All posts tagged research

Dr. Oz: It’s Time to Hand Over the Megaphone

I often describe the dietary supplement industry as the Wild West and it looks like Dr. Mehmet Oz has become its latest outlaw. The celebrity cardiothoracic surgeon and daytime television celebrity of the show, Dr. Oz, took a turn in the hot seat before the Senate’s consumer protection panel Tuesday, defending his endorsement of lose weight quick ingredients and “magic weight loss cure” claims.

It’s about time.

As a naturopathic physician and strategist to the natural and organic products industry, I’ve dedicated my life to the study and practice of natural medicine and to educating others about its benefits and role within our larger health system. As someone who is so invested in this area, I’ve been especially disappointed in the way Oz has abused the platform his show provides for many years.

More than 1/3 of adults in our country are obese, leaving them at risk for deadly conditions like heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Even though research is clear that the most effective way to lose weight is through long-term and consistent diet and lifestyle changes, a weight loss industry consisting largely of lose weight quick products and programs with little to no evidence of efficacy makes an average of $60.9 billion each year.

When paired together these statistics paint a clear picture. We have a crisis on our hands and a society of people who are desperate for tools to improve their health. Right or wrong, our society looks to television, internet and inexpensive and easy-to-access sources of information for guidance.

If there was someone on television with the credentials and endorsements to trust, you would think it would be Oz. A licensed cardiovascular surgeon, professor in the Department of Surgery at Columbia University and go-to health expert for Oprah, he has all the elements to be regarded as a trusted advisor. That’s what makes his misleading and inaccurate claims so stunning.

As Senator McCaskill said to Oz on Tuesday,

I can’t figure this out, Dr. Oz. I get that you do a lot of good on your show. I understand that you give a lot of information that’s great information… you’re very talented and you’re obviously very bright. You’ve been trained in science-based medicine… I don’t get why you need to say this stuff when you know it’s not true. When you have this amazing megaphone, why would you cheapen your show?… With power comes a great deal of responsibility.

I can only hope that Dr. Oz will hand over his megaphone to someone else who has the conviction and ability to use it properly.

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Dietary Supplements: The Real Wart of St. John’s Wort

I’ve been watching the uptick in negative press about dietary supplements recently with much interest.  Having worked in both the packaged food and dietary supplement industries for the past nine years, I’ve often described dietary supplements as the Wild West.  Especially when compared to food, it’s an industry where, unfortunately, almost anything goes, and that’s certainly proved to be the case in recent months with multiple reports of product contamination…and not just with something benign, but major prescription drugs that carry real risk of side effects and harm.

This major quality flaw is often paired with reports citing research that vitamins and dietary supplements don’t work anyway.  Just last month, an editorial piece in the Annals of Internal Medicine gathered a great deal of attention as its authors seemed to close the book once and for all on the whole discussion, concluding that dietary supplements just aren’t worth the price or the potential risk.

Given the unfortunate string of contamination cases, it’s hard to dispute this conclusion.  However, dismissing vitamins and dietary supplements as worthless is absolutely the wrong decision.  Obviously, the industry needs to get its act together and prioritizing quality and efficacy need to be at the top of the list.  A good PR agency to fix this nightmare of bad press is probably a good immediate next step.

Really, the issue I believe the industry is facing is a pool of poorly designed research.  Poor research provides poor results.  And poor results can be interpreted as a poor (aka worthless) product.  When research is well designed, dietary supplements show incredible benefit at both prevention and treatment of a wide-range of diseases.  Dr. Alan Gaby, a leader in the natural medicine community is a wonderful spokesperson for the benefits of dietary supplements (hint, hint PR agencies) and does a much more eloquent job than I ever could at responding to dietary supplement neigh sayers.  Here’s a piece Gaby did for Huffington Post that responds to the Annals piece.  It’s a great read.

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My “Go-To” Sources for Natural Food and Health Information

Ever wonder where health experts get their “expert” information?  In my case, the foundation of my expertise comes from my medical training and the continuing education I’m required to receive to maintain my license.  However, the information provided at a few medical conferences a year rarely keeps pace with the rapidly evolving natural food and health landscape.  If you add trends and politics into the mix as I do, it becomes crucial to expand information sources beyond just journals and lectures.  When you enter the World Wide Web for natural health information, teasing apart reliable from let’s call it “interesting interpretations” can be challenging.  Here’s a list of some of my favorite sites for health and nutrition information.

Food Politics – This blog, written by Marion Nestle, Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health and Professor of Sociology at New York University, is often my first stop of the day for news.  She has a keen sense for the interplay between food, American diets and policy and I appreciate her willingness to say it like she sees it (for an example of this, just click on “Coca-Cola” in the word cloud running on the side of her blog).  It’s a refreshing change from other sources that are often slanted to the point of losing credibility in this area.

Civil Eats – This site is also a great source for news on challenges and successes in the food movement. Written with a broader scope than Nestle’s blog, Civil Eats steps away from Washington DC to look at what’s happening on a community level. From ethical sourcing of cocoa to fracking, this site is a great source for a general swath of updates on the diverse range of subjects under the label of “sustainable food systems”.

Natural Standard – This is a subscription site, but one that’s value easily offsets the cost to join.  I often use this site to verify information I’m seeing online in other sources.  With monographs on an amazing range of botanicals and nutrients, I always feel a bit like I’ve uncovered buried treasure when searching around this site and have to remind myself that I don’t have to frantically copy and save everything I see in case it disappears.  Another thing I love about this site is that the sources are often hyperlinked right to the original research.

MindBodyGreen – I was introduced to this site rather recently and have really been enjoying it.  It’s well named, with most of the content focusing on the connection between mind and body.  For example, I’ve found many great articles recently on the benefits of meditation to improve a range of conditions, and although the articles on this site are not typically referenced with primary research, it’s a great lead for where to do more digging.   One caution is that it does have a yoga slant, however, I believe the information is still valuable regardless of whether or not you practice.

If you have any other news sources in the natural food and health space you think are worth sharing, I’d love to check them out, so please share them in the comments section below.  Cheers!

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