Time to change the channel: The problem with medical advice on TV

I always cringe when a patient starts a sentence with “I heard on TV…” It’s not so much the topic I worry about. In fact, you come across a lot of interesting things while channel surfing. But the problem is, nine times out of 10 (and that’s a generous estimate) you simply don’t get the whole story from TV. Especially when it comes to health information presented by those well-known celebrity medical “experts.”

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that there’s no doctor on mainstream TV who is qualified to give you the information about health and nutrition that I can give you.

Let me clue you in on how these “doctors” (who shall remain nameless) get their information. Do you think they’re out there like me reading the journals, scanning the Internet for the latest research into the world of health and nutrition, or even seeing patients? NO! (But I AM doing all of this…and much more.)

They have a team of producers who look at things on the Internet and then decide, “Oh, this will make for an interesting segment with lots of splashy graphics!” They then whip up a 7-minute segment. And just before it gets filmed, a production assistant hands the TV doctor a few index cards outlining the content. The doctor flips through the cards during a commercial break, and voila! He’s an “instant expert” on the subject.

Yes, that is how it works. I know, because I’ve been on TV many times being interviewed for one thing or another. And the scenario I just described played out time and time again. The host interviewing me flipped through a stack of notecards and stashed them out of sight just as the camera started rolling. With just enough background “knowledge” to ask me a few basic questions. And this just doesn’t happen on the shows hosted by doctors. It happens on every major network show. I should know…I have been on just about all of them.

But the fact is, television is filled with doctors whose faces have become familiar fixtures in American homes. Which is why I do my best to stay up-to-date on what these folks are saying (and mis-saying). So I can have a better conversation with my patients about these topics—and give you the details you won’t get on TV.

Fortunately, my patients are well aware that I know more than these guys. But far too many Americans don’t realize these celebrity doctors aren’t the “experts” they play on TV. And, unfortunately, their doctors don’t bother doing any of the legwork it takes to set the record straight.

Doctors SHOULD make it a priority to learn about the topics their patients are seeing on TV.  But they don’t. Why? Well, let me just share this quote from Robyn Liu, MD, Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, which sums up most REAL doctors’ thoughts on advice doled out by TV medical “experts.”

Dr. Liu says, “At least once a day, a patient will reference something they saw on TV.  And I cannot think of an instance where a patient came to me with information from a TV show that was beneficial to them.”

I don’t know if I’d go quite that far. Some of the things you see on TV are relevant. And if a patient is curious about it, it should matter to his or her doctor.

What I take issue with is that the so-called “experts” presenting the information on TV don’t actually know anything about it. The extent of their “knowledge” lies in those little notecards they flipped through prior to their 7-minute segment.

I live and breathe these discoveries. I’m poring over the journals and finding out everything I can so that my patients—and you—have the WHOLE story.

That way, my patients don’t have to look to television for the health information they need. Because I’m providing it to them, spending time with them, and learning what’s on their minds.

The bottom line here? Don’t look to the flashy TV medical shows for expert information. Instead, focus on building a solid, trusting relationship with your doctor. And if you don’t have one who you feel comfortable asking questions or discussing a certain topic, well, then it’s time to find a new one.

I always recommend searching for a physician who is well versed in both natural and allopathic (traditional mainstream) therapies. (If you need help finding one, try the search function on the American College for Advancement in Medicine’s website, www.acam.org.) They tend to be aware of the new research and treat patients as individuals, instead of simply relying on established, one-size-fits-all protocols.

That way you can be sure you’re getting the best of both worlds.

The enemy you touch every day

A little while back, I wrote a Reality Health Check about phthalates: harmful everyday chemicals that, added up over time, can take a disastrous toll on your health.   I cited one study in particular that showed increased exposure to phthalates resulted in lower testosterone in both sexes and a variety of age groups. And, as I mentioned yesterday, low testosterone can be responsible for everything from low sex drive and fatigue, to impaired cognitive and cardiovascular function.  What makes phthalates especially scary is that you encounter them every day.

But these aren’t the only dangerous chemicals you come into contact with on a daily basis. There’s another type of environmental toxin that’s just as bad. I’m talking about bisphenol A (more commonly known as BPA).

If BPA sounds familiar, it’s probably because this toxin has been in the news quite a bit over the years. I’ve written about it here in the Reality Health Check and in my Logical Health Alternatives newsletter numerous times. But it’s a subject that bears repeating. Because one of the most disturbing things about BPA is that it lurks in some unexpected places.

Most people think of plastic bottles when they think of BPA. But a new study revealed there’s an even more common source: receipts.

Store and ATM receipts use large amounts of BPA on the paper’s surface as a print developer. And while I’ve mentioned before that these little slips of paper aren’t as harmless as they seem, this study highlights just how dangerous they really are.  Especially in combination with some other common products that just about everyone has on hand—literally.

Researchers found a rapid increase in blood levels of BPA when subjects touched a store receipt after using skin care products. Hand sanitizers, hand creams, soaps, and sunscreen all dramatically increased how quickly BPA was absorbed through skin.

As an added step, subjects who had handled the receipts then ate using their hands. And, again, researchers observed that BPA was absorbed very rapidly. As one of the study authors noted: “Our research found that large amounts of BPA can be transferred to your hands and then to the food you hold and eat as well as be absorbed through your skin.”

That’s incredibly scary—especially in light of the fact that BPA has been proven to cause reproductive defects in infants, children and adults. Not to mention cancer, metabolic and immune problems in rodents. The study’s author also noted that with the high levels of BPA absorbed from receipts “many diseases such as diabetes and disorders such as obesity increase as well.”

So next time a cashier asks if you want your receipt, just say “no. And while you shouldn’t stop washing your hands (with regular soap and water), it is a good idea to cut back on the use of lotions, creams, and hand sanitizers.


“The Maddening Way That TV Docs Affect Your Practice,” MedScape, 9/18/14

“Thermal paper cash register receipts account for high bisphenol A (BPA) levels in humans.” ScienceDaily, 10/22/14

Holding Thermal Receipt Paper and Eating Food after Using Hand Sanitizer Results in High Serum Bioactive and Urine Total Levels of Bisphenol A (BPA).” PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (10): e110509