Dr. Oz — Way Off On Fish Facts (III)
Imagine this; you hear your doctor dispensing questionable advice that you know contradicts the latest science and demonstrably confuses two distinctly different topics. So, you call him on it.
What does he do?
He excuses himself from the exam room and sends in his lawyer to tell you everything is oaky and that his recommendations have been thoroughly researched by a phantom staff of “research professionals.”
That wouldn’t give you a great deal of confidence in your doctor, would it? Well, that’s essentially what physician turned Oprah-wannabe, talking-head doc Dr. Mehmet Oz has done.
Have a look at his lawyer’s response to our concerns and our letter back:
National Fisheries Institute February 2, 2010
Dear Mr. Gibbons:
Thank you for your interest in “The Dr. Oz Show.” We appreciate you sharing your concerns about the subject matter of our show and we always welcome comments from viewers. We are responding to your letter dated January 27, 2010.
Our January 26 th show addressed the issue of methylmercury levels in fish and the potential health hazards that could result from this contaminant. As with all episodes of “The Dr. Oz Show” our team of researchers consisting of health care professionals worked with producers to research all available scientific evidence around this subject. While we welcome the discussion and always want to hear opinions, it’s the position of our producers that we presented accurate facts based on the existing body of knowledge regarding safe mercury levels in fish. We also feel that we structured the show in such a way that was helpful and useful to our audience.
It is important to consider the January 26th show in the greater context of Dr. Oz’s overall position on fish consumption – which is that fish is a necessary part of a healthy diet and a vital source of Omega 3’s. Dr. Oz recommends eating fish in virtually every nutrition discussion on his show, in news interviews, on his radio show and in his books. Simply put, there is no greater advocate for including fish in your diet than Dr. Oz. But to make such a consistently strong recommendation without addressing a health risk factor such as methylmercury would be irresponsible to our audience.
Dr. Oz will continue recommending fish as part of an overall healthy diet and the show may address methylmercury at some point in future episodes. To answer the central question posed in your letter, we believe “The Dr. Oz Show” neither overstated the risk of methylmercury in fish nor engaged in any scaremongering. Rather, we always strive to present our audience with the latest, research-verified information and let them make their own decisions regarding their personal health. We can assure you that as our research team becomes aware of additional research or information we will take it into consideration for future episodes.
Thank you again for your letter.
C. Denise Beaudoin
Legal Counsel for “The Dr. Oz Show”
Our letter back:
February 5, 2010
C. Denise Beaudoin
ZoCo Productions, LLC
Dear Ms. Beaudoin,
Thank you for your February 2nd letter regarding scientific inaccuracies in a segment about mercury and fish on the January 26th edition of “The Dr. Oz Show.” While I was pleased to hear back from you, I was surprised the response came from a lawyer rather than a health professional or one of the “team of researchers” you reference in your response.
This is not a case of industry disagreeing with television celebrity. This is a case of the latest independent, peer-reviewed science not being reflected in a physician’s recommendations. We demand Dr. Oz address the scientific errors in the report and correct them on air and on the Web immediately.
Dr. Oz clearly contradicted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) advice about eating seafood when he said mercury in seafood is a concern for not only pregnant women and children, but “all of us.” As we noted earlier, the FDA advice clearly states, “for most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern.”
Dr. Oz also ignored the fact that the CDC study he cites actually says “finding a measureable amount of mercury in blood or urine does not mean that levels of mercury cause an adverse effect.” These types of omissions in and of themselves raise Dr. Oz’s presentation to the level of the very “scaremongering” you decry. Unfortunately those were not his only failures which, through your letter, the show has refused to directly address.
Dr. Oz’s explanation of why mercury is found in commercial seafood was incorrect. A recent FDA draft report on commercial fish and two California court rulings found virtually all the trace amounts of methylmercury present in ocean fish were “naturally occurring.” This is in stark contrast to freshwater fish that are regularly contaminated by man-made processes. Were Dr. Oz and his researchers unaware of this distinction?
