Want Medical Advice? Don’t Rely on TV Docs, Experts Say

by Chris Curley on July 17, 2012

Paging Dr. Oz! Or not.

Despite their ubiquity and an advanced degree, celebrity doctors on television are sometimes not the best sources of medical advice, the Los Angeles Times reported July 14.

For instance, “just because someone’s on TV, just because they’re wearing scrubs, doesn’t mean they’re an expert on nutrition,” says Steven Woloshin, M.D., professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. And even qualified doctors may end up speaking about issues well beyond the scope of their given practice — cardiothoracic surgeon Mehmet Oz, M.D., (TV’s “Dr. Oz”)  raising an alarm about arsenic in apple juice, for instance.

TV doctors often make dubious claims that stretch actual scientific findings because of the limitations of the television format, or perhaps (more cynically) because it’s good entertainment. For example, Steven Lamm, M.D., on an April episode of “The View,” recommended daily probiotic use despite no conclusive scientific evidence that this is helpful.

On “The Talk,” ‘celebrity nutritionist’ Cynthia Pasquella recommended apple-cider vinegar use for weight loss, calling the vinegar “very alkalizing.” Apple-cider vinegar is actually the opposite of alkalizing — it’s acidic — and there isn’t a single peer-reviewed study supporting its use for weight loss, notes Christine Tenekjian, a dietitian at the Duke University Diet and Fitness Center.

The bottom line is that while TV shows can get you thinking more about your health, you should check with your own doctor rather than trying to diagnose yourself based on what you saw on television. ”We have people who come in with all sorts of misconceptions that they heard on TV,” Tenekjian says. “They cling to it as gospel.”

(Photo © Nayrb7 via Flickr)