Dr. Oz has gone to great lengths to tell us what happens inside our bodies...now he's going to show us what's happening in his! Hours before an appearance on The Oprah Show, he swallowed an unusual pill--a tiny camera that takes a photo every half-second and transmits the photos back so they can be seen on a monitor.
Traditionally, doctors have been able to check on problems in the digestive tract only if they could check the stomach or do a colonoscopy. "But everything in between, the 20 plus feet of bowel called the small intestine, we've never been able to look at until this came along," Dr. Oz says. "This PillCam gives us incredible views of where the real digestive process happens. The last mystery of the intestinal tract is being uncovered."
Dr. Oz says a half million people have used the pill camera to help understand problems such as celiac disease, Crohn's disease, food allergies and internal bleeding.
The pill camera was just one of the innovative tools that researchers used on The Truth About Food, a television series hosted by Dr. Oz.
In this joint production of the Discovery Health Channel and the British Broadcasting Corporation, experts were contracted to conduct 40 groundbreaking experiments to determine how food really affects our health. They started by looking into some of the most persistent questions, legends and myths about the human diet.
"What I love the most about the whole endeavor is [they] actually tested the big myths," Dr. Oz says.
The first experiment looked into just how quickly and effectively a high-fiber diet can start working. Don and Wolfgang, two European long-distance truckers, say their diets consist of whatever they can eat in their truck cab--which has almost no fiber.
Getting enough fiber is not just about eliminating the discomfort of constipation. Without enough fiber, there is an increased risk of bowel or colon cancer.
The first step was to measure just how slowly their guts were moving. Both swallowed a pill that contains a tiny transmitter so researchers can track how long it takes for them to process food. With hardly any fiber, it took nearly a full day for Don to pass his pill--and more than 42 hours for Wolfgang.
Then Don and Wolfgang went on a weeklong change, loading up on whole grain cereal bars, whole wheat bread and fruit with the skin on it.
Will they find this to be a moving experience?
After a week on a high-fiber diet, the truckers swallowed the same kind of pill Dr. Oz took. Both significantly reduced their transit times. Wolfgang, who had taken nearly two days to pass his food, cut his time down to just 12 hours. Meanwhile, Don cut his time in half.
Dr. Oz says the positive effects of getting enough fiber will happen "almost immediately." The fiber can help move things through your system--including toxins--very quickly. And that's not all. "Bile, when it gets absorbed through the bowel, turns into cholesterol. So when you take a lot of fiber in your diet, you suck the bile out of you, and your cholesterol drops automatically. It also gets rid of sugar, which helps the diabetics. And it's a great tool if you want to lose weight because it makes you feel full."
Do you need to get more fiber in your diet? Most likely, Dr. Oz says. The average American gets just seven grams of fiber a day. But women need about 25 grams a day, and men need 35 grams a day. "That's somewhere between seven and nine helpings of fruits and vegetables," he says.
If you radically increase your intake of fiber, though, you may feel gassy. "Your intestinal tract isn't ready for it," Dr. Oz says. "The fiber in the bowel is permeated by all these bacteria, the bacteria eat the fiber, and they make gas. That's their waste product. So you've got to slowly build up when you add fiber to your diet. But at the end of the day, you're going to have some gas. But it's a good sign because you're digesting food that's good for you."
The next experiment investigated the correlation between a high calcium diet and losing fat.
Volunteers spent one week on a diet high in dairy-based calcium--milk, cheese and yogurt. The next week they ate a diet low in dairy and calcium. Both diets contained exactly the same amount of calories and fat.
They also collected their stool samples and sent them off to a lab where scientists analyzed how much fat their bodies were absorbing and how much was passing through--a complicated process that took three months to finish.
The results of the calcium experiment are clear. "The answer is if you have a high calcium diet you [could] ... double your fat excretion," Dr. Oz says. "You can actually get rid of twice as much of that fat if you have calcium, adequate amounts of calcium, at least a gram, in your diet. ... What happens is the calcium meets up with the fat and it forms a soap. That soap gets pushed through your bowel."
