Defending Dr. Oz

04/27/2015 10:19 am ET | Updated Jun 24, 2015

Dr. Mehmet Oz came to America's attention on Oprah with his shocking methods of showing us exactly what might be going on in our bodies in sometimes graphic ways. With Oprah's support, Dr. Oz vaulted into our hearts as the doctor we could turn to for a reasonable, although sometimes left-of-center, advice on wellness.

Now he's in the hot seat. First it was to be grilled by Congress about his support of what they considered questionable health claims of products. He handled himself with his usual smarts and grace, admitting his failings and missteps, even when certain members of Congress treated him with a healthy dose of disrespect.

Arguably America's best-known medic, Dr. Oz is on the offensive once again after a group of 10 doctors wrote to Columbia University strongly recommending that he be stripped of his academic credentials. Yikes!

In response, Dr. Oz wrote an essay for Time and said that some of the doctors have "brazen conflicts of interest." He asserts that they're attacking him because of his stance on demanding mandatory labeling of genetically-modified foods.

The lead author, Henry I. Miller, appears to have a history as a pro-biotech scientist, and was mentioned in early tobacco-industry litigation as a potential ally to industry," Oz wrote. "He also furthered the battle in California to block GMO labeling -- a cause that I have been vocal about supporting.

Appears to have a history as pro-biotech? Read this.

Henry Miller, the lead author of the letter, has long been an advocate of GMOs. Miller is currently a fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. He has previously served as FDA drug regulator. In a tagline of his Forbes contributor blog, he describes its purpose as debunking "junk science and flawed public policy." Those Dr. Miller has debunked include other proponents of the GMO labeling such as Mark Bittman, columnist for the New York Times. In the column on Bittman's stance on GMOs, Dr. Miller quoted Dr. Glenn Swogger, who is also a proponent of GMOs and has signed off on the letter sent to Columbia.

Both Miller and Swogger have previously been associated with the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), a nonprofit advocacy organization known to work for the benefit of issues like GMOs and fracking. To be fair, neither men belong to ACSH at this very moment, but two other doctors who signed the letter to remove Dr. Oz from his position at Columbia, Gilbert Ross and Jack Fisher, do. Dr. Ross is currently the acting president and executive director of the ACSH, while Fisher belongs to the board of directors. No conflict of interest there?

Eric Lief, the communications director for ACSH, told the Guardian that while his organization supports the sentiment conveyed in the letter, they did not play a role in its writing. He went on to emphasize that ten doctors were listed on the letter and Dr. Ross merely supported the idea that Dr. Oz is known to dispense "questionable medical advice on TV."

This group of medics who contacted Columbia said that Mehmet Oz, vice-chairman of Columbia's surgery department, had shown "an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain" and accuses him of "baseless and relentless opposition to the genetic engineering of food crops."

Even writer Mary Elizabeth Williams jumped on the "beat up Dr. Oz bandwagon," saying,

Among Dr. Oz's guests this week: deeply misguided medical expert and former "Three's Company" star Suzanne Somers and dubious "Long Island Medium" Theresa Caputo. Oz has now proven over years and years and years of complete and utter twaddle peddling that he can build a devout following not as a healer but a TV star who promises "weight loss tricks" and anti-aging breakthroughs. That's not passion, that's not commitment. That's hubris, plain and simple. And plenty of people with no apparent conflict of interest have noticed it too.

Ouch! (Okay, I agree with the quackery of the "Long Island Medium." Come, on Dr. Oz...)

I may not always agree with Dr. Oz's opinions, but in my view, people are missing the bigger picture. For decades, alternative healing modalities have come under fire from conventional medicine, even those derived from the wisdom of traditional medicine. And while some of these modalities deserve to be questioned as to their efficacy and validity, many of them deserve our respect and attention... and further study.

Traditional Chinese medicine, for example, is based on 5,000 years of practice and experiences. With the founding of a new China in 1949, western medicine began to play a larger role in their health care. As modern (westernized) medicine's impact grew, an "integrative medicine" formed at the end of the 1950s. Theories, therapeutic principles, technologies and understanding of the life sciences were elaborated upon and the basic structure of the traditions of Chinese medicine became more apparent. Traditional Chinese medicine began to reach a common point with modern medicine.

