February 4, 2013

Another Candidate for Supplement Huckster of 2012 Award: Dr. Oz and His Green Coffee Beans



Last year, I wrote several posts about the unsubstantiated claims for coconut oil as a miracle treatment for Alzheimer's which Pat Robertson aired on his Christian Broadcast Network. (For the most recent post, see http://bit.ly/UKKbsa.) The hype created a coconut oil craze, and sales of the product skyrocketed.

Another super-hyped product in 2012 was green coffee bean extract for weight loss. As you can see from the video clip above, this hype originated with another popular TV huckster, Dr. Oz.

The Study that Dr. Oz Touts
As Oz says in this clip, the claims for green coffee bean extract are based on a study published in the Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity journal. One problem with the study: it involved only eight men and eight women.

Each participant received a high dose and a low dose of green coffee bean extract, as well as a placebo, in three separate six-week experiments.

According to Dr. Oz, participants lost an average of 17 pounds after five months. They were directed not to change their eating or exercise habits.

Dr. Oz's Own Experiment
The initial report by Dr. Oz (shown above) appeared on his show in May, 2012. After this show, sales of green coffee bean diet products took off. In September, Dr. Oz aired another show, in which he conducted what he called his largest study project ever.

Using one of of his audiences of about 100 people, Oz gave half of them green coffee bean extract; the others received a placebo. After two weeks, the weight loss for the entire audience was 123 pounds. Those taking the green coffee bean extract accounted for 82 of those pounds (67% of the weight loss by 50% of the participants). People taking the extract each lost about two pounds.
                
The Problems with the Original Study
Although that first, smaller study has been widely cited as proof that coffee bean extract works, nutrition and obesity experts have doubts. Here are some of the problems:
  • The study had an odd, unconventional design and involved only 16 people.
  • Study participants lost weight during both the placebo phase and the green coffee been extract phase. Participants may have felt encouraged to slim down because their weight and diet were being monitored.
  • The claim made by the study's proponents, including Dr. Oz, that people can lose significant weight without altering caloric intake or physical activity is simply not possible. 
"Usually when studies break the physical laws of the universe, there's usually something wrong with the study itself," said Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute in Ottawa, Canada, who writes a popular blog on nutrition issues.

Doubts about the Study's Author
Joe Vinson, a professor of chemistry at the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania, was the study's lead author. He didn't do any of the research, which was conducted in India. Vinson examined the data and wrote the paper. 

Vinson notes that the green bean extract used in the study was supplied by Applied Food Sciences, Inc., a company based in Texas. He fails to mention the company paid him to write the paper. 

When asked about this potential conflict of interest, Vinson said he doesn't gain financially if the company sells lots of product. He added that the journal didn't require him to disclose the relationship.

Hmmmm. 

Dr. Oz's "Study"
Dr. Oz's study with his audience has the same problems as the original, smaller study: the placebo group lost weight, too. The study occurred during only two weeks. Dr. Oz concedes it wasn't a "classical medical study."

I'd be willing to bet that any group told their weight will be monitored for two weeks and advised to keep a journal of what they eat will end up losing about a pound a week. Recording food intake is a standard recommendation by dietitians to encourage weight loss. 

So Who Gets the Supplement Huckster of 2012 Award?
For my money, it's still Pat Robertson. Dr. Oz is just one in a never-ending series of advocates for new weight loss products. We're used to them, and they usually don't do much damage... except to the pocketbook. (Green coffee bean extract, if taken according to the recommendations, costs about $30 a month.)

But Pat Robertson with his unsubstantiated claims for coconut oil, even suggesting that "the Lord is behind" it, is cruelly peddling false hope to people with Alzheimer's and their caregivers, while making money for himself and his network.

Also, as I'll report tomorrow, Dr. Oz has many redeeming qualities and is actually an interesting guy.

I have trouble feeling anything but revulsion for Pat Robertson. He has denounced Hinduism as "demonic" and Islam as "Satanic," agreed with Jerry Falwell that September 11, 2011 could be attributed to "the pagans, the abortionists, the feminists, and the gays and lesbians." Falwell later apologized for these remarks; Robertson didn't. Robertson also has called for the assassination of Hugo Chavez and has said Ariel Sharon's ill health was an "act of God."

I could go on about Robertson's rants but I won't.
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