By Scott Gavura
I thought I’d written my final post on the Dr. Oz-fueled green coffee bean extract (GCBE) diet supplement fad. But now there’s another appalling chapter, one that documents just how much contempt The Dr. Oz Show seems to show for its audience, and how little Dr. Oz seems to care about providing advice based on good science. This week it was revealed that the “naturopath” that Dr. Oz originally featured in his GCBE segment, Lindsey Duncan, didn’t disclose a direct conflict of interest when he spoke. After inaccurately describing the supplement’s effectiveness, he directed consumers, using keywords, to web sites that he owned or operated. The infamous “Dr. Oz Effect” worked, with Duncan selling $50 million in GCBE supplements in the following months and years. This week it was announced that Duncan and his companies have been fined $9 million by the Federal Trade Commission. The documentation released by the FTC[PDF] gives remarkable insight into how a scam to make millions was launched, and how the Dr. Oz Show is a platform for the routine promotion of dubious “experts” and worthless supplements.
The story of GCBE is really the story of Dr. Mehmet Oz, and his eponymous daytime television show. If you’re trying to sell a supplement, yet you don’t have actual scientific evidence to back up your claims, The Dr. Oz Show is your ticket to recognition and sales. No other show on television can top The Dr. Oz Show for the sheer magnitude of bad health advice it consistently offers, all while giving everything a veneer of credibility. Yet, this is a symbiotic relationship. Oz needs products that excite his audience. After all, everything is a “miracle” to Oz (He’s found 16 so far). The story of green coffee bean extract actually began in April, 2012, in a revealing email from the show to Duncan [PDF]:
“We are working on a segment about the weight loss benefits of green coffee bean and I was hoping that Lindsey Duncan might be available to be our expert. Has he studied green coffee bean at all? Would he be able to talk about how it works?” At that time, Duncan had no familiarity with the purported weight-loss benefits of GCBE, nor did Defendants sell GCBE. Nevertheless, within a few hours, a senior member of the Defendants’ public relations team replied: “Awesome! Thanks for reaching out, Dr. Lindsey does have knowledge of the Green Coffee Bean. He loves it!” Later that day, Defendants contacted a manufacturer of GCBE and, on or about the same day, submitted a wholesale order for GCBE raw material.
Note that the topic had already been decided upon before hand-picking the “expert” to profile it. Duncan was known to the producers, having promoted another supplement on the show before. Why Duncan? While he called himself “Dr. Lindsey Duncan”, Duncan has a naturopathy degree from the Clayton College of Natural Health, a school that the State of Texas considers a “fraudulent or substandard degree”, as it’s on a list that Texas maintains called “Institutions Whose Degrees Are Illegal To Use in Texas“. Not only is Duncan’s naturopathic degree shoddy, Texas doesn’t recognize the degree of Naturopathic Doctor at all. Despite this, Duncan lives in Texas and presented himself as “Dr. Lindsay” in the media repeatedly. Aside from the FTC prosecution, Duncan has also been prosecuted by the State of Texas [PDF] for Violations of Texas Education Code and for False, Misleading and Deceptive acts:
In addition to the use of the honorific “Dr.,” Mr. Duncan presents the appearance of a health practitioner, which he has done in television show appearances, media interviews, speaking engagements, and video promotions, by donning lab coats and making references to clinical experience and practice. Mr. Duncan’s acts and practices mislead the public into believing that he is disseminating health advice or knowledge, but such advice or knowledge is based on educational background and training which he does not have and when his underlying motivation is to sell products in which he has a financial interest.
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