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Snake Oil

Dr. Oz’s Problem

Red palm oil. Green coffee beans. Raspberry ketone. Some of you are wondering what the heck I’m making for dinner, but some of you will recognize the common characteristic: all of these have been promoted by Dr. Mehmet Oz, the most famous physician in the country.
I’m prompted to write about him by this New Yorker profile, which is excellent reading. It author, Michael Specter, tries his best to figure out why a talented, well-trained cardiac surgeon is sitting down on his own television show with psychic healers, fad-diet pushers, and the likes of Joseph Mercola. (In case you haven’t run across him, consider yourself fortunate. His eponymous web site, which I will certainly not link to, is a trackless fever swamp of craziness. If you want to hear about how vaccines are killing you, or how cancer is actually a fungus, or how to heal your ulcers with vinegar and your melanoma with baking soda, well, Mercola is your man).

When Oz says that Mercola is “challenging everything you think you know about traditional medicine and prescription drugs,” it’s hard to argue. “I’m usually earnestly honest and modest about what I think we’ve accomplished,” Oz told me when we discussed his choice of guests. “If I don’t have Mercola on my show, I have thrown away the biggest opportunity that I have been given.”
I had no idea what he meant. How was it Oz’s “biggest opportunity” to introduce a guest who explicitly rejects the tenets of science? “The fact that I am a professor—one of the youngest professors ever—at Columbia, and that I earned my stripes writing hundreds of papers in peer-reviewed journals,” Oz began. “I know the system. I’ve been on those panels. I’m one of those guys who could talk about Mercola and not lose everybody. And so if I don’t talk to him I have abdicated my responsibility, because the currency that I deal in is trust, and it is trust that has been given to me by Oprah and by Columbia University, and by an audience that has watched over six hundred shows.”

Well. . .I’m not sure that that’s much of an answer. In fact, if the currency that Dr. Oz deals in is trust, then you’d think that he has a responsibility not to abuse that trust by giving his imprimatur to lunatics. To his credit, the New Yorker‘s Specter also finds this response lacking, so he tries again. What he doesn’t realize is that he’s traveling up the river to the heart of darkness:

I was still puzzled. “Either data works or it doesn’t,” I said. “Science is supposed to answer, or at least address, those questions. Surely you don’t think that all information is created equal?”
Oz sighed. “Medicine is a very religious experience,” he said. “I have my religion and you have yours. It becomes difficult for us to agree on what we think works, since so much of it is in the eye of the beholder. Data is rarely clean.” All facts come with a point of view. But his spin on it—that one can simply choose those which make sense, rather than data that happen to be true—was chilling. “You find the arguments that support your data,” he said, “and it’s my fact versus your fact.”

Chilling is right. The man’s a nihilist. Here we have a massively famous doctor, the public face of medicine to millions of television viewers, and he apparently believes that well, it’s hard to say what works, because everyone has their own facts, you know?
A word with you, Dr. Oz, if I may. I know that you’re very busy, and that your TV show takes up a lot of your time, and that whatever time you have left is probably occupied with being famous and everything. This won’t take long. I only wanted to remind you that you got to wear your scrubs and your stethoscope by virtue of an excellent medical education. But the people who provided it to you (and the people who provided the knowledge that they were passing on) did not get there by assuming that everyone had their own facts. If we’d stayed with that attitude, we’d still be waving bags of magic chicken bones over the groaning bodies of cancer patients. But then, you’ll probably have that on your show next week. Why not?
I say all this as someone who has spent his career digging for facts and searching for insight. I’m a scientist, Dr. Oz, and I actually don’t think that medicine, at least my end of it, is such a religious experience, at least, not the way you’re defining one. My colleagues and I spend our days in the labs. Our facts had better be the same for everyone who looks at them, every time, and if they’re not, well, we go back to work until they are.
We can’t just go on TV right after we’ve dosed a few rats, you know. We’d go to jail. The FDA won’t listen to anything we come up with unless it’s been done under rigorously defined conditions, unless it’s been repeated (over and over), and unless we tell them every detail of how we did it all. We can’t come in waving our hands and telling everyone how great we are – we have to spend insane amounts of money, time, and effort to put together enough data to convince a lot of very skeptical people. Thank goodness you’re not one of them. You’re either the easiest person to convince that I’ve ever seen, or (more likely), you don’t worry much about being convinced of anything. Why should you? It would limit your opportunities. That TV show isn’t going to produce itself – if you stuck to people who could actually back up their assertions, what would your guest list look like?
But here’s a suggestion: get someone on your show who actually knows where medicines come from, and what it takes to find one. Instead of telling people about magic beans, tell them the truth: discovering anything that will treat a sick patient is hard, expensive work. The reason we don’t have a Cure For Cancer isn’t because there’s a conspiracy; it isn’t because the Powers That Be are too stupid and greedy to recognize the wonderful healing powers of the latest miracle berry. It’s because cancer is really hard to figure out. That would be a lot more of a public service than what you’re becoming, which is this:

