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.

22 responses so far

22 thoughts on “Dr. Oz Promotes Homeopathy”

  1. Mlema says:

    Why doesn’t the medical community come down on him? With all the literature discrediting homeopathy, and none to support it, isn’t it illegal to promote it in this manner on TV? Charge him with fraud!
    I do like Dr. Oz though 🙂
    i think he does care about educating the average American as to the serious effects of unhealthy lifestyle, and the ins and outs of good nutrition and basic medicine. In a time when far too many people in the U.S. can’t afford even basic medical care, it’s important to get that kind of information out there.
    But he, and the show are a bit over the top.
    I guess they call it “info-tainment”
    But really, he needs to be called out on the pseudoscience.
    Who will do it?

  2. Jim Shaver says:

    The Wizard of Oz turned out to be a very ordinary man with a little charisma who lied about his abilities, knowledge, and power. The same can be said of Mehmet Oz.

    Mlema, you would probably like Dr. Oz if he were your polite neighbor who happened to have some wacky ideas. But you definitely should not like him as a purported and self-promoted public health advocate with wacky ideas, who is also a fraud and who also promotes lies and misinformation. Other than that, he’s a great guy. 😉

  3. Mlema says:

    hey, clever “Oz” comparison! (like it)
    actually, I DON’T think I’d like Oz as a neighbor. Too excited about everything (from what I’ve seen of him)
    I haven’t actually watched the show but a couple of times. I THOUGHT it was about educating people about their health.
    But, again, isn’t it illegal for an MD to promote fraudulent medical practices? Shouldn’t the medical community be sanctioning him or something? Aren’t they OBLIGED to protect people from fellow MD’s who are supporting homeopathy?
    I’m not a medical person. Just wondering, and who should do this if so?

  4. Mlema says:

    i just visited the show’s website and sent a complaint about promoting homeopathy.
    I still think they’ve got a lot of good info for the average person, but it is mixed in with ladie’s skin care, avacado facials, etc.
    I found one statement tucked into their area on homeopathy:

    Dr. Ian Holzman of The Mount Sinai Medical Center Answered:
    There is no scientific evidence that homeopathy helps anyone. Since serious illnesses can be difficult to diagnose in newborns and infants, it is important not to delay diagnosis in order to try homeopathic remedies.

    I have a feeling the show’s lawyers are very careful not to let any blatant violations occur. But the legitimate and folksy info should be clearly separated in my opinion.

  5. Belgarath says:

    Hiding something somewhere in the back of your web site is NOT a get out of jail free card for promoting homeopathy on your TV show, which is seen by orders of magnitude more people than the website.

  6. superdave says:

    The guy also admits that you don’t want to use this for stuff that isn’t self limiting. I wonder why he would say that?

    Homeopathy proves though that you can basically prove anything works well enough to satisfy people who are desperate for answers.

  7. kvsherry says:

    I used to think “Dr.” Oz was OK because he came out against the Anti Vaccine crowd, I guess I thought too soon.

  8. daijiyobu says:

    And therefore the 2011 Pigasus.


  9. BillyJoe7 says:


    “The guy also admits that you don’t want to use this for stuff that isn’t self limiting. I wonder why he would say that?”

    Probably a legal disclaimer.
    As long as people use it for self-limiting conditions they’re going to get better anyway with or without the homoeopathy.
    But if they use it for non self-limiting conditions in place of science-based medicine, they could very well end up dead.

  10. mudhen says:

    When I do my workout in the afternoon someone has usually turned on the TV to Dr. Oz. Usually I just read on my iPad and try to ignore the TV. When I heard this bit the other day I’m sure it didn’t do a lot for my Blood Pressure. Its a disgrace he can present this stuff as legit. Makes me wonder if the AMA has any type of self policing mechanism for members that present crap like this as real medicine.

  11. ccbowers says:

    Mr Oz also did a show on Biopuncture… apparently you can combine any 2 quackeries together to get something new. I guess there is a wheel of quackery out there that is spun to come up with new markets.

    The problem with Mr Oz is that he is no dummy. He knows the stuff he is promoting is nonsense, but he must really do some mental gymnastics to rationalize his own involvement in its promotion. Or perhaps he just looks at his bank account and he instantly feels better

  12. superdave says:

    I tried leaving a comment by the link Dr. Novella gave and the mods have no approved it yet. It was a pretty civil and reasonable with no trolling or condescending remarks. If they don’t approve it would be very telling.

  13. SARA says:

    If you put Dr. in front of a name, or MD after it, there is a whole contingent of people who will take what you say as gospel.

    IN my opinion, it is breaking a public trust to use your MD to promote questionable or outright fraudulent medical advise.
    I also think we need to spend more time encouraging people, especially at a young age, to ask questions and understand their medical advice and condition.
    Once people get in the habit of questioning a doctor, they begin to take responsibility for their own health. And I think it might lead to more skeptical receptions of Dr. Oz and the woo.

  14. titmouse says:

    No you can’t go after MDs for promoting homeopathy so long as the MDs claim to be “integrative medicine” doctors. “Integrative” is a get out of jail free card, just like “CAM.”

    We have a Federal institution promoting CAM called “NCCAM.” The body of doctors that advises congress is called the “Institute of Medicine.” The IOM wrote a report in 2005 recommending that med students be trained in “integrative medicine,” and so it is.

    The AMA had a rule that good doctors were not to refer patients to quacks. But the chiropractors sued for trade infringement and the Scientologists helped them out by planting spies at the AMA headquarters to dig dirt and make the AMA look bad (Google “operation sore throat”). The AMA lost their case on appeal around 1990 I think. Subsequently they don’t sort quackery from real medicine.

