The wiz­ardry of Oz

More wine; fewer low-fat foods; plenty of sex. dr Oz is a heart sur­geon whose no-non­sense ad­vice has made him amer­ica’s favourite med­i­cal guru.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - HEALTH - By CELIA WALDEN

ICAN’T think of a sin­gle thing that’s more like heart surgery than host­ing a ma­jor tele­vi­sion show,” says the man in navy scrubs sit­ting op­po­site me. As he is the only per­son I’m likely to en­counter who has done both, I take his word for it. Meet Dr Mehmet Oz, “Amer­ica’s Doc­tor”: the man four mil­lion Amer­i­cans in­vite into their homes daily to be told the un­blush­ing truth about ev­ery­thing from obe­sity and skin can­cer to hal­i­to­sis, pu­bic hair loss – and the cor­rect way to pop a pim­ple.

“An op­er­at­ing theatre is like a stage in so many ways,” Dr Oz goes on, en­thused by his own anal­ogy. “You have a team around you who are much bet­ter at what they do than you are – whether it’s anaes­the­si­ol­o­gists, scrub tech­ni­cians, and heart and lung tech­ni­cians, in the OR or au­dio and light­ing di­rec­tors on set – and you’re the glue that holds ev­ery­thing to­gether.

“Plus the best sur­geons, like the best TV pre­sen­ters, are not peo­ple who don’t make mis­takes, but peo­ple who know how to make the best of mis­takes. Crazi­ness hap­pens,” he shrugs, “but that’s where the magic is.”

TV magic

From his first ap­pear­ance on the Oprah Win­frey Show in 2004 (it was Win­frey who dis­cov­ered the Cleve­land-born doc­tor when she made him a reg­u­lar on her show), 51year-old Dr Oz demon­strated the eerie ab­sence of in­hi­bi­tion and con­sum­mate self­be­lief that per­son­i­fies “TV magic”.

“When he made it OK to talk about the shape of a good poop, I knew he could talk about any­thing,” says Win­frey, re­fer­ring to the time Dr Oz told an au­di­ence that the prod­uct of a stel­lar gas­troin­testi­nal sys­tem should be S-shaped and hit the water like an Olympic diver, with­out much splash. “He al­ways found ways to make the hu­man body end­lessly fas­ci­nat­ing.”

Out in the United States, where health is the new re­li­gion and tele­vi­sion doc­tors have taken over from chefs and celebrity hair­dressers, he is un­avoid­able. Dr Oz has his own TV pro­gramme, The Dr Oz Show; his own daily ra­dio show (on Win­frey’s satel­lite sta­tion, Oprah Ra­dio); and his own se­ries of best­selling books (there are nine mil­lion copies of his “You” se­ries in print, from You: The Smart Pa­tient to You: On a Diet to You: Hav­ing a Baby). In fact, with the TV show aired in 112 coun­tries, one of the only places Oz isn’t found is Bri­tain. Some­thing he’s vowed to change in 2012.

Dr Oz ad­mits that very lit­tle now has the ca­pac­ity to shock him. “I’ve seen dead bow­els, necrotic limbs and mag­gots eat­ing dead feet, and the first time you see all that, it stretches your brain, but I can­not imag­ine a field bet­ter de­signed for me. Medicine grounds me, it cen­tres me, that’s why I con­tinue to do it.”

There is some­thing of the zealot in his close-talk­ing man­ner, but as the son of a Turk­ish emi­gre heart sur­geon, a prac­tis­ing one him­self for 26 years and the cur­rent Pro­fes­sor of Surgery at Columbia Univer­sity, Dr Oz is no fraud.

“I was a very poor TV host when I started,” he as­sures me. “I had two strikes against me: I’m a guy and I’m a sur­geon – and nei­ther of those are known for be­ing good lis­ten­ers. Luck­ily for me, I was able to at­tend ‘ Oprah Univer­sity’ and she taught me ev­ery­thing I know.”

It helped, he agrees, to have the con­fi­dence nec­es­sary in both pro­fes­sions, but my use of the term “God com­plex” prompts a frown. “As a sur­geon, you have to have a con­trolled ar­ro­gance. If it’s un­con­trolled, you kill peo­ple, but you have to be pretty ar­ro­gant to saw through a per­son’s chest, take out their heart and be­lieve you can fix it. Then, when you suc­ceed and the pa­tient survives, you pray, be­cause it’s only by the grace of God that you get there.”

From a sur­geon, the ter­mi­nol­ogy is sur­pris­ing – does he be­lieve in God? “Oh yes,” he nods. “I think it would be dif­fi­cult to be a sur­geon and not wres­tle with that is­sue daily.” There’s a spir­i­tual lilt to Dr Oz’s dis­course, a ro­man­ti­cism in how he de­scribes the hu­man body, that goes a long way to ex­plain his suc­cess. When we switch on ER or Grey’s Anatomy, it’s to gorge on vis­cera through splayed fin­gers – but it’s also be­cause we thrive on the sen­ti­men­tal­ity bound up in life and death sce­nar­ios.

Dr Oz isn’t a dry physi­cian telling Amer­ica off, he’s an emo­tive op­ti­mist who ad­mits to cry­ing over pa­tients (“though never in public”) and claims to have seen the hu­man soul.

“There’s a rea­son po­ets talk about the heart,” he says. “There’s a place right in the mid­dle of it where all the cham­bers touch and the electricity passes through.