Most days, Oz mines what he refers to as his go-to subjects: obesity and cancer. . . Cancer, Oz told me, “is our Angelina Jolie. We could sell that show every day.”

I’m sure you could, Dr. Oz. But what you’re really selling is yourself. How much is left?
Update: John LaMattina actually did get the Oz experience, as recounted here. And he certainly knows what drug discovery is like, but it doesn’t seem to have had much effect on the show, or on Dr. Oz. . .

61 comments on “Dr. Oz’s Problem”

  1. zzlangerhans says:

    People like Oz exist because we create the space they fill. If Oz didn’t fill it, someone else would. We open these spaces when we abandon skepticism and the scientific method in favor of general empowerment – as Asimov would put it, my ignorance is the equal of your knowledge.

  2. K. Capek says:

    “Get someone on your show who actually knows where medicines come from”…
    In fact, that has happened. In a fashion. You may recall John LaMattina, former head of global R&D for Pfizer? Right, the guy who wrote the insiders’ perspective on the challenges of drug discovery in pharma. What actually prompted him to write the book? Why, his appearance on Dr. Oz. In his words:
    “I was the only one from industry and there were all sorts of attacks. And everybody takes for granted that everything they say is absolutely right. ”
    It is the promulgation of whatever narrative happens to be a convenient commodity, along with the inability of the public to evaluate the strength of factual evidence that underlies this problem.
    I mean, who wants to show up to appear on Dr. Oz’s show to discover the segment is entitled “Four secrets drug companies don’t want you to know”? It’s not science, that’s for sure. Science provides a paltry spectacle.
    Another great article from the New Yorker.

  3. Helical_Investor says:

    Recommended reading. Trick or Treatment by Simon Singh*
    Not only does he take a look at alternative therapies, he teaches quite a lot about the hisotry of the clinical trial and modern medical practice. Great read.
    * And Singh’s ‘Big Bang’ is also a wonderful book. His ability to turn the history of astrophysics into what amounts to a page turning drama is impressive.

  4. johnnyboy says:

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, Derek. Oz may be very bright, but he’s succombed to a very common ailment, an addiction to fame. He’ll do and say anything to justify himself, to keep chasing the dragon.

  5. “It’s my fact versus your fact.”
    How is that different from creationism, exactly?
    By the way, cue the trolls and hacks. I am getting the popcorn.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Well, here we have the latest version of Western Civilization’s ongoing debate with itself: Reductive Empirical Physical Science (embodied by research chemist Dr. Derek Lowe) versus Non-reductive Non-empirical Mental Science (embodied by Dr. Oz and his website).
    Unfortunately for Dr. Lowe, the resolution of this debate cannot reside within the realm of scientific evidence and experiment, BY DEFINITION. If it were ever that easy, the likes of Dr. Oz and his website would have vanished long, long ago.
    However, there is a resolution, if you can “see” it. Presumably, Dr. Lowe cannot see it yet, as he is focused exclusively on molecules, and although Dr. Oz may glimpse it somewhat (I say this based on his website), he fails to communicate his insight and, as a result, gives the real impression of being a charlatan.
    In my time, I have been on both sides of this debate, but these days I have freed myself from it completely and now stand to the side as a (bemused) spectator.
    I end with this: both Dr. Lowe and Dr. Oz must know about Plato’s famous cave metaphor and its epistemological implications. But do they really “know” that metaphor?
    Mr. Dick Turpin

  7. The Aqueous Layer says:

    The rub is that he has the credentials.
    You can poo-poo Oprah, Springer and most of those folks, but he’s got the medical/scientific background that lends faux credence to what his spouted on his show.
    That is what makes his show dangerous.

  8. Jim says:

    My question for Dr. Oz would be whether this point of view arose out of a descent from the very real “art of medicine” into “my facts and your facts” or if he simply just sold out.

