Everyone wants a shortcut, particularly when it comes to health. Life is busy, and finding the time in the day to consume a balanced, varied diet and get in some physical activity is a challenge. If we can find a quick solution – a pill or some secret ingredient that we can easily add to our routine - we are quick to believe the solution is real.

This is the little gem of human nature that TV shows like The Dr. Oz Show and The Doctors capitalize on. Really, how many shows can anyone produce that tell you to eat right and exercise? Not too many if you want to keep your audience. So these shows focus on the “quick fix.”

  • Add this every day item to your diet to control your blood pressure.
  • Take this supplement daily and watch your blood sugar stabilize.
  • Take this “miracle” pill and the pounds will fall away.

This approach is evergreen. It guarantees unlimited topics and a willing audience.

But researchers did a little digging into these shows and recently published their findings in the British Medical Journal. According to the researchers:

“Recommendations made on popular medical television talk shows often lack adequate information on specific benefits, magnitude of benefits, and harms, and do not facilitate informed decision making.

Approximately half of the recommendations have either no evidence or are contradicted by the best available evidence. Potential conflicts of interest are rarely addressed.

The public should be skeptical about recommendations made on medical talk shows.”

“But these shows recommend benign supplements and generally healthy food, so where’s the harm in that?” you might ask.

Even if there is no direct negative effect from adopting unfounded recommendations, harm can still be found in a couple of spots.

There is harm to the pocketbook. We can imagine all the ways money could otherwise be spent – on healthier food options, toward a healthcare deductible, or even for an overdue dental cleaning. Money isn’t unlimited. For most of us, spending money on one thing means we won’t be able to spend it on something else.

There is harm in false hope. The truth is that if you are overweight or have health issues, you have to make real change in what you do every day. Not by one magic ingredient, but by habit. If you sit at a desk all day, eat a highly processed diet, sleep poorly and operate under constant stress, a daily serving of kale won’t fix you. But when these shows peddle the magic pill, they play into our collective wish for the miracle that will fix us.

To be clear, doctors give advice that isn’t evidence-based all the time. Common sense advice of the “get plenty of fluids and rest” variety doesn’t have a double-blind placebo controlled study to back it up. Many prescription medications are used “off-label,” meaning the FDA did not approve the medication for that specific use.

The difference is that a private physician gives you this advice in the context of understanding your specific health issues. And he is able to give this advice with broader counseling about the evidence, or lack thereof.

The TV docs are different. They don’t have your context to work from. If the doctors on these shows really wanted to help people build a healthy life, they would focus on the fact that a new you requires new habits. Then they would provide evidence-based support for people who really want to change.

So what’s my recommendation? Based on this evidence, it’s best to treat televised medical shows as entertainment. If you want to try one of their suggestions, discuss it with a doctor in real life or dig into the evidence yourself. Take it upon yourself to determine if there is value in the approach before you jump on the bandwagon with your money and your health.