Dr. Oz’s Dark History of Promoting Companies He Was Quietly Invested In

·8 min read
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty/Everett Collection
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty/Everett Collection

When Dr. Mehmet Oz sat in front of the camera last year for a promotional video for Walmart, it ostensibly was to inform his fans and viewers how best to improve their immune health.

“You may not realize that a quality probiotic is a proven immunity booster,” Oz said to the camera, before holding up a little green-and-blue package containing a supplement called TruBiotics, which purports to improve health by introducing good bacteria into the gut.

“Two probiotic strains can strengthen your digestive and immune health,” Oz said. “These two complementary strains can be found in TruBiotics.”

It was a characteristic piece of advice from America’s foremost TV doctor, who built a national brand on dispensing surprising—and surprisingly simple—remedies for widespread health concerns. And fittingly, for a doctor whose daily show was a promotional cash cow, the spot was clearly labeled as sponsored by TruBiotics.

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Viewers may have surmised that Oz’s video plugging TruBiotics was, essentially, an ad. What they were not aware of, however, is that Oz was a member of the board of directors of the brand’s parent company, PanTheryx. He holds a stake in the business worth as much as $1 million.

The full extent of Oz’s financial relationship with PanTheryx—along with several other health supplement companies—has been revealed for the first time thanks to personal financial disclosure forms he was required to file as a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania.

In several other instances, Oz’s platforms boosted PanTheryx products without disclosing Oz’s personal financial relationship to the company. In 2018, for example, videos ran on the Dr. Oz Show website that were sponsored by DiaResQ, another PanTheryx supplement. None of the PanTheryx products Oz plugged were approved by the Food and Drug Administration; one study found DiaResQ was “no better than a placebo.”

In his forms, Oz disclosed that, from 2017 to December 2021—when he launched his campaign for Senate—he was a member of the board of PanTheryx. As of February, Oz is a consultant for the company, according to his disclosure form, and is set to be awarded with over 700,000 shares of restricted stock in the company in return for three years of work.

In 2019, a press release from PanTheryx announced Oz was joining the board of the company. But viewers of Oz’s promotional content likely wouldn’t have known the doctor had a direct financial stake in whether they bought or sold the product whose benefits Oz was extolling.

Oz has long used his platform—and the trust of his audience—to hawk specific products, though he has claimed in the past that he has never personally profited from that activity. Under oath at a U.S. Senate committee hearing in 2014, Oz testified that he “never” endorses “one specific brand” and that “doctors shouldn’t endorse.”

But according to Arthur Caplan, a leading medical ethics expert at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, Oz’s actions in this case represent a “mountain of a conflict of interest.”

“It’s one thing to say, ‘I have commercials on my show that advertise products and I’m going to flag that.’ It’s very different to say, ‘Take this, and I’m not going to tell you, I own it,” Caplan said. “You simply cannot do what he’s disclosing he did.”

“It’s not illegal,” Caplan continued, “but certainly, ethically, it’s completely dubious.”

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The American Medical Association’s code of ethics discourages physicians from selling or being paid to endorse any health products beyond medication. If they choose to do so, the AMA says physicians have an ethical obligation to disclose “the nature of their financial interest in the sale of the product(s),” among other things.

The Oz campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment from The Daily Beast, which included questions about his business arrangements with companies whose products he promoted.

Oz, who is running in a must-win battleground state for the GOP, has a background arguably unlike any other political player. Leveraging his medical expertise to create compelling TV netted Oz notoriety, wealth, and power.

But Oz has accumulated plenty of baggage on that path, prompting questions about who was really served by his medical advice and massive platform. While Oz has long faced scrutiny, his run for Senate has prompted a deeper examination of his record and invited a new set of questions about how he would wield the rare power afforded to a U.S. senator.

For instance, Oz’s sprawling financial disclosure forms list a number of assets and complicated arrangements stemming from the fortune he made in entertainment. Those entanglements have already proven complicated; they could become even more so if he were elected and were in a position to help regulate the supplement industries in which he is invested.

“It doesn’t bode well when you’re willing to not be transparent about your recommendations,” said Caplan, “to think he’d be an honest broker in regulating things in the medical sphere that he could influence in his standing as a doctor-senator.”

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PanTheryx is not the only company that generated undisclosed income for Oz while he plugged its products. He also worked extensively for Usana Health Sciences, a Utah-based multi-level marketing company that bills itself as the “cellular nutrition company.”

Usana markets products such as the “CellSentials Pack,” which contains “a triple-action cellular nutritional system formulated to nourish, protect, and renew optimal cellular health.”

According to Oz’s disclosure form, Usana had two separate compensation arrangements with Oz Media LLC, a shell corporation associated with his business ventures.

One paid him for making “live and virtual speeches and presentations at Usana events and appeared at photo opportunities and other Usana events.” Another indicates he acted as “Brand Ambassador” for Usana brands through public appearances, “creation of promotional content,” interviews, and other activities.

In February, months before Oz’s financial disclosure was filed, Politico cited a court filing in which it was alleged that Oz and his show were paid $50 million to promote products from Usana on air.

Oz’s campaign disputed that claim, saying only that $50 million was an “incorrect and inflated” figure and denying that Oz profited at all directly from arrangements with Usana.

“Usana was an integrations advertising partner with The Doctor Oz Show, which was paid for the partnership, not Dr. Mehmet Oz directly,” said Brittany Yanick, Oz campaign spokesperson.

But the new documents tell a different story, showing a direct link between Usana and Oz.

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They don’t reveal how much Oz Media LLC was paid for promoting their brands, but that money almost certainly made it into Oz’s pocket; elsewhere on his financial disclosure form, he reported earning $7 million in income through Oz Media LLC.

There are several instances of Oz hawking Usana products on his show. The Dr. Oz Show website, for instance, featured Usana products in promotional giveaways.

In a 2015 episode, he promoted an unregulated and unproven liver supplement called Hepasil, which was manufactured by Usana. Asked by an audience member whether her past partying could have damaged her liver long-term, Oz encouraged her to take a supplement. “I’ll show you one that I like a lot,” he said.

Of course, it was Hepasil, which Oz claimed could help “reverse a lot of things that may have happened” to her liver by stimulating “liver enzymes” through “patented olivol.”

That segment prompted criticism at the time—without the full extent of Oz’s relationship with Usana being known. Michael Hitzlik, a business columnist at the Los Angeles Times, wrote about the lack of evidence for Oz’s claims.

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“If he thought it might be wise to caution people to be careful about putting a largely unregulated nutritional supplement into their body, he didn’t say so,” Hitzlik said.

Noting that Usana was mentioned in the credits of the show as a “trusted sponsorship partner,” Hitzlik wrote that “it would be hard for Oz to avoid a personal financial gain from this relationship.”

Caplan, the NYU medical ethics expert, noted the broader problem rooted in Oz’s plugging of supplements. “He has just pushed a lot of nonsense over the years on the show,” he said. “I fear he’s done more damage by being there blessing all manner of unproven, cockamamie interventions for people who really are at risk for serious diseases.”

The last time Oz appeared under the lights of a Senate hearing, in 2014, he was fending off that exact kind of scrutiny from lawmakers who now could be his future colleagues.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), now a senior member on the Senate Commerce Committee, subjected Oz to a lengthy grilling, which included a question on why he didn’t sell specific medical products.

“You wouldn’t trust me if you came to me for advice,” Oz said, “and I said ‘Oh, you’d got a stubbed toe here, take my version of a solving cream.’”

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