  9. Anonymous says:

    For a minute there I had to double-check that I wasn’t reading a Pharyngula article.
    Not that there’s anything wrong it with that…

  10. Hap says:

    You can approach medicine without reductionism but using testable hypotheses, no? If you can’t test hypotheses (whether different forms of treatment work), although they have actual quantifiable endpoints (whether people live longer, have fewer illnesses, etc.), then they aren’t really helpful, since those endpoints are what everyone (in theory) is trying to achieve.
    If you could be figuring out whether what you’re doing works, and you aren’t, then that’s a pretty good answer to whether it actually does work.

  11. Also Anonymous says:

    My question to Columbia University would be “why do you allow your reputation to be damaged by having this person on your staff”.

  12. psl says:

    Depressing because he *IS* genuinely a really remarkable surgeon (see his bona fides); his obvious natural empathy and wisdom could be used for good.
    Fame and vanity often destroy good people, piece by piece.

  13. David Formerly Known as a Chemist says:

    He’s simply selling what people want to buy. Look at his website and the call for future guests:
    -Lose your patience too easily?
    -Calling all busy moms
    -Hate the way your legs look?
    -Do you have a strange disorder or addiction?
    -Stressed out and can’t take it anymore?
    Typical daytime TV fare. I doubt the Oprah crowd would be very interested in listening to the facts of how medicines are discovered, why they’re so hard to find, and why they all have side effects. Dr. Oz isn’t providing a public service, he’s providing entertainment. The disclaimer at the bottom of the website says it all (This website is for informational and entertainment purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment).
    But the show certainly communicates a lot of bogus information and gives people plenty of false hope. It’s been more than once I’ve had my own mother share the “wisdom” she received from Dr. Oz.

  14. MTK says:

    Very true.
    Unfortunately, there’s a fundamental mistrust of science these days. (Maybe that should be Science, not science) I guess that’s just a manifestation of the fundamental mistrust in government, media, business, etc. Basically all of our institutions.
    That mistrust, along with human nature where we believe what we want to believe, leads to guys like Mercola and their enablers like Oz. They’re selling what the masses are buying. Nothing more, nothing less.

  15. Having represented science on the Oprah Winfrey Network, (as a host of the show Miracle Detectives), I experienced first-hand the challenges of bringing a skeptical point of view to emotional events. I received a lot of hatemail etc but I also found that many viewers, while disappointed that their notion of what might have been a miracle was put to the test, were more interested in the truth behind the mystery than being lulled into a false optimism.
    Our show wasn’t renewed for a second season, maybe in large part because we were simply too good at demonstrating that the miraculous events often (if not always) have a more naturalistic explanation that requires fewer assumptions than originally thought.
    Dr. Oz wouldn’t be where he is if he didn’t have credentials giving him such authority. The sad part is that he seems to have forgotten the main principles that those credentials are designed to impart.
    But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater: the daytime TV audience is smart, curious and empathic. They just don’t always have the background or the time or the inclination to critically sift through the information that is thrown at them and, like any one of us, prefer an easy fix to the hard work of changing one’s circumstances and facing hard truths. But when the truth is presented with authority and clarity, they will accept it just as quickly as anything else Dr. Oz might suggest.

  16. Hardworking Scientist says:

    I call Poe’s Law on Anonmyous @6. Is this an attempt at satire, or earnest nonsense? I just can’t tell…

  17. rtw says:

    #12 psl – Although perhaps a remarkable surgeon, that doesn’t alway equate to other areas of knowledge. Doctors in general don’t know as much about drugs as one might think. In thier course work in medical school they get far less education in drugs, than a typical non PhD pharmacy student. You want to know anything about a drug.. ask a phramacist not a doctor in most cases. A lot of what a physician knows about drugs they prescribe come from the Pharmaceutical detail guys that visit the office to promote their wares. Often biased information but non the less better than nothing, given that doctors seldom have the time to do the research themselves.
    I would imagine that most people that do drug discovery have a much better understanding of these things than a large percentage of doctors, particularly in the limited areas in which they do research. I would prefer to talk to my friends that work in antibacterial research for example on the merits of one drug over another against particular strains. The best doctors in my opinion work closely with a pharmacist. In todays fractured medical institution were someone might have specialists for cardiovscular, and perhaps arthritis or a neurological condition. The doctors don’t talk to one another each prescribe different drugs many of which may have subtle incompatabilities. There is a danger in that when the GP may not have sufficient information to know that. I always tell my parents and inlaws to check all their prescriptions with their pharmacist.

