Garlic-promoting cardiologist hits back over Media Watch criticism

A Sydney cardiologist has defended his appearance on a paid TV segment spruiking the benefits of Kyolic garlic supplements for heart health.

The ABC’s Media Watch program on 5 March lambasted Channel Ten over its morning show Studio 10 featuring cardiologist Dr Ross Walker, branding it “advertorial content dressed up as news”.

The Studio 10  segment, which was paid for by the supplement’s manufacturer, featured presenters speaking with the Sydney cardiologist about heart health in the context of the death of Bulldogs player Steve Folkes from a heart attack.

At one point presenter Joe Hildebrand asked if there were any natural products that could help lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Dr Walker replied: “Absolutely. Something I found really very useful is this thing called Kyolic aged garlic extract.”

He told the presenters there was good evidence base behind the product, citing a study of 88 people with hypertension “showing that if you took two capsules of this Kyolic aged garlic every day you reduce blood pressure the same as a pill.”

Dr Walker said he always recommended lifestyle measures “before reaching for the pills”, and added “as a cardiologist I don’t like to recommend anything that doesn’t have good science behind it.”

However on Media Watch, presenter Paul Barry pointed out that the Kyolic study he cited was funded by the makers of Kyolic, and Channel Ten confirmed to the ABC that segment had also been paid for by Kyolic’s manufacturer, Nutra-Life.

Media Watch also pointed to previous advertisements for Kyolic, featuring TV personality Lisa Wilkinson, which had been the subject of a complaint to the TGA from anti-quackery campaigner Dr Ken Harvey, associate professor at Monash University’s School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine.

The Media Watch report concluded by warning viewers to beware: “ads dressed up as editorial are becoming ever more common”.

Dr Walker has hit back at the national broadcaster over what he describes as an attack on a commercial network airing a piece “basically about heart health”.

In an opinion piece published on the Switzer business news site on 9 March, Dr Walker says the ABC Media Watch report failed to mention that “for nine minutes out of the ten minutes I discussed heart health, and during the final minute discussed Kyolic garlic with no mention of the company or the specific product”.

“I had no idea that any mention of Nutra-Life would be made after the segment. I also had no idea that the company had actually paid Channel 10 for the segment,” he writes.

Dr Walker says he was asked by Nutra-Life to present the segment, “and they requested that I mention their product, which is a Kyolic garlic preparation”.

“I have used this product in my practice for a number of years with significant benefits in blood pressure reduction for my patients,” he writes.

“There are also two very well-performed studies published in peer-reviewed literature showing a reduction in the progression of coronary artery disease, using coronary calcium scoring and a regression of coronary artery disease after 12 months of high-dose Kyolic garlic (four capsules daily) using CT coronary angiography.”

He also defends the value of the study of 88 patients which he cited on the Studio 10 program, arguing that almost all scientific studies receive funding from sponsors and researchers publish their data independently, so “to suggest that the information is of no value is blatantly ridiculous”.

“The only part of the Media Watch segment that was accurate was that I was paid nothing to appear on Studio 10, and purely did so because I believe in complementary medicine and feel is important to promote the message of good health,” he concludes.

Judge for yourself with Dr Walker’s segment appearing at 36 minutes.

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