Newsweek Takes On Oprah

As much as we complain in the blogosphere about how the media covers issues, sometimes the media gets things right. The latest issue of Newsweek decides to examine some of the lifestyle advice offered on Oprah Winfrey’s show. The article is titled “Live Your Best Life Ever!” and it highlights some of Oprah’s celebrity guests and their lifestyle claims. This advice is almost always presented uncritically without any dissenting opinions and if there are any physicians in the audience they may or many not get to speak. Among the claims examined in the article are the following:

  • Suzanne Somers and “bioidentical” hormones, which she claims keeps her youthful and healthy.
  • Jenny McCarthy and her claims that vaccines cause autism.
  • One of Oprah’s regular experts, Dr. Christine Northrup, who told the audience that the new HPV vaccine caused deaths (HPV is the virus that causes cervical cancer). [in the interest of disclosure – I had an aunt that died of cervical cancer. – UI] After being interviewed on the phone by Newsweek, Northrup admits that she isn’t certain that the vaccine caused deaths.
  • Dr. Northrup also claims:

    “in many women, thyroid dysfunction develops because of an energy blockage in the throat region, the result of a lifetime of ‘swallowing’ words one is aching to say.”

  • Several skin treatments, one was “thread-lifting,” described as an alternative to facelifts that is now no longer used. The treatment was ineffective and caused scarring and dimpling. She also featured a heat treatment with something called a Thermage machine which was extremely painful and could cause burns to the skin.
  • Oprah’s promoting of The Secret, a “self-help” book that claims:

    the universe and everything in it are made of vibrating energy, and by thinking positively we can actually “attract” the positive vibrations of the universe and bend them to our will. “You’re a field of energy in a larger field of energy,” one of The Secret‘s teachers said. “And like attracts like, and that’s very, very scientific.”

  • Obviously, Oprah is very interested in the mind-body holistic approach to health, and that’s not a bad thing. There is still a lot to be learned about how the mind and body interact in regards to disease. There’s a saying, however, “keep an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out.” Oprah has great influence and power but along with that comes great responsibility. If medical advice is presented it needs be presented with a healthy dose of skepticism and discussion of risks and benefits. Some of these claims are actually harmful. Hormone therapy for menopause may help some women suffering from hot flashes and other symptoms, but long-term hormone therapy increases a woman’s risk of heart attack, stroke and cancer. The “bioidentical” hormones are currently unregulated, so they may be of dubious quality or purity. The vaccine-autism scare has led to increasing outbreaks of preventable diseases, like measles and whooping cough.

    Newsweek is careful to say that Oprah doesn’t always give bad advice. The article recognizes some of her experts, like Dr. Mehmet Oz, give good advice about diet and exercise. My advice is to always treat medical and lifestyle advice with a healthy dose of skepticism, even if it comes from someone you trust.

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    Opinionated chemist, troublemaker, blogger on national and Delaware politics.

    Comments (21)

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    1. meatball says:

      You know Dr. Oz is a Tower Hill alum and a former ct surgeon at Christiana Care. Although I never met him, many folks I know who did speak very highly of him. That’s not to say that he isn’t batshit crazy today, though.

    2. I don’t think Dr. Oz is crazy, but the article did explain that he would say nothing when other “experts” would give not so good advice.

    3. anonymous says:

      “The vaccine-autism scare has led to increasing outbreaks of preventable diseases, like measles and whooping cough.”

      Your link does not show the increase in preventable diseases to caused by the “vaccine-autism scare”, it merely shows correlation.

      Correlation does not equal causation. If we are on the side of science, then we can’t play this card against anti-vaxx parents, then use it to try and make a point…..

    4. anon says:

      Your link does not show the increase in preventable diseases to caused by the “vaccine-autism scare”, it merely shows correlation.

      True, But since increases in those diseases are exactly the predicted outcome of less vaccinations, then it is the strongest possible correlation.

    5. The science of vaccination to prevent diseases is well-established.

    6. meatball says:

      I wasn’t trying to say he is b.s.crazy (I’ve actually never watched Oprah).