  18. Jack klugman juror #5 says:

    This is easy…always look at peoples ultimate motive. In the words of Cindy Lauper….”Money, money changes everything”. Even the facts for the esteemed Dr. Oz – maybe time to pull back the curtain Toto.

  19. Jeb Bush says:

    Why should Kevin Trudeau have all the fun, eh?

  20. mas says:

    The decay at the bottom of the medical professions started a while ago. Try finding a dentist who will still do amalgams despite the ADA’s studies proving to their safety. Why care about truth when there’s money to be made?

  21. Vader says:

    I stopped watching broadcast television years ago, and so while I had heard the name, I had no idea what this Dr. Oz was up to.
    To me, it borders on malpractice.

  22. Vanzetti says:

    Mr. Dick Turpin @6
    Actually, the debate can be resolved within the realm of scientific evidence and experiment, because our various hacks make a lot of _verifiable_ claims. It’s just a matter of exposing their lies again and again. Tedious work, but nothing impossible.
    Also, troll harder.

  23. Vader says:

    I stopped watching broadcast television years ago, and so while I had heard the name, I had no idea what this Dr. Oz was up to.
    To me, it borders on malpractice.

  24. Christophe Verlinde says:

    It all boils down to the gullibility of the masses who consume these types of TV shows. But why are they gullible? Because the educational system for the common person in the USA is abysmal. Only the best schools – not the average schools – teach critical thinking. Hence any pied piper can appear on TV and sell snake oil. The gullible will lap it up as ambrosian nectar.

  25. RKN says:

    As an MD he’s certainly not without precedent.

  26. Sigivald says:

    Green coffee beans are undeniably awesome … for home roasting, to have really fresh coffee.
    (Semi-contra Mr. Verlinde above, I think the problem is not so much that the schools don’t teach critical thinking [though they’re not very good at it], as that most people are lousy at learning it or doing it in the first place.
    Critical thinking is hard work, after all, and the most immediate result of it is losing comfortable illusions…)

  27. Dr. Manhattan says:

    Unfortunately, this kind of non-science based, new age “medicine” is foisted off on the public. Some see it for what it is, some are taken in by it. I wholeheartedly agree with Derek that it is irresponsible for someone of Mehmet Oz’s background and training to provide exposure to these ill-founded and downright dangerous ideas when it comes to healthcare. I guess my only request of people who think science-based medicine is inferior to psychic forms would be please, the next time you get a serious infection, avoid using the antibiotics that scientists (who you sow mistrust in) developed. Please also avoid the use of anesthetics, blood pressure medications, diabetes drugs, etc. Use raspberry ketone instead (whatever that is…).
    And as for the Bully Pulpit that is daytime television, I commend Derek for taking a principled stand in this blog. Those of us who come here regularly appreciate his insights.
    As for@11: My question to Columbia University would be “why do you allow your reputation to be damaged by having this person on your staff”?
    The words of Oz ring in my ear: “I am the Great and Powerful OZ…Who are you?”

  28. MoMo says:

    Here we go again!
    It’s all because of the Oprahfication of America process!
    First Dr. Phil emerges from the primordial ooze, now prominent cardiac surgeons are leaning towards Voodoo and spiritual healing!
    But we are to blame, fellow scientists! Most of you out there are wussies, afraid to comment on these critical topics- except for the author exposing Oz and In the Pipeline that challenges such craziness.
    We must support these guys, because right now we are slipping back to the Dark Ages!
    Carl Sagan is spinning in his grave- and with advice from Oz there will be other corpses showing their disapproval by spinning as well!*
    *Demetri Martin-Thank You!

  29. emjeff says:

    Oz comes from a long line of Ivy-League charlatans. Remember Andrew Weil? He’s still out there, waving his Harvard MD and spouting nonsense. It’s all about money – I can not believe, deep down that these guys buy into any of this. What they buy into is the cash and the fame. If Oz played it straight, he’d be cancelled in a week. So he talks about green tea and cancer and takes cash from the bored, ill-educated housewives who sit there and lap it up.
    Who’s to blame, the marketer, or the market itself? I quote Pogo by way of an answer: “We have met the enemy and he is us…”

