Apr 01 2011

Dr. Oz Promotes Homeopathy

Those of us in the science-based medicine community have been watching Dr. Mehmet Oz’s descent into abject quackery. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion – horrific, but gripping.  The purpose of this post is not to tell you that Dr. Oz’s journey toward the dark side is now complete, because that has already happened. Dr. Oz is a product of Oprah Winfrey, and Oprah exists in a skepticism-free zone, as do all of the moons in her orbit.

At first Oz gave mostly reasonable medical advice, but liberally sprinkled in the woo. But now that he has his own show, Dr. Oz is a neverending stream of nonsensical pseudoscience. A recent example deserves mention – Oz attempts to explain to his audience what homeopathy is. Like all such attempts from proponents, the results are simultaneously humorous and exasperating. For this program Oz is helped by Dr. Russ Greenfield, an “integrative” medicine practitioner, and fellow of Dr. Andrew Weil’s program at the University of Arizona.

Oz and Greenfield explain that homeopathy uses “tiny” doses of “drugs” to treat symptoms, like chronic pain (the topic of the day). This is deceptive on two levels – in most cases the doses are not tiny but non-existent. And further, most of the substances used to prepare homeopathic water are not drugs, but a range of ordinary, toxic, or fanciful substances.

Greenfield later acknowledges that some homeopathic preparations (actually most) are so diluted that you can’t find a single molecule of ingredient left. But, he explains, proponents say that the substance transfers its “spirit” (his word) to the water. He says this with a straight face.

Greenfield says that homeopathy is “controversial”, which is the closest he comes to the truth, but then states categorically that there is some clinical evidence that shows that homeopathy works. So even though it makes no sense, the evidence shows that it works, so we can dismiss the science (again, his words). However, it is also untrue that the evidence shows that homeopathy works. The clinical evidence shows that homeopathy does not work. Systematic reviews of properly controlled trials show a lack of efficacy for any homeopathic remedy for any indication – homeopathy does not work.

Greenfield is an excellent example of the failure of evidence-based medicine (EBM) when dealing with alternative medicine, or the abuse of EBM by CAM proponents. Forget how ridiculously unscientific the claims are, if there is any weak or preliminary clinical evidence to cherry pick then we can claim that the treatment works.

And Dr. Oz endorses all this nonsense wholesale – even saying that his wife uses homeopathy on their kids. He then specifically recommends homeopathic arnica (an herb in the sunflower genus, and a favorite among homeopaths). Despite all the handwaving talk about individualized treatment, arnica seems to be good for anything. Greenfield also specifically recommends occilococcinum – an imaginary organism thought to be found in diseased tissue, but which turned out to be a slide artifact (likely an air bubble).

Despite Oz saying that homeopathy uses tiny doses of drugs, it often uses non-existent doses of non-existent substances- fairy dust diluted into nothingness.

As is often the case when articulate people like this spout such utter absurdity and falsehoods, you have to wonder how much of what they are saying do they really believe themselves. Perhaps Greenfield is simply incapable of reading and interpreting the clinical literature. Or perhaps he just chooses to believe what he wants to believe, and then back fills with cherry picked data. He clearly has no problem believing in magic, and is satisfied with such explanations – science be damned. Andrew Weil would be proud.

Episodes like this are clear evidence that Dr. Oz is now a source of medical misinformation and pro-CAM propaganda.

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