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All You Need To Know About Dr. Oz And The Dietary Supplement Scandal

Comedian John Oliver did an excellent job explaining everything that’s wrong with the Dr. Oz show and the dietary supplement industry. Please watch this video for a good laugh:

I’ve been warning folks about Dr. Oz for many years – and I hope that John reaches more people with his message.

To be fair, there are reputable companies who manufacture safe and effective vitamins and supplements too, as I have noted here.

Dr. Oz’s Silly Weight Loss Recommendations Lead To Fat TV Ratings

Miracles are pretty rare events. Except on television’s “Dr. Oz Show,” where they appear with astonishing frequency. Oz of course doesn’t claim to raise the dead or part the Red Sea, but he does raise people’s hopes of parting with their flab. And he’s certainly not shy about flinging the word “miracle” about. But it seems miracles fade as quickly as they appear. Raspberry ketones, acai berries and African mango, once hyped as amazing “fat busters,” have already given way to newer wonders.

Granted, Dr. Oz, or more likely his producers, do not pull miracles out of an empty hat. They generally manage to toss in a smattering of stunted facts that they then nurture into some pretty tall tales. Like the ones about chlorogenic acid or Garcinia cambogia causing effortless weight loss. The former piqued the public’s interest when the great Oz introduced green coffee bean extract as the next diet sensation. Actually “chlorogenic acid” is not a single compound, but rather a family of closely related compounds found in green plants, which perhaps surprisingly, contain no chlorine atoms. The name derives from the Greek “chloro” for pale green and “genic” means “give rise to.” (The element chlorine is a pale green gas, hence its name.)

An “unprecedented” breakthrough, Dr, Oz curiously announced, apparently having forgotten all about his previous weight-control miracles. This time the “staggering” results originate from a study of green coffee bean extract by Dr. Joe Vinson, a respected chemist at the University of Scranton who has a long-standing interest in antioxidants, such as chlorogenic acid. Aware of the fact that chlorogenic acid had been shown to influence glucose and fat metabolism in mice, Vinson speculated that it might have some effect on humans as well. Since chlorogenic acid content is reduced by roasting, a green bean extracts was chosen for the study.

In cooperation with colleagues in India who had access to volunteers, Dr. Vinson designed a trial whereby overweight subjects were given, in random order, for periods of six weeks each, either a daily dose of 1,050 mg of green coffee bean extract, a lower dosage of 700 mg, or a placebo. Between each six-week phase there was a two-week “washout” period during which the participants took no supplements. There was no dietary intervention; the average daily calorie intake was about 2,400. Participants burned roughly 400 calories a day with exercise. On average there was a loss of about a third of a kilogram per week. Interesting, but hardly “staggering.” And there are caveats galore.

The study involved only eight men and eight women, which amounts to a statistically weak sample. Diet was self-reported, a notoriously unreliable method. The subjects were not really blinded since the high dose regimen involved three pills, the lower dose only two. A perusal of the results also shows some curious features. For example, in the group that took placebo for the first six weeks, there was an 8 kilogram weight loss during the placebo and washout phase, but almost no further loss during the high dose and low dose phases. By the time, though, that critics reacted to Oz’s glowing account, overweight people were already panting their way to the health food store to pick up some green coffee bean extract that might or might not contain the amount of chlorogenic acid declared on the label. As for Dr. Oz, he had already moved on to his next “revolutionary” product, Garcinia cambogia, unabashedly describing it as the “Holy Grail” of weight loss.

We were actually treated to the Grail in action. Sort of. Dr. Oz, with guest Dr. Julie Chen, performed a demonstration using a plastic contraption with a balloon inside that was supposed to represent the liver. A white liquid, supposedly a sugar solution, was poured in, causing the balloon, representing a fat cell, to swell. Then a valve was closed, and as more liquid was introduced, it went into a different chamber, marked “energy.” The message was that the valve represents Garcinia extract, which prevents the buildup of fat in fat cells. While playing with balloons and a plastic liver may make for entertaining television, it makes for pretty skimpy science.

Contrary to Dr. Oz’s introduction that “you are hearing it here first,” there is nothing new about Garcinia. There’s no breakthrough, no fresh research, no “revolutionary” discovery. In the weight control field, Garcinia cambogia is old hat. Extracts of the rind of this small pumpkin-shaped Asian fruit have long been used in “natural weight loss supplements” Why? Because in theory, they could have an effect.