“The first time you touch it, it’s like stroking a python, but soon, you re­alise that if you ca­jole it and nudge it in the right di­rec­tion, it won’t sting – it’ll do great things. It’s the same with the peo­ple on my show: if you squeeze them, they’ll strike out at you, but if you can find a way of get­ting them to do what you want in a gen­tler way, they’ll let you.”

Weight mat­ters

Ask Dr Oz what the three big­gest health prob­lems to af­fect both the US and Bri­tain are to­day, and he doesn’t have to think about it for a sec­ond. “The first is obe­sity – with­out ques­tion. It’s re­spon­si­ble for most of the hy­per­ten­sion, di­a­betes, heart and choles­terol prob­lems both coun­tries suf­fer from. And you guys have a par­tic­u­larly big prob­lem with it in Scot­land, where you have some of the high­est heart at­tack rates in the world.”

Dr Oz is sur­pris­ingly Mediter­ranean in his nu­tri­tional ad­vice. “There are a lot of food Nazis in the US, but I be­lieve if you can show peo­ple what’s re­ally im­por­tant, they’ll judge the rest for them­selves.” It’s OK to eat eggs, whole milk (“skimmed milk ac­tu­ally makes you put on weight be­cause once you’ve taken the fat out, all that’s left is car­bo­hy­drate”), salt, fat, nuts, red wine, choco­late and cof­fee – so long as we don’t overindulge – but it’s “low-fat”, “low-carb” and “low-sugar” foods that are the en­emy.

“All those la­bels are lies, be­cause some­one has adul­ter­ated real food, which means that peo­ple have to add all sorts of non­sense to make it taste like real food. There is only one rule in life: if it comes out of the ground look­ing the way it looks when you eat it, it’s good for you.”

It’s our de­sire to live cheap, ef­fi­cient lives that has got us into this black hole, he in­sists. “Food is no longer sa­cred to us: in be­com­ing too ef­fi­cient, we’ve changed its na­ture.”

A good ex­am­ple of this are trans-fats. “They pre­serve shelf life but they re­duce hu­man life – that’s the trade-off. In France, a peach will last two days at the most. Here, it lasts two weeks and milk never goes off. How is that pos­si­ble?”

Get phys­i­cal

Our sec­ond big­gest health prob­lem, he says, is phys­i­cal frailty. “If you go to places like Sar­dinia, Costa Rica or Ok­i­nawa, they have dif­fer­ent foods and so­cial struc­tures, but one com­mon char­ac­ter­is­tic: daily, rig­or­ous ac­tiv­ity. At least three-quar­ters of us live seden­tary lives, so even if you got rid of all of the can­cer in the US or Bri­tain, we’d prob­a­bly only live two-and-a-half years longer. What kills us is that we’re frail and then we get can­cer.”

Sexy ad­vice

It’s Dr Oz’s third choice that’s the most un­ex­pected: “Lack of in­ti­macy,” he says. “Hav­ing sex is one of the best ways we have these days of revving our en­gines – it keeps us healthy and helps us live longer.

“Just go­ing from once to twice a week can in­crease our life ex­pectancy by three years, but if we’re not hav­ing enough sex, it means that the blood ves­sels lead­ing to the pe­nis and the cli­toris are not work­ing prop­erly any more. And that means they’re not work­ing to your kid­neys or your brain ei­ther.”

He men­tions a re­cent poll that showed 90% of Amer­i­can women weren’t happy with their sex lives. “We all need to think twice about the role of in­ti­macy in our lives and force our-our­selves to have sex with our hus­bands or wives tonight.”

Force our­selves? “Yes,” he main­tains,main­tains, “be­cause it’s im­por­tant for your health and your re­la­tion­ship. Want to know how many calo­ries you burn when you have sex?” he asks sud­denly.

Anx­ious to be told that it’s six Krispy Kreme’s worth, I nod. “Twenty-three,” he says, burst­ing out laugh­ing. “So although it’s not how you get into the shape you want to be in in life, it will make a huge dif­fer­ence to your over­all health.”

Dr Oz’s life sounds as un­can­nily stream­lined as his physique. Mar­ried for 26 years to Lisa, the fa­ther of four gets up at 5.45 ev­ery morn­ing and does a seven-minute work­out (“ba­si­cally sun sa­lu­ta­tions – up-dog, down-dogs and push-ups”) be­fore head­ing to the of­fice with a flask of the “green drink” he takes ev­ery­where with him (“gin­ger, ap­ple, cel­ery, spinach, let­tuce and beet­root”).

When his last pa­tient leaves, he’s look­ing for­ward to get­ting back to his fam­ily and his com­pul­sive-eat­ing black “flabrador” Rosie in New Jer­sey. But, be­fore that, there are likely to be more poignant scenes.

“For many pa­tients, we can’t fix the pain,” he says, “but we can fix the suf­fer­ing. Be­cause a lot of suf­fer­ing is about lack of hope – and about fear. That’s a deep abyss right there.” And not one Dr Oz can ever imag­ine fall­ing into. “I and ev­ery­one who reads this in­ter­view should share the same in­tent: to live to the age of 100, but only with the vi­tal­ity we de­sire.”

Be­sides which, he’s not afraid of death. “I’ve seen so much of it,” he smiles, “even in hor­rific cir­cum­stances, it can be peace­ful. When you see some­one take their last breath and their eyes close, which they usu­ally do, there is some­thing very serene about that mo­ment.” – © The Daily Tele­graph UK 2012

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