  30. TheHealthSatoriProject says:

    While I completely agree that any idea applied in medicine (and really any public industry) needs to be thoroughly researched, it must be conceded that we have a lot of data and very few answers. Medicine rewrites itself every few hundred years and we’d be arrogant to think we finally got it right when we can’t even cure acne. Most medical experiments are conducted by treating the body as a state machine, i.e. measuring an output based on a given input, but the problem is we really don’t understand the inner mechanisms of our body yet and are only assuming why something happens.
    The placebo effect is a great example on how subjective experience does influence the outcome of otherwise objective treatments. Pain, which has roots both in objective and subjective stimuli, is actually very well treated by both objective and subjective treatments. Many studies have been conducted on this matter and the best treatment for pain is a combination of objective and subjective treatment.
    While I disagree anyone can have differing facts because facts aren’t opinions, there is a lot of evidence that indicates the success of a treatment is heavily influenced by whether or not the patient believes it is going to work. With that in mind treatment becomes part personal experience… Dr. Oz is probably misusing “fact” as many people do because people tend not to believe opinions…
    Just to make sure I want everyone reading this to know I abhor Dr. Oz and am not trying to defend him, but most medical “facts” are far from fact. We give advice on diet and health all the time with literally no facts on the matter yet it’s the key to the health of the nation. Fact – there is no proof excess caloric consumption is the cause of weight gain. Fact – there is no proof eating fruits and vegetables are required to be healthy.
    This could turn into more of a rant, but I’ll stop until I find out if anyone cares…

  31. will says:

    if dr. oz ever got sued for mishap during a surgery, i’d like to see him advance his “my fact vs. your fact” in response to why he was not following best medical practices

  32. student says:

    Dr. Oz, like Dr. Drew before him, is a vile contemptible piece of stinking garbage that ought to be thrown into the non-recyclables bin.

  33. RM says:

    Jim@8 – this point of view arose out of a descent from the very real “art of medicine” into “my facts and your facts” or if he simply just sold out
    There’s a third possibility – there wasn’t any “descent” as Dr. Oz never bought in to the scientific method in the first place.
    I think we delude ourselves if we assume that because you have a science/medical degree, you “believe in” science. It’s certainly not needed to get an MD – memorize the answer to the questions they expect of you and the procedures they expect of you, and you can get a degree, even if you think your teachers are misguided in their way of thinking. You can even do that for a PhD, though the self-directed-research nature of a science PhD might make that slightly less likely.
    As rtw@17 mentions, becoming an expert at cardiac surgery doesn’t mean you are knowledgeable in other fields. Heck, it doesn’t even mean you believe in the processes which lead to the knowledge you employ daily. You could be the best at cutting open chests the way you were taught and still think that other ways of treating the condition are equally valid, for those who would prefer to use those ways.

  34. Curious Wavefunction says:

    @28: “First Dr. Phil emerges from the primordial ooze”
    Careful now, no point in insulting primordial ooze.
    And as someone above said, it’s definitely about the money; to paraphrase Sinclair, “It is difficult to get a man to say something, when his salary depends upon his not saying it.”

  35. Anonymous says:

    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is that of all the medical specialties, surgery is one of the least scientific. Placebo controlled clinical trials are remarkably hard to do when your treatment arm is open heart surgery. Orthopedics is similar. Their professions do have some hard clinical outcomes data, but are also large swathes of accumulated folk wisdom that has not been rigorously tested. If you ever doubt me, go to three different orthopedists while complaining about ankle pain. One of my close friends did it, and got an ankle brace from the first one, a recommendation not to wear ankle braces and to exercise it thoroughly to strengthen it from the second, and a recommendation for immediate ligament surgery from the third.

  36. Doug Steinman says:

    I think it comes down to integrity. Dr. Oz obviously has no scruples and he lacks integrity. Furthermore, by giving credence to crackpots and charlatans, he violates the Prime Directive of Medicine which is “Do No Harm.” It is clear that he values money and fame more than he values using his education to make a positive difference in this world. I guess that doesn’t make him a bad person but it certainly makes him a bad physician.

  37. Lane Simonian says:

    Nothing terrifies the pharmaceutical industry and its backers like the prospects that people like Dr. Oz are sometimes right. The idea that drugs are always more effective at treating diseases than natural products is no more supportable than the idea that natural products are always more effective at treating disease than drugs. Take immunosuppressants: they treat symptoms rather than causes of disease and in the process compromise our immune systems. It makes infinitely more sense to use antioxidants to treat the cause of inflammation. And some of the best antioxidants come from plants as they are what plants developed over millions of years to protect themselves against disease.
    There are literally thousands of scientific studies specifying the mechanisms by which the correct natural products delivered in the right amounts in the right places can be used to treat disease. The overwhelming numbers of these studies come from outside of the United States or by foreign nationals working in the United States. In this country only a drug solution will do (even the synthesizing of medicines from natural products had declined in recent years) and thus these studies rather than built upon are ignored and when this is not possibly the people who produce them or disseminate them are demonized.

