Scientists Retract Research On Dr. Oz-Endorsed Weight Loss Pill

The justified attack on Green Coffee Extract

Mehmet Oz

Screenshot from doctoroz.com

The scientists who published sham research on a useless weight loss supplement once called a "miracle pill" on the Dr. Oz Show have retracted their study.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of the daytime medical show, is an Ivy League-trained heart surgeon who rocketed to fame through the endorsement of Oprah Winfrey. Oz is considered one of the most influential celebrities in America, according to Forbes, and he uses his television show as a platform to promote supposedly healthy products to his fans. But he has come under fire recently for his habit of endorsing weight loss pseudo-drugs with no actual benefits. Plus, many of these drugs may encourage users to give up exercise.

The retracted study purported to validate the sale of Green Coffee Extract, which was once the subject of an entire episode of Oz's show. A federal agency called the research "hopelessly flawed." The retraction followed a $3.5 million Federal Trade Commission (FTC) settlement with Applied Food Sciences (AFS), a Texas company that hawked the phony pills. An FTC press release summed up the damning charges against the company and researchers:

AFS paid researchers in India to conduct a clinical trial on overweight adults to test whether Green Coffee Antioxidant (GCA), a dietary supplement containing green coffee extract, reduced body weight and body fat. The FTC charges that the study’s lead investigator repeatedly altered the weights and other key measurements of the subjects, changed the length of the trial, and misstated which subjects were taking the placebo or GCA during the trial. When the lead investigator was unable to get the study published, the FTC says that AFS hired researchers Joe Vinson and Bryan Burnham at the University of Scranton to rewrite it. Despite receiving conflicting data, Vinson, Burnham, and AFS never verified the authenticity of the information used in the study, according to the complaint. Despite the study’s flaws, AFS used it to falsely claim that GCA caused consumers to lose 17.7 pounds, 10.5 percent of body weight, and 16 percent of body fat with or without diet and exercise, in 22 weeks, the complaint alleges.

The Dr. Oz Show has since removed nearly any hint of support for Green Coffee Extract from its website, including the full episode devoted to its benefits and Oz's own study of its effects. But a Washington Post report details what was said:

"You may think magic is make believe, but this little bean has scientists saying they found a magic weight loss cure for every body type," Oz exclaimed in the Green Coffee Extract episode of his show. "This miracle pill can burn fat fast for anyone who wants to lose weight. This is very exciting and it's breaking news." Oz touted the "staggering newly released study" that showed participants lost an "astounding" amount of fat and weight … by doing absolutely nothing except taking the supplement.

Now, all that remains of those wild claims in the online land of Oz is a short statement that comes up in search -- but appears nowhere on the home page. (Also not found on his home page: his congressional testimony on weight loss fraud.)

In prior seasons, we covered Green Coffee Extract and its potential as a useful tool for weight loss. Recently the authors of the peer reviewed research paper on which our coverage had been partially based formally retracted their study. While this sometimes happens in scientific research, it indicates that further study is needed regarding any potential benefits of Green Coffee Extract.

The implication, as Abby Phillips notes at the Post, is that this is just another example of science taking a wrong turn and then righting itself. But serious scientists rigorously double-check their own work, and correct themselves when they get it wrong.

Oz has the prestigious background to tell good science from quackery. Hopefuly his program will take advantage of that asset in the future.