In this article:
- Dr. Oz first rose to fame on The Oprah Winfrey Show but he’s now a national sensation, with a questionable track record of health advice.
- From promoting gay conversion therapy to giving potentially dangerous medical advice, Dr. Oz has used his platform to gain fame and fortune, without regard for the health and wellness of his audience.
- Now, he’s campaigning to become Senator of Pennsylvania, where his questionable ideas run the risk of becoming real policy.
Books stamped with the familiar Oprah’s Book Club logo become instant bestsellers. It’s the Oprah Effect in action and it has touched works other than books. From fashion and lifestyle products (did you know that Oprah popularized the Australian UGG boots in America?) to interior design firms, businesses have enjoyed a boost in sales after an endorsement from the Queen of All Media herself.
This effect has worked on people, too. Whoever receives Oprah’s seal of approval becomes a “bestseller” in the eyes of her millions of viewers. Thus began the rise of Mehmet Oz as a TV personality, whom The Oprah Winfrey Show once proclaimed to be America’s Doctor.
Since his regular appearance on the show, the cardiothoracic surgeon has launched his own program and made a name for himself outside of the operating room. But Dr. Oz’s celebrity is one that is clouded in controversy. He was once summoned to a Senate hearing on consumer protection for his participation in promoting fraudulent weight loss products.
Today, Dr. Oz is gunning for a seat in the Senate himself. If it were a popularity contest, he could very well end up representing the state of Pennsylvania. But knowing his track record and credibility, can we trust the surgeon-turned-talk show host to have the people’s best interests in mind? In this article, we try to get to know Dr. Mehmet Oz.
Who Is Mehmet Oz?
On June 11, 1960, Turkish immigrants Suna and Mustafa Öz welcomed a healthy baby boy. They named him Mehmet Cengiz, but we know him professionally as Dr. Mehmet Oz or, simply Dr. Oz.
Mehmet grew up in a medically-inclined household in Ohio — his mother was the daughter of a pharmacist in Turkey, and his father served as the chief of thoracic surgery at the Medical Center of Delaware.
This influenced Mehmet to take up medical studies, which he aced. While studying biology at Harvard, he was on the football and water polo teams. He then obtained his MD and MBA from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Penn’s Wharton School respectively. Mehmet’s academics and extracurricular activities paint a picture of an overachieving and brilliant individual.
But Mehmet Oz, who started residency in the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, didn’t limit himself to the walls of the operating room. One might say that becoming a surgeon was just a stepping stone to his passion for being on television, or whatever could propel him into the limelight.
So, how did Dr. Oz go from being a talented doctor to a controversial public figure? Here’s a brief timeline of his career — or careers.
A Man With Many Hats: A Timeline of Dr. Oz’s Career
In 1995, almost a decade after he was hired by Eric Rose to work in Presbyterian, Dr. Oz opened the Cardiac Complementary Care Center with a colleague, Jerry Whitworth. The pair experimented with alternative medicine, including what they called therapeutic touch, to complement conventional treatment.
This, however, was met with backlash by the hospital’s administration who didn’t believe in the center’s complementary modalities.
That same year, Oz performed a heart transplant on the brother of Joe Torre, a Major League Baseball player, as Rose’s deputy. The operation was successful and attracted media attention, which Oz took pleasure in. His relationship with Whitworth grows tense because, as his colleague complained, Oz turned everything into a media circus.
By 2001, Dr. Oz began teaching at Columbia University. During his tenure, which is still ongoing, he received several patents related to heart surgery. The most notable is the MitraClip, a device inserted in a minimally invasive procedure that can repair the mitral heart valve. It’s an alternative for people who are considered too frail for open-heart surgeries.
In 2009, Dr. Oz’s reputation was growing and celebrities like Oprah Winfrey started to take notice of his brilliance. He was invited to the show and eventually became a regular guest, which the network spun out into his own program.
The Dr. Oz Show, which aired from 2009 to 2022, tackled health and wellness topics. As he was a licensed doctor, Dr. Oz gave medical advice to his viewers, from losing weight to managing cardiovascular disease.
One of his most controversial guests was Lindsey Duncan, who claimed to be a naturopathic doctor and nutritionist but was actually a marketer. Duncan promoted green coffee beans as the next big thing in weight-loss products, which Dr. Oz introduced as a miracle pill.
In 2015, a group of ten physicians demanded Dr. Oz be removed from teaching at Columbia University, citing his “disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine” as the main reason.
The letter also read, “Worst of all, he has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.”
However, Columbia didn’t strip Dr. Oz of his teaching credentials, and instead stated that the university would not get in the way of their faculty’s “freedom of expression for statements they make in public discussion.” In short, Columbia University does not care how Dr. Oz presents himself to the public or what ideas he espouses.
In 2021, the game show Jeopardy! invites Dr. Oz to be a guest host after Alex Trebek’s passing. Unsurprisingly, fans and contestants of the beloved quiz show quickly and publicly oppose this. For a show that’s all about facts, it’s odd for Jeopardy! to invite Dr. Oz when his own program is anything but.
Dr. Oz managed to stay out of the limelight for a bit after his short-lived stint on Jeopardy! But that didn’t last very long. On December 2021, he announced his candidacy in a tweet, appealing to Americans’ desire for freedom, especially amidst the pandemic.
“COVID has shown us that our system is broken. We lost too many lives, too many jobs, and too many opportunities because Washington got it wrong,” he argues. “Pennsylvania needs a conservative who will put America first, one who can reignite our divine spark, bravely fight for freedom, and tell it like it is.”
Sony Pictures Television, the series’ distributor, also confirms that the program will no longer run as Dr. Oz pursues the senatorial race.
