We all have bad days.

Sometimes "bad" is a woefully insufficient adjective. Ask Dr. Mehmet Oz (henceforth known as The Lizard of Oz). He had a really bad day this week, courtesy of Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO). 

She is not someone you want as an enemy. She tricked The Lizard into testifying before  the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

He thought he was going to be the expert witness talking about bogus diet claims. But it turned out that he was the target of Senator McCaskill's investigation—not the expert witness. Oops.

It didn't take him long to figure this out, but when you're testifying (and it's televised) in front of a Congressional Committee it is probably not the best time to try and figure things out. So he just used intellectual duck and cover for as long as he could. 

One can only wonder what must have been going through his mind, but here are a few possibilities:

"Perhaps this wasn't the best idea I've ever had."
"Oprah?.... Oh, Oprah?"
A word that begins with F.

Senator McCaskill, who has been involved in a variety of health care issues, including veteran's benefits, pre-existing condition limits on health insurance, and healthy diets, had clearly done her homework.

It was a pretty easy assignment, since much of it involved simply reading Oz's own public statements on various magic diet aids, and watching him squirm as he tried to find some way out of this mess. But there wasn't anything he could do.

Even Jack Bauer couldn't help Oz escape this.

McCaskill was not done: “I’m surprised you’re defending this. It’s something that gives people false hope. I don’t see why you need to go there.”

Never one to be deterred by facts, Oz later said that he was “pleased” with the hearing.

I guess General Custer was pleased with Little Big Horn too.

I thought it  might be interesting to take a look at the doctor's favorite supplement—raspberry ketone. It sounds so yummy! And makes you lose weight, too. What can this magical substance be?

Who could possibly conjure up an image other than a field full of golden-haired young women with butterflies in their hair carefully squeezing the precious nectar from sun-drenched, plump crimson-colored berries?

This is somewhat inaccurate. First of all, let's call it by its real name: 4-(4-Hydroxyphenyl)butan-2-one. This doesn't sound as yummy. And if you think the ketone is coming from raspberries, I'm sorry to burst your berry. A raspberry contains about 0.008 mg of the stuff (0.00000028 ounces).

A perusal of the Internet suggests that one capsule contains 250 mg. If I've done the math correctly (a rare, but not impossible event), this means that you would need 31 thousand raspberries to make a pill. Those golden-haired gals better get moving.

Or, you could condense para-hydroxybenzaldehyde with acetone in the presence of sodium hydroxide and to form (3E)-4-(4-Hydroxyphenyl)-3-buten-2-one, followed by catalytic hydrogenation using palladium on carbon. This will get you there a whole lot faster, and even a whole lot more cheaper. 

And guess what? The chemical that is the product of synthesis I just mentioned is exactly what is in the supplement bottle. Natural? 

Even funnier is that the chemical bears more than a passing resemblance to ethyl paraben, a chemical (and a completely harmless one, at that) that consumer and environmental groups have been screaming about for years. Why? Because they call it an endocrine disruptor, which supposedly binds at estrogen receptors, and exerts a variety of effects on sexual development, like making six penises grow out of your forehead.

Why is this? It's because ethyl paraben is a phenol, just like an estrogen. The Environmental Working Group—and if there is a worse group of scientists around, I haven't met them—says the following: Ethylparaben is in the paraben family of preservatives used by the food, pharmaceutical, and personal care product industries. Parabens mimic estrogen and can act as potential hormone (endocrine) system disruptors.

Does this mean that raspberry ketone does the same thing? Who knows? But a medicinal chemist would take a look at both chemicals and say "Hmmm. It sure wouldn't surprise me." (I wish I had relative binding data of the two to estrogen receptors, but if it exists, I can't find it.)

This estrogen nonsense, by the way, is the same knock on the plastic component bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical so "scary" that knuckleheads like Nick Kristof refuse to touch cash register receipts because they contain traces of the chemical. (It has been found to be perfectly safe by numerous agencies, including the FDA.)

So, I need my beauty sleep (badly), so let's sum up:

  • The Lizard of Oz walks into a Congressional hearing, thinking he's gonna clean up this diet fraud mess.
  • He finds out that he is the fraud mess, courtesy of Sen. McCaskill and colleagues
  • They then proceed to open up a 16 ounce can of Whup-ass on him.
  • This displeases him.
  • He is asked how he can possibly back this junk up.
  • He has no answer, but after looking like he went 15 with Joe Frazier, he comes out and says he is pleased.
  • His mega-selling raspberry ketone does not come from raspberries, rather, synthetic chemicals.
  • People are buying and swallowing huge amounts of the stuff in the false hope that they will lose weight, even though it is not approved for that, or anything else. 
  • If you believe that phenols bind to estrogen receptors and then do something or other, then it is reasonable to predict that raspberry ketone will do this as well.
  • People are wearing hazmat suits and using barbecue tongs to touch cash register receipts, but are swallowing grams of an unapproved drug that does not come from raspberries, and looks a whole lot like something that an environmental group thinks will make penises grow out of your head.
It's times like this when I'm sure glad I became a scientist.