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:
“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.”
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.