    I haven’t looked but it wouldn’t surprise me to find the AMA itself promoting homeopathy. The APA has a whole sub-section for that sort of thing here: http://apacaim.org

  15. titmouse says:

    I also think we need to spend more time encouraging people, especially at a young age, to ask questions and understand their medical advice and condition.

    Although it’s good to ask about anything that sounds strange, as a patient you’re fooling yourself if you think you can sift the evidence yourself. The medical literature is complicated.

    As a patient, I just want a signifier that will allow me to sort the science based from the woo friendly before I walk in the door. Used to be I could trust the “MD.” Now that I can’t, I’m pissed off and worried.

  16. edterry says:

    Homeopathy can lead to successful treatments because of the placebo effects. Unfortunately, only the gullible are the ones who might benefit and only by sheer luck. My real concern with homeopathy is that finding a real treatment that works is postponed.

    Evidence-based medicine can work if studies are properly designed. However, with any study there are implicit and explicit assumptions which may render the study useless. A good example are dietary studies which used “validated” food questionnaires. The ones I’ve completed bear no resemblance to what I eat. If that’s also true for a significant number of study participants, the study is based upon very flawed information as the foundation. Any results that come from that study are imprecise. A lot of the nutritional studies I’ve seen do not consider the intake of easily digested carbohydrates as a significant factor.

    Being a pharmacist for over 30 years has taught me that most of the time, there are no definite answers, and that researchers have an amazing ability to get the answer they want.

  17. BillyJoe7 says:


    “Although it’s good to ask about anything that sounds strange, as a patient you’re fooling yourself if you think you can sift the evidence yourself. The medical literature is complicated.”

    You can actually do it on a single medical condition, maybe two, but that’s about it, And only if you’re prepared to put in the time and effort.

    My father died with prostate cancer and I was advised to have a PSA. Before doing so, I happened to come across an article about PSA testing that sent me off on a year long investigation of the issue (on and off, of course). As a result I didn’t have the test and nearly every study since then has affirmed that my decision was correct.

    But I think what you’re saying is that most people do not have the time, can’t be bothered to expend the effort, don’t know how to sift wheat form chaff etc etc, and I would agree.

    “Used to be I could trust the “MD.” Now that I can’t, I’m pissed off and worried.”

    Part of my decision was based on discussions I’ve had on forums. I was quite surprised when an MD on one of these forums who agreed with my assessments said that he tests all males over 50 despite the evidence against this procedure. His reason was that he would be liable to be sued if he did not test someone who later developed prostate cancer – despite the fact that tested indviduals barely have an increased survival but a whole lot more pathology from biopsies, and surgery or radiation. He is quite certain that he would never be sued for actually doing a PSA and he’s probably right.

  18. ccbowers says:

    “Homeopathy can lead to successful treatments because of the placebo effects.”

    This is meaningless to the point of being untrue. Treatments that work for a given indication also benefit from the placebo effect (to the limited extent that helps), but also have “real” effects. Not to mention that I know of no indication for which placebo is a reasonable choice, given that placebo effects are small and temporary. Things that fall in this category of minor and temporary usually require no treatment at all.

  19. sonic says:

    I watched the video-
    1) I doubt any legal problems because nothing said was untrue. (I’m not positive about what goes on at the Oz or Greenfield houses but I’m assuming neither is lying about it).
    2) I’m not positive, but I don’t think any medical problem. As far as I know it is not considered malpractice to prescribe a placebo for pain. When I worked in a hospital it was not uncommon. Perhaps things have changed.

    The reasons placebos were given for pain —
    a) sometimes they worked (the patients felt better)
    b) they reduced the chance of a person becoming addicted to pain meds
    c) fewer side effects.

    Since pain meds are always given for temporary relief of symptoms, if a placebo makes the patient feel better, then it has done the job required. The reduction of patients becoming drug addicts was considered a worthwhile endeavor. I’m imaging it still could be considered so.

    I hadn’t watched the show before– I’m not going to start.

  20. RDCRDC says:

    I have seen the effects of homeopathy first hand.
    I had a baby brought in going through the colicky phase of teething —(in which they are extremely irritable and ill at ease….wanting to be picked up and held, then put down the next moment, and can last for up to 5 straight days)— which any parent who has experienced it knows how difficult is for the both child and parents, go from utterly irreconcilable to peaceful and calm about 20 seconds after using a homeopathic teething remedy.
    The mother couldn’t believe it.
    I just wish I had known about it with my one boy who suffered each new tooth like he was being tortured.

    Farmers here report their vet bills were cut by 2/3 when they went to homeopathic treatments for mastitis and other infectious conditions.

    I’m sorry, but as a scientist I believe what works, and homeopathy works with children and animals neither of whom are influenced by the placebo effect.

  21. RDCRDC – As a scientist, you should know that anecdotal experience is almost worthless. And children and animals are absolutely susceptible to placebo effects. They are being treated, and someone has to assess the outcome.

    If homeopathy were half as effective as you are suggesting it should be easy to demonstrate in a controlled trial. But controlled trials are negative. So homeopathy does not work beyond a placebo effect.

  22. loc1023 says:

    I am so very tired of “scientists” that think they know everything. Do all of you people work for pharmacutical companies? Do you know ANYTHING about homeopathy? I think not, but thank goodness for many of you that your ancestors did or the human race would have been wiped out before you were born. Plant based healing has been around for more years than any of you or your forefathers. Did you think that all of these pretty plants were simply for your visual pleasure? Penicillin was derived from mold. Get you heads out of your…textbooks and attempt to expand your horizons beyond a test tube. Obviously, medicating people and then giving them another medication to offset the side effects of the first may not be the best way to go.

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