- Dr. Oz overtly confuses commercial fish and recreational fish. When discussing a report that shows almost all “freshwater” fish found in the U.S. have some mercury in them he fails to explain that the study he referenced did not test the seafood available in restaurants and grocery stores. While this is a common error made by the press, an individual giving nutrition advice ought to be more careful. To clear up confusion on this point, researchers at UC Davis released a statement called, “Mercury in Commercial and Sport-caught Fish: Apples and Oranges,” which concludes “The information presented in the study relates to fish that are typically recreationally caught. Commercially caught and sold fish (includes finfish, shellfish and mollusks) is safe and beneficial to consume.” Were Dr. Oz and his researchers unaware that the study they were discussing was unrelated to fish primarily consumed in the U.S.?
- You note that Dr. Oz’s team “researched all available scientific evidence around this subject.” But there is not a single mention or reflection of the findings of the following landmark studies, which look at the net effect (nutrients and mercury) of eating fish:
- “Fish Intake, Contaminants, and Human Health” concluded in the Journal of the American Medical Association that “avoidance of modest fish consumption due to confusion regarding risks and benefits could result in thousands of excess coronary heart disease deaths annually and suboptimal neurodevelopment in children.”
- “Nutrient and Methyl Mercury Exposure from Consuming Fish” concluded in the Journal of Nutrition that, among people in the Seychelles Islands who eat 12 fish meals a week, “the beneficial influence of nutrients from fish may counter any adverse effects of MeHg on the developing nervous system.”
- “Maternal seafood consumption in pregnancy and neurodevelopmental outcomes in childhood (ALSPAC study): an observational cohort study” concluded in the Lancet that “advice to limit seafood consumption could actually be detrimental. These results show that risks from the loss of nutrients were greater than the risks of harm from exposure to trace contaminants in 340 g [12 ounces] seafood eaten weekly.”
- “Associations of maternal fish intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding duration with attainment of developmental milestones in early childhood: a study from the Danish National Birth Cohort“ concluded in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that “similar to data from other prospective cohort studies, the results from the present study do not show any overall detrimental effect of prenatal fish intake on developmental milestones, but, rather, they show that higher maternal fish intake is associated with better early development.”
- “The Preventable Causes of Death in the United States: Comparative Risk Assessment of Dietary, Lifestyle, and Metabolic Risk Factors” concluded in the Public Library of Science that an estimated 84,000 preventable deaths a year are attributable to low omega-3/seafood intake.
With just these examples alone it is clear that Dr. Oz’s team did not “present accurate facts based on the existing body of knowledge.”
The National Fisheries Institute does not simply disagree with what Dr. Oz said or how he presented it. Dr. Oz’s guidance is at odds with the latest, independent, peer-reviewed science on fish and nutrition. We respectfully request that ZoCo Productions work to produce another more balanced and scientifically accurate episode on what happens when people eat fish as a whole food.
I noticed in your letter you ignored our concerns about Dr. Jane Hightower and her clear ties to environmental activists. Dr. Hightower’s term “fish fog” is not an actual diagnosis and is simply unsupported by any shred of peer-reviewed science.
While we would be more than happy to offer our own in-house nutrition expert, Jennifer McGuire, MS, RD, as a guest for your show to accurately articulate current seafood recommendations and how people can eat more fish, might we suggest that you consider inviting one of the country’s preeminent independent scientists on this issue? Resources like Dr. Joshua Cohen, PhD from the Tufts New England Medical Center; Dr. Nicholas Ralston, PhDfrom University of North Dakota Energy and Environmental Research Center; Dr. Joseph Hibbeln, MD from the National Institute of Health; Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, MD from Harvard School of Public Health; Dr. Eric Rimm, D.Sc. from
Harvard School of Public Health and Dr. Gary Myers, M.D. from University of Rochester Medical Center could all offer an unbiased review of the latest science. And with your medium in mind, these doctors are not only preeminent in their field, but are very comfortable turning lab-talk into common sense.
The National Fisheries Institute does not make unique claims about the health effects of eating fish; the science speaks for itself. But when obscured by agendas and misinformation, we must insist the record be corrected.
Thank you for your continued dialogue on this issue.
National Fisheries Institute
cc Laurie Rich c/o Jackie Barth
ZoCo Productions, LLC