Dr. Oz, "America's Doctor," burns my biscuits.
The charismatic thoracic surgeon, who is a professor of medicine at the esteemed Columbia University, author or co-author of over 300 papers, has spent his considerable professional capital promoting absolute balderdash to his millions of viewers every week.
Even worse, like some sort of Trojan horse, he packs the Athenian soldiers of homeopathy, reiki, and "miracle" cures into an equine shell of mainstream medical advice. Last week, America's Doctor teamed up with the Canadian homeopathic huckster Bryce Wylde to present one of his "13 miracle cures for 2013," and his hyperbole was in fine form.
Oz and Wylde offer up what they consider to be the next revolutionary anti-aging super-food: red palm fruit oil. Derived from the flesh of the fruit from Elaeis guineensis, this oil is a staple in Africa and Indonesia where it is farmed, and is a mixture of both saturated and unsaturated fats, resulting in a butter-like texture at room temperature. The virgin, or unprocessed, red palm oil contains both vitamin A and vitamin E, with a special form of vitamin E called alpha-tocotrienol. This clip tells a sensational story.
The good doctor and his handsome sidekick make some pretty strong claims about red palm oil: it will unclog your arteries, protect you from a heart attack, prevent belly fat buildup, and overall is "an amazing fat that helps stop the signs of aging inside and out... it can help you add years to your life!". Oz even throws in a few "studies show" lines to back up his cheerleading with a little white-coated gravitas, but a closer look at the claims and the evidence shows that his pom-poms are not quite perky enough.
The overly simplistic demonstration of the different oils oozing through the large arteries would be laughable if it were not for the fact that Dr. Oz is a thoracic surgeon who should know better. While it would be difficult to distil the actual process into a demonstration as spectacular as the one on the show, free oil does not flow through the blood vessels and plaques cannot be just flushed out like the gunk on the valves in your car's engine. Judging from the oohs and ahhs from the audience, this point was a bit lost on them.
An actual check of the facts reveals a lot of research into the alpha-tocotrienol found in the unprocessed oil. Supplementation with this chemical did show promise in lowering bad LDL cholesterol (see link above), and one rat study showed the potential of red palm fruit oil to limit the amount of damage to the heart during a heart attack. However, most of the studies into red palm fruit oil and alpha-tocotrienol, and their effects on improving the cardiovascular system have been done using faceless cells in a dish or in animals like mice and rabbits, with very few studies involving actual humans. None of the studies actually studied the effect of red palm fruit oil on your chance of dying from a heart attack or other cardiovascular event.
There was a similar over-selling of the ability of the oil to prevent the onset of alzheimer's or dementia, but that did not stop Wylde from making a wild claim that it will prevent the changes in the brain that will lead to these very awful diseases. Red palm oil does look like a promising dietary supplement, but the miraculous anti-aging promises by Oz and Wylde never materialize in the data. We just don't have the evidence yet. They leave the audience with a lot of sparkle and no substance.
This is the real problem with America's Doctor. Dr. Oz has considerable capital as a well-trained surgeon and scientific researcher. He has a terrific opportunity to dispense thoughtful evidence-based health information in a very compelling and entertaining way, but instead he reduces his show to a polished version of the late-night blender salesmen. With only three easy payments, and a little suspension of disbelief, you too can be young and healthy forever and live to your full potential in a world of miraculous cures.
Just don't look at the facts behind the curtain.