We have long moved away from more holistic medical care in favor of the expensive treatment of symptoms. Surgery, invasive protocols and pharmaceuticals drive our modern healthcare (with mixed results if we are totally honest), so when a conventional medical doctor veers off the common medical path, he or she is roundly criticized for being irresponsible. My experience has shown me that alternatives are often eschewed as quackery when in fact they can be quite beneficial to human health with few of the dramatic (and often deeply unpleasant) side effects that are the result of modern conventional medicine.

To that point, according to a study done by the NIH, reflexology (a non-conventional method of diagnosis and treatment by using pressure points on the feet) was shown to be a "reliable and valid" in systemic diagnosis. Many experts in the field of science and healing are closely examining alternative practices as methods to heal the human body.


Studies of autopsies have shown that conventional medical doctors have seriously misdiagnosed fatal illnesses about 20 percent of the time, according to the New York Times.

Dr. Oz, a conventional cardiovascular medical doctor, has had his eyes opened to the power of alternative methods of healing. His rise to fame came when he showed us (sometimes literally) what is going on in the body when we suffer any variety of symptoms... and how we might naturally return to health. Having watched his show on numerous occasions as well as read his articles, blogs and essays, Dr. Oz conveys a simple message:

There's more than one way to wellness... and it's not always conventional.

The information he shares is designed to open our eyes to ideas; ideas that could guide our feet on the path to feeling... and being our best selves (and yes, to provide entertaining, informative... and sometimes dramatic television).

Some of the ideas and theories he shares are in direct conflict with the thinking of conventional medicine and yet he fearlessly moves forward. When Dr. Oz discusses the possibilities of natural products aiding in the relief of any number of symptoms that ail us, is the outrage he experiences from his colleagues the result of noble concern for the American public?

Or could it be something else? Could special interests like GMO proponents and the pharmaceutical machine that thrives on Americans remaining out of shape and sick be driving this witch hunt?

What's really going on here?

As these 10 doctors (and a host of journalists) call for Dr. Oz's head on a platter, I might offer another idea. As a professor at the Department of Surgery at Columbia University since 2001, he directs the Cardiovascular Institute and Complementary Medicine Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Pretty impressive, I'd say. Do we really think that Dr. Oz doesn't understand how medicine (alternative or otherwise) works in the body?

And while he does enthusiastically and passionately endorse the effectiveness of various natural products or ideas, Dr. Oz rarely endorses a product outright. That doesn't excuse the fact that companies lift clips and quotes from his show and use them as evidence that he does, in fact, endorse a product. The "Dr. Oz" affect is a real thing and he certainly has responsibility when his name is used in association with a product. He did launch a campaign asking people to report to his producers when they saw his name as a product endorsement, but advertising and free speech have given rise to his association with a number of dubious products and their claims. That's on him... and on us to decipher what is sensible and what is, well, not so much...

But is that the problem? Or is the problem that evidence-based science has not empirically proven that alternatives to conventional medicine can be effective? At one time, we thought the world was flat and lashed out at anyone who said otherwise.

Could Dr. Oz (and other credible alternative health proponents) simply be trying to convey the message that there are many ways to look at health and many ways to achieve it? And as a result of stepping out of line with our Big Pharma-controlled medical system be subjected to ridicule?

You may say what you like about Dr. Oz, but he has his finger on the pulse of what Americans are thinking. They are sick and tired of feeling sick and tired and with no ground-breaking answers on the horizon; with more pills and invasive medical treatments as their only recourse; they look to alternatives for a saner way to health and wellness. And with patients becoming more and more educated and more and more aware of their options outside the conventional medicine offerings, some doctors find themselves behind the curve. Many patients are more educated about the effects of nutrition and lifestyle, supplements and alternatives than their caregivers.

Like it or not, agree with him or not; Dr. Oz is at the forefront of marrying both conventional and alternative medicine, working to create effective ways for people to return to health. The fact that he does it on television shines the light squarely on him, but rest assured more and more doctors are looking at alternatives to aid in the treatment of their patients. It's the way of the future. Anyone committed to helping people find their way to health and wellness needs to be versed in the methodologies available, conventional and alternative, if they hope to keep pace with the changing times and how we Americans look at medicine.