The Controversies of Dr. Oz
Dr. Mehmet Oz is a brilliant surgeon but he is hardly a trustworthy health and wellness expert. On one occasion, Eric Rose described Oz as “intellectually unbelievably talented” but wouldn’t recommend him because he has become more of an entertainer than a practicing surgeon.
“In medicine,” he explains, “your baseline need has to be for a level of evidence that can lead to your conclusions. I don’t know how else you do it. Sometimes Mehmet will entertain wacky ideas — particularly if they are wacky and have entertainment value.”
Arsenic in Apple Juice
Many of these wacky ideas have made their way to the final cut of his show for his audience to eat up. In 2011, he drew flak for inflating the levels and dangers of arsenic present in apple juice. The FDA debunked the results of Oz’s limited study and proved that the arsenic content in apple juice is organic and harmless when consumed.
Oz also angered the LGBTQ+ community by promoting reparative therapy, which is a euphemistic way of saying conversion therapy. The show invited a representative from the now-defunct National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), a group that believes that homosexuality is a disease that can be cured.
LGBTQ+ advocates that the Dr. Oz Show invited stated that they would not have agreed to appear in the episode had they known NARTH would be there. Oz defended the decision to invite NARTH by saying it’s important to “present multiple perspectives” so we can understand the risks of conversation or reparative therapy.
Today, it doesn’t take a genius to understand that conversion therapy is psychologically scarring for individuals, as well as nothing more than pseudoscientific practice.
GLAAD President Herndon Graddick responded, “This issue is not one that can be discussed as though both sides are equally valid. The idea of therapists attempting to change a patient’s sexual orientation has been proven ineffective and dangerous, and has been soundly and conclusively rejected by the entire medical establishment.”
Green Coffee Bean Supplements
As heated as that debate was, it’s still the green coffee bean debacle that attracted the most criticism from his viewers and lawmakers. His guest Lindsey Duncan made plenty of dubious claims about the efficacy of the product in weight loss.
Duncan referred to a study in which participants didn’t exercise and ate more than usual, which still resulted in a total body weight loss of 10%. He used terms like “chlorogenic acid” and “synergistic effect” in his spiel on the show’s segment.
To the layman, the target audience of The Dr. Oz Show, Duncan seemed knowledgeable and trustworthy. Who wouldn’t want to purchase green coffee bean supplements from a guy who sounded like he knew what he was talking about? The two made a compelling pair of medical experts letting you in on the secret to weight loss.
Of course, this sounded too good to be true. Unless a person has an underlying medical condition, there is no physiological reason for them to lose weight while moving less and eating more. A healthy person would logically gain weight and Dr. Oz, a graduate of an Ivy League university, should have known that and debated Duncan’s claims.
This episode was all the media attention Pure Green Coffee, a Florida-based business, needed to sell its green coffee bean products. It used Duncan’s footage from The Dr. Oz Show as an endorsement from trusted professionals, and included testimonials (which are actually paid) from its clients.
When the Federal Trade Commission caught wind of its operations, it sued Pure Green Coffee for deceiving the public. The lawsuit cited the company’s pseudoscientific claims on weight loss and the fake websites it created to boost the credibility of its products.
And because Duncan appeared on his show, Oz was accused by Senator Claire McCaskill of perpetuating these bogus weight loss schemes.
“I actually do personally believe in the items I talk about on the show,” Oz maintained. “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.”
However, there is a stark difference between receiving medical advice from an uncle and Dr. Oz — the former knows how to use Google, and the latter is medically-trained professional who presents himself as a trusted, informed source.
Most people who are unaware of his track record would take Dr. Oz’s word more seriously than they would their uncle’s. After all, he attended prestigious universities, is described by colleagues as a brilliant surgeon, and has Oprah’s personal approval.
But Oz chooses to ignore science and promote evidence-free ideas and products. He uses fear-mongering as a technique to slip in his product and business recommendations. No one denies that the guy is charming and everything that comes out of his mouth is compelling. But that doesn’t mean they are based on actual and verifiable evidence.
In fact, a British Medical Journal study found that less than half of the claims Dr. Oz makes on his show are supported by real evidence. The researchers added that, “Approximately half of the recommendations have either no evidence or are contradicted by the best available evidence.”
Should You Vote for Dr. Oz?
It’s easy to conclude that no, Dr. Oz does not deserve your vote. His senatorial campaign is vague at best and it’s hard to tell what he’s advocating for other than “freedom.” His Why I’m Running page is full of metaphors instead of concrete policy ideas. “Today, America’s heartbeat is in a code red in need of a defibrillator to shock it back to life,” he says.
He’s using the pandemic as an impetus for his decision to run for office — but what kind of representation can Pennsylvanians expect from a guy like Dr. Oz? His talent as a surgeon is overpowered by his utter lack of disregard for science and his hunger for the spotlight. With influence, these qualities can only be harmful to the public.
At one point, Dr. Oz urged states to reopen schools even if it meant putting people in harm’s way.
“I just saw a nice piece in The Lancet arguing that the opening of schools may only cost us 2-3% in terms of total mortality. Any life is a life lost, but to get every child back into a school where they’re safely being educated, being fed and making the most out of their lives with the theoretical risk on the backside, might be a trade-off some folks would consider.”
As a TV personality, his opinion on reopening schools may yield little influence, but imagine if he were a politician who could actually make those kinds of policy decisions. It’s hard to trust a man who publicly announces losing young lives is a risk he is willing to consider.
We don’t need another celebrity with an inflated sense of ego and untested leadership in office. Perhaps, it’s time for Dr. Mehmet Oz to scrub up and go back to operating on people’s hearts, instead of trying to win them over.