The rind of the fruit, sometimes called a tamarind, is rich in hydroxycitric acid (HCA), a substance with biological activity that can be related to weight loss. Laboratory experiments indicate that HCA can interfere with an enzyme that plays a role in converting excess sugar into fat, as well as with enzymes that break down complex carbohydrates to simple sugars that are readily absorbed. Furthermore, there are suggestions that Garcinia extract stimulates serotonin release which can lead to appetite suppression.

Laboratory results that point toward possible weight loss don’t mean much until they are confirmed by proper human trials. And there have been some. Fifteen years ago a randomized trial involving 135 subjects who took either a placebo or a Garcinia extract equivalent to 1500 mg of HCA a day for three months, showed no difference in weight loss between the groups. A more recent trial involving 86 overweight people taking either two grams of extract or placebo for ten weeks echoed those results. In-between these two major studies there were several others, some of which did show a weight loss of about one kilogram over a couple of months, but these either had few subjects or lacked a control group. Basically, it is clear that if there is any weight loss attributed to Garcinia cambogia, it is virtually insignificant. But there may be something else attributed to the supplement, namely kidney problems. Although incidence is rare, even one is an excess when the chance of a benefit is so small. So Garcinia cambogia, like green coffee bean extract, can hardly be called a miracle. But it seems Dr. Oz puts his facts on a diet when it comes to fattening up his television ratings.

Joe Schwarcz is director of McGill University’s Office for Science & Society ( He hosts The Dr. Joe Show on CJAD Radio 800 AM every Sunday from 3 to 4 p.m.

Therapy Is About Having An Honest Relationship, But Is Lying Ever OK?

We’ve been having a great discussion over on the post Tell Me…. An Ethical Dilemma.  The post talks about a young man who wants to know if he can check “no” to a question about whether he has a psychiatric disorder if his illness is not relevant to the situation.  The comments have been fascinating — do read them– and very thought-provoking.

One reader asked, ” If a patient asked if they were boring you, and they were, would you say yes?”

This is a great question, and of course the right thing to do is to explore with the patient what meaning the concern has to him.  But is that all?  I’m not very good at doing the old psychoanalyst thing of deflecting all questions, and mostly I do answer questions when they are asked of me.  This can present a really sticky situation because one can not think of any clinical scenario in which it would be therapeutic to have a therapist tell a patient, ‘Yes, you’re boring, OMG are you boring,’ or ‘No, in fact, I don’t like you.’  And not answering could be viewed as negative response by the patient –if you liked me, you’d tell me, so clearly you don’t like me.  So if the exploration of the question doesn’t take care of the issue, and the patient continues to ask, what’s a shrink to do? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Shrink Rap*

The “Lies” Of Medical Science: What’s An e-Patient To Do?

There’s an extraordinary new article in The Atlantic entitled “Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science.” It echos an excellent article in our Journal of Participatory Medicine (JoPM) a year ago by Richard W. Smith, 25-year editor of the British Medical Journal, entitled ”In Search Of an Optimal Peer Review System.

JoPM, Oct 21, 2009: “….most of what appears in peer-reviewed journals is scientifically weak.”

The Atlantic, Oct. 16, 2010: “Much of what medical researchers conclude in their studies is misleading, exaggerated, or flat-out wrong.”

JoPM 2009: “Yet peer review remains sacred, worshiped by scientists and central to the processes of science — awarding grants, publishing, and dishing out prizes.”

The Atlantic 2010: “So why are doctors — to a striking extent — still drawing upon misinformation in their everyday practice?”

Dr. Marcia Angell said something just as damning in December 2008 in the New York Review of Books: “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine.” (Our post on Angell is here.)

What’s an e-patient to do? How are patients supposed to research if, as all three authorities say, much of what they read is scientifically weak? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

News Flash: Young Men Lie About Sex

In fact, according to the results of an online survey about sex, relationships, and sexual respect, 60 percent of young men and teen boys lie about sex. In November, 1,200 males ages 15-22 took the survey conducted by TRU, Seventeen magazine and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Some of the findings include:

  • 45 percent reported they were virgins;
  • 60 percent admitted to lying about something related to sex: 30 percent lied about how far they have gone, 24 percent about their number of sexual partners, and 23 percent about their virginity status;
  • 78 percent agreed there was “way too much pressure” from society to have sex;
  • 57 percent of sexually active respondents reported having had unprotected sex; Read more »

This post, News Flash: Young Men Lie About Sex, was originally published on by Nancy Brown, Ph.D..

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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