? You guessed it: Dr. Oz, who at the time was still 14 years away from getting his own TV program.

“He saved my son’s life,” Ms. Kelly-McGovern said. “He can do no wrong in my book. The man’s a genius.”

Have a health question or column idea? Email Rachel Young at [email protected].