Are you getting rid of the fat in your diet by getting enough calcium? For the answer, you're going to have to look in the toilet bowl. "You'll have poop that actually floats in there, which reflects the fact that you've been able to excrete fat and not reabsorb it through your intestinal tract," Dr. Oz says.
While the average American gets about 250 milligrams of calcium from non-dairy, non-fortified foods a day, they should be getting more like 1,200 milligrams. If you do that, you could get rid of as much as six and a half pounds of fat a year! Beyond that, calcium is also an important consideration for women as they age--it helps keep bones strong and staves off osteoporosis.
You can get calcium from dairy products, figs, prunes and leafy vegetables, but many people will only be able to get enough from supplements. If you do opt for supplements, take note--an influx of calcium can leave you constipated...unless you take it with magnesium. "Usually we recommend folks take about 1,200 milligrams of calcium and somewhere between 600 and 800 milligrams of magnesium," Dr. Oz says. "The combination actually allows you to be loose enough to go to the bathroom."
In another experiment, nine people reported to the Paignton Zoo in Devon, England, ready to go ape.
All nine people had high blood pressure--which Dr. Oz says can strip a decade off your life span--from years of eating unhealthy foods.
For the next 12 days, they lived in the zoo and kept to an "evolutionary" new diet--the zookeeper fed them a diet reminiscent of an ape's. To get the calories they needed, each volunteer had to eat 11 pounds of raw fruits, vegetables and nuts every single day.
Can a human possibly lose weight eating 11 pounds of food a day?
These volunteers ate a lot of food--as much as what is sitting in front of Oprah and Dr. Oz. Yet after 12 days, their cholesterol dropped by an average of 25 percent, their blood pressure dropped by 10 percent, and they lost about 10 pounds each--including two-and-a-quarter inches of their waists. "The results were ... remarkable," Dr. Oz says.
"When you eat this kind of food, you're sending a very clear message to your brain," Dr. Oz says. "You're taking calories and nutrients. What we normally do in America is we give calories to people without nutrition. ... The natural colors are gone, and so your brain sits back there and says, 'Am I still hungry or not?'"
The next experiment tried to answer this question--can eating certain foods actually protect your skin from the sun?
To find out, volunteers were exposed to ultraviolet light to measure how quickly their skin would burn. Then after eating about four tablespoons of tomato paste a day for three months, they were exposed to the same level of ultraviolet rays.
Is there such a thing as a "sunscreen" you can safely eat?
The tomato paste resulted in a 30 percent reduction in sun damage. The reason, Dr. Oz says, is lycopene--an antioxidant found in tomatoes, especially in the reddest ones--which replenishes skin cells.
"What lycopene does is it attaches to key cells in your skin. ... The sun is attacking your body and it's helping your body at the same time. The skin's major function is to let enough sun through so you can convert cholesterol to vitamin D, because you've got to have vitamin D. But at the same time, it needs to protect you against the sun destroying all of your folic acid. So how does it do that? It does that by having its own antioxidant system always there to protect you. And how do you replenish it? Things like lycopene."
In addition to protecting skin from sun's burning rays, lycopene can also prevent wrinkles by keeping your elastic skin tissues from losing their tenseness.
Tomato? Tom-ah-to? Just remember to eat plenty of them.
In a survey for The Truth About Food, 85 percent of people think they should drink at least a half-gallon of water each day to keep their skin looking young. So they created an experiment to put that myth to the test!
Susie and Alice are twins who like to drink a lot of water. "I probably get through about at least a liter, a liter and a half of water a day, because it does make a difference to my skin," Alice says.
To determine whether water really does make a difference, researchers first measured the moisture, elasticity and oiliness of each girl's skin. Over the next week, the twins ate the same diet-except Alice drank plenty of water, and Suzie drank no water.
Dr. Oz says whether the twins drank water or not made no difference to their skin. The main reason for this, he says, is that food has water in it. "We get a lot of water already without having to go and get extra water," he says. "Now assuming you're not dehydrated--and neither of these sisters were--you won't have that problem."