    7. cassandra_m says:

      I was really interested in Oprah’s foray into politics — campaigning for Obama for abit during his run for President. Lots of crowds, lots of hype, lots of attention, and — according to something I read someplace — some real pushback from a small part of her usual audience for doing this. Somehow her audience finds cheerleading for dodgy face-lift treatments to be somehow better than cheerleading for a pol she likes. Maybe the wingnutty part of her audience just doesn’t want to know that their hero is a liberal — makes it that much harder for them to identify Oprah as some kind of hero.

      That said, I don’t watch Oprah. Not a fan of alot of self-help porn.

    8. Von Cracker says:

      Oz’s father was the one who worked at Christiana – not sure about Oprah’s darling.

      Me mum (Cardiac Director), along with Mustafa Oz, built the Heart Center….

    9. I’m sure Oprah did get some criticism when she touched her toe into politics. People like to project onto her as an “everywoman” I think.

      I’ve never been an Oprah fan myself. I don’t care for the whole talk show genre.

    10. Joanne Christian says:

      Oh UI–I warned you about this stuff, when you took this job..better duck.

    11. Dorian Gray says:

      VC, DV, Not Brian and I have a Turkish friend who is related to Dr. Oz. From what I understand he’s a great guy. (The elder I mean.)

      As far as the post, if you were not skeptical of Oprah anyway I doubt the Newsweek article will help.

    12. Really I think the article is for the people who don’t listen to Oprah, but don’t really know what she’s doing. I also see it as a warning to the medical community about what is happening.


      I’m not scared.

    13. anonymous says:

      i do not think you have any proof that this rise in diseases is “the strongest possible correlation” I think that is more bullshit to back up a post devoid of facts. Bullshit begets bullshit I guess.

    14. JohnnyX says:

      i do not think you have any proof that this rise in diseases is “the strongest possible correlation”

      Psst…hey…anonymous. Heard of anybody die of smallpox lately? Got any friends who cant walk because of childhood polio? No? Wonder why…couldn’t possibly be because of those evil vaccines.

      You really mean to suggest that a rise in prevalence of diseases that we can easily vaccinate against is best explained by something OTHER than people not vaccinating against them? For bleep’s sake, be realistic.

    15. JohnnyX says:

      What the “bleep” is with the censoring of comments? An anon can post “bullshit” but “fuck” is too risque for this blog now? Are you “bleeping” kidding me?

    16. pandora says:

      Johnny, not sure why your comment got caught. Sorry.

    17. JohnnyX says:

      It’s not that it got caught that is bothering me. That’s not an issue. What bothers me is that it was edited for content – I did not type “for bleep’s sake.” I used the full on F-bomb. Just found it bizarre that someone would bother to edit it to specifically say “bleep” as opposed to simply putting an fxxx or similar or (the preferred option) just leaving it as is.

    18. pandora says:

      I’ll look into this. It seems a little odd given some of our salty comments. 🙂 Bear with me.

    19. Delaware Dem says:

      Johnny, re your comment #14, I saw that it was in our moderation queue, and seeing no reason for it being there, I released it. I didn’t edit it and I don’t know who did. Whomever did was wrong, since we all use “fuck” on a daily basis. Me, Jason, Donviti, etc.

      Indeed, I am willing to re-edit the comment to include the “offending” cuss word.

    20. What happened?

      For some reason, JohnnyX’s content got caught in moderation. I approved the comment, but I didn’t alter it. Perhaps there’s some software thing going on?

    21. It is certainly true that medical advice should be evaluated with consideration for its risks and benefits. That also applies to the statement above about long-term hormone therapy and the increased risk to women who to take it to cope with hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. Several years ago the Women’s Health Initiative revealed risks associated with hormone replacement therapy. As a result many women abruptly stopped using HRT. But more recent research, (New England Journal of Medicine “Coronary Artery Calcium Study,” June 20, 2007) should also be considered. Younger menopausal women (aged 50-59) who received a standard dose of estrogen therapy had significantly less coronary artery calcification compared with those taking placebo. These findings are consistent with a RE-ANALYSIS of the Women’s Health Initiative Study published April 4, 2007 in the Journal of the American Medical Association; it found no apparent increase in coronary heart disease for women who initiated hormone therapy within ten years of menopause, and a statistically significant reduction in total mortality among women 50-59 receiving hormone therapy compared to the placebo group. Incidentally bio-identical hormones are NOT unregulated. For example, Elestrin, a low-dose of estradiol for the treatment of hot flashes was approved b y the FDA in December 2006.