  38. Hap says:

    Bullets, microbes, and oncogenes don’t care about your facts or how certain you are of their correctness – when it’s a bullet or a cancer cell against your “facts” and your certainty, your facts are not equal to theirs. Their nature does not change by how convincing your arguments are, while your arguments generally become less convincing after your death has added a datum to the oppposition’s arguments.
    Perhaps people are looking for certainty? I guess that certainty would seem to correlate negatively with how much you know about something (and thus how valid your arguments are) – a reasonable red flag in science and medicine is when your certainty is disproportionate to the amount and quality of data supporting it. If people want certainty, then how else are they going to get it other than from people too smart to know better or from those immune to conscience?

  39. leftscienceawhileago says:

    Tragically, our own immune systems can drastically shorten our own lives. Ask a transplant patient.

  40. LeeH says:

    @37 Lane
    J.J. Abrams just called. He wants to licence the rights to the storyline for Fringe.
    Ooops. Too late. The series ended. Go ahead and sell to another studio.

  41. Lane Simonian says:

    My father was a kidney transplant patient, so I know. My point is not that immunosuppressants are always avoidable, just that they are sometimes better alternatives.

  42. leftscienceawhileago says:

    what specific cases are you referring to then?
    No one is ever eager to suggest a patient should be put on immuno-suppressants. If some tea or 5 vitamin c tablets were as effective, eveeyone would be a lot happier.

  43. fat old man says:

    This is a good time to say thank you for writing blogs like this that expose such charlatans and quacks. What makes him dangerous is that some of his spots do give good medical advice, so the average person is not able to differentiate the good from the bad, and when I try to expose the bad advice to my extended family, they remind me that I am not a real doctor, and their PCP watches ‘Dr Oz’ and likes him. Derek, you give us the credibility we need with our friends and family to have a good influence on them

  44. Lane Simonian says:

    I am going to cite one example: curcumin, boswellia and other antioxidants for inflammatory bowel diseases, and particuluarly for ulcerative colitis.
    A Review of Complementary and Alternative Approaches to Immunomodulation
    John O. Clarke, MD
    Gerard E. Mullin, MD
    Current Western therapies for inflammatory diseases are suboptimal; increasingly, patients are turning to complementary and alternative medicine for symptom relief and improved quality of life. There is emerging evidence that many of these therapies have the ability to modulate the immune system and disrupt the proinflammatory cascade through a variety of mechanisms, including antioxidant effects, alterations in cell signaling (in particular the nuclear factor (NF)-kappaB pathway), cytokines, proinflammatory mediators, and disruption of bacterial flora. Using inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) as a model of inflammation, we explore the principal complementary and alternative medicine treatments that show promise in this regard, namely, resveratrol, green tea, curcumin, boswellia, fish oil, vitamin D, and probiotics. With each agent, we detail the mechanisms that have been described with regard to immune modulation, discuss the medical conditions for which it has been evaluated, and explore the data to date for the prevention or treatment of IBD.
    Some studies at least indicate a higher percentage of success with antioxidants than with immuno-suppressants.
    Admittedly the study of antioxidants in the treatment of various disease is often filled with ambiguity because different studies seem to produce different results, but if the source of the inflammation is oxidative stress, then attention should focus on which antioxidants most effectively scavenge and repair the damage done by the oxidant.

  45. bad wolf says:

    @32–Don’t be so quick to lump Dr Drew in with that cohort! He may love the camera but he has always been devoted to scientific method, evidence-based therapies and medication. Just today i was listening to a podcast where he disparaged vague warnings against “toxins” in which the speaker doesn’t know the chemistry involved or biological pathways affected.

  46. cynical1 says:

    “It’s sad, y’know, what money does to people.”
    Ozzy Osbourne, I am Ozzy

  47. lynn says:

    @41 – Immunosuppressants for transplantation ARE all natural products: cyclosporin, tacrolimus (FK-506), sirolimus (rapamycin), mycophenolate (CellCept). While many drugs are natural products or derived from them, many natural products are quite toxic chemicals. They are all chemicals.