Although Dr. Oz says drinking water doesn't matter to the skin, it does have other benefits. "Water's great to lose weight. It satisfies your satiety center. You don't get the urge to eat quite as much," he says. "It's got lots of benefits that go beyond its ability to affect your skin, but you don't have to force fluids to get that benefit."
An audience member named Kellie has a question for Dr. Oz--is there something you can take to reduce stress? The Truth About Food came up with a possible solution.
The creators of The Truth About Food found 10 London cab drivers who said they were stressed out. Before changing their diets for the experiment, researchers monitored their heart rates for 24 hours and checked their levels of cortisol, which is known as the stress hormone.
Then, unbeknownst to the cab drivers, an actor posed as a demanding client and stressed them out on purpose. Mission accomplished--after a 15-minute cab ride with the actor, each driver's heart was racing and their cortisol levels skyrocketed!
After they were put to the test, the cab drivers changed their diet. Four times a week for three months, each cabbie ate mackerel, haddock, sardines, salmon, kippers and tuna. These types of oily fish contain certain omega-3 acids thought to have a calming effect on the body.
After the drivers had eaten a fish-filled diet, another hired actor tried to stress them out. After this second stressful experience, lab tests on the cabbies' systems showed a 22-percent reduction in cortisol, the hormone that measures the amount of stress the body is feeling. Dr. Oz says there was also a 12 percent reduction in some of the other stress hormones, including DHEA, as well as a 25 percent improvement in their memory.
"Our body is responding to the facts that it gets inside it, and when the liver sees trans fats and saturated fats ... it sees inflammation. It doesn't like that, and it gets you jazzed up to respond aggressively," he says. "But when it sees omega-3 fatty acids, it feels calm."
While many people take antianxiety pills to combat stress-related symptoms, Dr. Oz says this is a short-term solution for most people. "Sometimes you need medication. Sometimes you need help. I'm not against that," he says. "But I think we are too quick to cop out and say, 'You know what? Give me the pill,' instead of realizing we can actually get our body to be better equipped to defend itself, especially against stress, because the only time you don't have any stress is when you're dead."
If you don't like to eat fish, Dr. Oz suggests other sources of omega-3 acids--including flaxseeds, eggs, walnuts or plankton.
An audience member named Alysha says she is a big believer in "detox diets"--such as fasting or cutting out all processed foods. "Up front, you don't feel very great, but in the end, I always feel like I have a lot more energy. I'm very focused, maybe a little bit lighter. Maybe, not always," she says.
But do these diets really work? On The Truth About Food, researches created their own version of a detox diet, which incorporated common principles of the most popular detox diets. Then, it was time to put it to the test. At a country retreat, 10 women who say they party often--and pay the price--were divided into two groups. The first group was put on a detox program. To help researchers scientifically compare the results, the other group ate a normal diet.
Before the trial began, the urine and saliva of all of the women were tested to determine their levels of toxins. Another sample would be analyzed at the end of the week to see if the diet helped to flush the impurities from their systems.
Each day, the detox group followed a rigorous diet, starting the day with fresh vegetable juice with ingredients such as spinach, garlic and onions. Over the course of the week, this group drank beet root shakes and ate seaweed salad.
Meanwhile, the control group ate a hearty balanced diet of pasta, red meat, wine, coffee, chocolate and potato chips. At the end of the test, the women dropped off the last 24 hours' worth of urine and saliva for analysis.
The detox diet group didn't seem to be enjoying their food--was the sacrifice worth it? "It had no impact at all," Dr. Oz says. "I was surprised by this, because I really thought we'd see more of an effect."
Dr. Oz says the women involved in the experiment were generally healthy, even though they drank a bit more than they should and might not have been taking ideal care of themselves. "But what we did find was that the liver was doing the same things. You had the same kinds of toxicities," he says. "Because toxins that we get into our body go to our fatty tissues. They go to places like the liver and the brain. It takes more than 10 days to get them out."
Even though detox diets can't cleanse the body of toxins in such a short amount of time, Dr. Oz says these diets can be useful as a jump-start to healthier eating. "Now that you've moved to a whole new place in what you tolerate and expect in life, it's easier to go from there," he says.