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That time Congress railed against Dr. Oz for his ‘miracle’ diet pills

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) questions TV host Mehmet Oz about his claims that certain products are "miracle" workers. (Video: Sen. Claire McCaskill/YouTube)
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Of all the medical professionals on broadcast television Donald Trump could have chosen to discuss his medical history this week, it would have been harder to find one more controversial than Mehmet Oz.

For years, the TV doctor has come under criticism from the medical and legal community for promoting what many in the health profession say are sham get-thin-quick diet pills and products.

Here's Oz demonstrating in a 2014 episode of "The Dr. Oz Show" what his "Rapid Belly Melt" plan will do to your belly fat:

A few years ago, Congress stepped in. A Senate panel on health and science invited him to testify on the danger of over-the-counter diet pills and other products. He agreed. He then spent an uncomfortable, sometimes tension-filled morning getting berated by U.S. senators for the things he says and the products he exuberantly promotes on his shows.

"Do you believe there's a miracle pill out there?" asked Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), the chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee that invited Oz.

Oz replied that he didn't, event though he has a health plan called "The 7-Day Miracle Plan."

"There's not a pill that's going to help you long term lose weight without diet and exercise,"Oz said.

But Oz did say the pills he promoted are safe and effective: "I do personally believe in the items I talk about in the show. I passionately study them. I recognize that oftentimes they don't have the scientific muster to present as fact," he said, later adding "I have given my family these products."

Other doctors sitting right next to Oz vehemently disagreed.

“American consumers unrealistically yearn for a magic bullet, and unscrupulous marketers will take advantage of these desires,” said C. Lee Peeler, vice president of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

"People want to believe you can take an itty-bitty pill to push fat out of your body," Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told Oz. But "the scientific community is almost monolithically against you."

Oz didn't really have a response to that. He explained that he agreed to testify before Congress because he wants to ensure companies are held accountable for their products claims.

"I strongly support the need to look at whether the products are safe or not," he said. He added that he uses his show to give people "hope."

"You're very talented, you're obviously very bright. You've been trained in science-based medicine," McCaskill went on. "But I don't get why you need to say this stuff, because you know it's not true." (In an interview Thursday morning with MSNBC's "Morning Joe," McCaskill called Oz and Trump "snake oil salesmen.")

Oz's TV show, which just started its eighth season, has an estimated audience of 2 million. He shares his "miracle" diet products with the vigor of Oprah Winfrey sharing her new favorite novel. And not unlike Oprah, Oz's words carry a lot of weight with his viewers.

A recent study by the British Medical Journal says half of the claims Dr. Mehmet Oz makes on his popular television show are not backed up by medical science. Here are some examples from recent episodes of "The Dr. Oz Show" - claiming "revolutionary miracles." (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

Americans spend an estimated $40 billion a year on weight-loss products. Almost every time Oz peddles one, sales spike. This phenomenon even has a name: "The Dr. Oz effect."

The congressional hearing, which I covered, didn't really come to a conclusion. Oz thought he was doing a good thing by sharing these products with the world. The lawmakers didn't.

But maybe the hearing wasn't such a stalemate.

On his show Wednesday, Oz promoted his newest get-healthy plan: The Regimen. It's a "universal checklist" of everything you need to do to get healthy and lose weight.

I watched a clip of it, and, from what I saw, his plan consists of much of the same advice you'd find anywhere else: Eat healthy, get sleep, exercise. Not a "miraculous" green-coffee extract or bottled raspberry ketone (what Oz calls a "miracle fat-burner in a bottle") in sight.