  48. leftscienceawhileago says:

    (usually good to put in a link to the paper if you cite)
    So first off, this paper reads funny, it has a saccharine tone, which generally takes away from credibility. Following a few links, some of the stuff seems to be pretty interesting (e.g. tumeric for IBD)…there seems to be some promising studies. I’m not at all an expert in the area, but it seems to be to the point that someone might even want to try a daily 1g (!) dose for at a month to see if it helps.
    But all of those studies that are cited in the review still suggest that things are preliminary. It is very very presumptuous of you to suggest that you (or anyone) can know that the source of the problem is oxidative stress. There is a lot of research supporting that idea it, but no one is at all certain at this point. If you can learn anything from Derek’s writings, it is that it is incredibly easy to be wrong about this type of thing in this game.
    The other big problem is how effective ingested antioxidants are in vivo, there are a number of people that don’t believe they do too much anti-oxidizing once they get inside us (though, I believe, that polyphenols have shown a number of positive health effects in humans). Read the opening paragraph here:
    Like I said, if alleviating horrible conditions like IBD were a tablespoon of tumeric or 5 oranges a day; everyone would cheer. Right now we just don’t know, although some studies look encouraging (I am unaware of followups to the Japanese trial that was cited). There is a sinking suspicion amongst everyone that it probably just isn’t that easy.
    You original post laments: “even the synthesizing of medicines from natural products had declined in recent years” and makes statements about foreign nationals and how “only a drug solution will do”.
    These statements suggest that you posses a considerable amount of ignorance about chemistry. It isn’t as if we have found millions (thousands, hundereds, even tens) of natural products that are great medicines but we just refuse to synthesize them since we want “drugs”. They just don’t work that well…nothing really does in this game.

  49. Thomas says:

    It surprises me so much that people distrust science, but then have no problem following the recommendation of a random website selling some quack remedy.
    Really strange.

  50. TheHealthSatoriProject says:

    @35 – They’ve actually conducted placebo experiments with knee surgery and found similar results. Every place we’ve ever tested for placebo effect it’s been observed. The prevalence of this effect clearly demonstrates the subjective nature of our being. The problem with science and medicine is the placebo effect is typically equated with quackery. Instead of studying how to take advantage of placebo effects it’s readily dismissed.

  51. bio_kruncher says:

    The other day another friend of mine said
    He said the sun is going yellow
    Pretty soon we’ll all be dead
    I said my friend what do you mean?
    You must be living in a museum
    And things are never what they seem
    Whether olfaction recognizes odorants by their shape, their molecular vibrations, or both remains an open and controversial question. A convenient way to address it is to test for odor character differences between deuterated and undeuterated odorant isotopomers, since these have identical ground-state conformations but different vibrational modes. In a previous paper (Franco et al. (2011) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108:9, 3797-802) we showed that fruit flies can recognize the presence of deuterium in odorants by a vibrational mechanism. Here we address the question of whether humans too can distinguish deuterated and undeuterated odorants. A previous report (Keller and Vosshall (2004) Nat Neurosci 7:4, 337-8) indicated that naive subjects are incapable of distinguishing acetophenone and d-8 acetophenone. Here we confirm and extend those results to trained subjects and gas-chromatography [GC]-pure odorants. However, we also show that subjects easily distinguish deuterated and undeuterated musk odorants purified to GC-pure standard. These results are consistent with a vibrational component in human olfaction.

  52. Lane Simonian says:

    #48 Sorry for not providing a link to the article. When I first posted on this site several months ago, I included links and my post did not go through so I thought links might not be accepted on this site. But I have seen links since then, just have not been sure enough to try myself.
    More importantly, I liked your measured response. Yes, the studies are preliminary. But in a way that is my point, there are preliminary studies showing promising results that are never followed up on or at least not on a larger scale.
    You have to ask lots of questions about antioxidants: can they act as pro-oxidants under certain conditions (high levels, in presence of transition metals, etc.), are they readily absorbed into the bloodstream (curcumin is not, but maybe that is ok for inflammatory bowel disease), are they metabolized or excreted before they have much antioxidant effect, do they scavenge some oxidants well and others poorly. Begin to answer some of these questions and your chances of success increase.
    I always found it funny that in the negative study on antioxidants and Alzheimer’s disease (and they in most cases were not the best antioxidants) that the antioxidants actually lowered plaques levels and levels of hyperphosphorylated tau proteins better than the acetylcholinesterase drugs (although not statistically significant).
    It was bad science and even worse reporting.
    A whole series of diseases have been linked to peroxynitrites and the right peroxynitrite scavengers and decomposition catalysts have the potential to aid in the treatment of these disease.
    The problem (and there are scientific problems as well) is that many of these peroxynitrite scavengers cannot be patented or have already been patented. There is no market for them or the market that does exist is deemed to be quackery.
    Certainly, natural products can be dangerous just as (synthetic) drugs. Certainly natural products can be largely ineffective with serious side effects just as drugs. But some of them are likely effective with relatively few side effects for most people. One can only tell by doing more studies.

  53. will says:

    @51 – if that study doesn’t examine the rate at which the subjects detected the smells of the proto vs deuterio compounds then i’m not interestes

  54. Anonymous says:

    I think the medical community is partly to blame for ignoring these guys in hopes they’ll go away, instead of calling them out. If I published a paper in JACS claiming I invented a time machine or invisibility spray, I’d be tarred and feathered. In addition to the obvious hucksters, there are too many legitimate scientists who make inflated claims to get themselves on TV – a cure for cancer is right around the corner, blueberries cause cancer, lettuce is a magical cure for everything, etc.

  55. Anonymous says:

    The reporter, Michael Specter, wrote a very good book a few years back called “Denialism”. It covers a range of subjects (anti-vaccine, organic food, alternative medicine, anti-GMO food, etc.) and how the worst aspects of each subject are all rooted in mistrust and/or willful ignorance of science. Recommended reading.

  56. Anonymous says:

    “Critical thinking is hard work, after all, and the most immediate result of it is losing comfortable illusions…”
    And, in the case of critical thinking about medicine, it’s the most painful illusion of all: That there is some miracle treatment that will change the fact that we will all, someday, get sick and die.

  57. MIMD says:

    But his spin on it—that one can simply choose those which make sense, rather than data that happen to be true—was chilling. “You find the arguments that support your data,” he said, “and it’s my fact versus your fact.”
    Holy cow.
    Where’s Carl Sagan (“The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark”) when you need him?

  58. In my own blog ( a few months ago I wrote about Dr. Oz in a similar fashion. In part I said:
    “I was initially very impressed by the way he explained things, by the models and hands-on approaches he used. He lets his guests get their hands dirty, and no subject is taboo. I thought as an adult educator, he has a very good style and a very good model – he know how to get a point across and how to punch home a message. At one time, I really admired that.
    But being good at explaining things, while necessary, is not sufficient – you also have to know what you are talking about!
    And the more I watched snippets of Dr. Oz, the more I became skeptical that this guy is just too full of himself, cuts too many corners, espouses too many things where I believed the science to be doubtful, if true at all. And so I soured on him.”
    I have not changed my opinions and I will not watch him no matter how good an educator he is.

  59. GG says:

    This is a topic that I have an unresolvable ambivalence about. It seems that -for now- government policy makers in most wealthy nations make decisions that are consistent with a belief in intellectually honest data analysis. We understand that the profit appeal for corporations is too enticing for them to behave properly so we have regulatory framework to keep things on the up-up. Therefore, my instinct is to ignore such marginal figures as the Dr. Ozs and Deepak Chopras of the world; what they crave is the oxygen of respectability anyway (paraphrasing Gould). But it scares the bejesus out of me that there is an audience for their drivel. What happens if these guys begin to affect policy decisions?
    My core question is: Are these people growing in popularity? Or is there a basal level of this nonsense that is persistent within the population? If it’s the former I guess we need to somehow pay attention. Is there a way to measure this and calibrate it against population growth?
    The recent high profile recantation that Derek wrote about is at least an indication that talking to some of these people is not hopeless.

  60. Geri says:

    Yes, science deals in fact, but…there is Way More to life and medicine than “science” outside your lab. You can’t see it, but believe me it does exist. Things that cannot be explained (scientifically), but that happen nonetheless.

  61. Gabrielman says:

    The whole antioxidant thing would be great, if it actually worked for everyone. The thing with IBD is that what works for some, doesn’t always work for others. I have severe UC and Fibromyalgia, the only things that have ever helped are the prescribed medications given by my doctor. I have tried alternative treatments, to no avail. Diet and exercise don’t do jack, so I take my meds and do what I can to live a normal life. People need to understand that these “miracle” supplements don’t do what they think they do, and even if it works for one guy, it won’t for all the people.
    “Dr.” Oz says he has a cure for Crohn’s and Colitis, does it work? I know a few people who suffer from the diseases who tried it, made them worse…

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