Neti Pots Scare

Neti Pots and Other Worst Oprah Winfrey Endorsements (Photos)

From neti pots to suspicious spiritual gurus to fabricated memoirs, see the talk queen’s most questionable endorsements.

Getty Images (3) ; AP Photo (2)

Getty Images (3) ; AP Photo (2)

Two people died recently after using neti pots, an alternative treatment for sinus congestion that talk show queen Oprah Winfrey famously advocated. From suspicious spiritual gurus to fabricated memoirs, see Oprah’s other questionable endorsements.

Todd Sumlin / Getty Images

Neti Pots

Oprah Winfrey has long raved about using neti pots to treat sinus congestion and pain, even giving the tea pot-shaped cups away to her entire studio audience during one show. The talk queen even insisted she could barely travel without them. She once said, “I was in South Africa, and I didn’t have a neti pot. I was stuffed up and couldn’t breathe, and I went in and I didn’t have a neti pot, so I tried to find a gravy dish to do it.” Perhaps she should have better explained to her studio audience how to use them, because in December 2011, two people died after using the Oprah-endorsed pots. In both cases, the neti pots were filled with tap water containing the brain-eating amoeba Naegleria Fowleri. Thankfully, the amoeba can’t cause damage when swallowed, only when inhaled through the nostrils after using things like…neti pots.

Ross D. Franklin / AP Photo

James Ray

Three people died and dozens were injured after spending too much time in a cramped sweat lodge in Arizona during a “spiritual warrior weekend” in October 2009. The participants were led by New Age guru James Ray, who reportedly took them on a 36-hour journey through the desert in which they were deprived of food and water, and actively sought to prevent them from leaving the sweat lodge, even after participants began passing out and vomiting. Before leading a group on a deadly spiritual journey, Ray had been a guest on Oprah’s show for two full episodes to discuss the documentary, The Secret. A spokesman for the talk queen later said, “Oprah has no personal or business relationship with James Arthur Ray. She, like everyone else, was shocked and saddened to hear of the tragedy in Arizona and hopes that a thorough investigation will help find answers for those who lost loved ones.”

Alexander Sibaja / Getty Images

Dr. Jan Adams

Kanye West was devastated when his mother, Donda West, died in November 2007 at age 58, as a result of complications from a series of plastic surgeries. It soon emerged that her plastic surgeon, Jan Adams, had a bad record, which included two DUI convictions, failure to pay child support, and four malpractice judgments against him between 2001 and 2007. Perhaps more surprisingly, Oprah featured Adams alongside other plastic surgeons on her show in 2003, and a representative said that “since we did not promote him as a cosmetic surgeon, there was no reason to do a background check on him.” West’s autopsy eventually revealed “no evidence of surgical or anesthetic misadventure.” But other doctors had previously warned West not to go through with the surgeries, and Adams did eventually lose his medical license.

AP Photo

James Frey

In 2005, Oprah selected James Frey’s memoir, A Million Little Pieces, for her popular book club and helped it to sell more than 3.5 million copies, and become one of the bestselling books in the U.S. that year. When he appeared on Oprah’s show for the first time, the talk show host gushed, “I’m crying ‘cause these are all my Harpo family, so and we all loved the book so much.” But Winfrey was as dismayed as everyone else in her book club when they learned that much in Frey’s memoir was fabricated or exaggerated. When Frey made a subsequent, awkward appearance on Winfrey’s show to explain himself, she said, “I feel that you betrayed millions of readers. I think it's such a gift to have millions of people to read your work and that bothers me greatly.”

AP Photo

The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls

In January 2007, Oprah founded the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, designed to help poor girls get an education. But just months later, the school was rocked by scandal when reports surfaced that a dormitory matron had sexually abused several of the school’s students. Winfrey quickly said that she had “lost confidence” in the school’s headmistress, Nomvuyo Mzamane, and was “cleaning house from top to bottom.”

Dr. Christiane Northrup

Dr. Christiane Northrup, an OB-GYN, appeared on Oprah’s show and preached about the importance of the body-soul connection, but she was most famous for telling Oprah’s audience about the dangers of HPV vaccines, which she claimed caused death in many patients. But the CDC and the FDA disputed the connection, and Northrup eventually admitted her mistake, saying, “I would say that there is a chance that they could be injured from it, but I wouldn’t say not to take it.”

George Burns / AP Photo

Free Cars

Audience giveaways were among the most popular aspects of Oprah’s show, when she would give away everything from clothes to cars. But the cars caused particular problems when audience members realized they had to pay taxes on the vehicles. In 2004, the giveaway of the Pontiac G-Six meant that guests had to pay up to $7,000 in taxes on the $28,000 cars—a cost that made keeping the gifts prohibitively expensive for many audience members.


Dr. Patricia Wexler presented Thermage, a skin-tightening procedure, on Oprah’s show in 2003. Wexler said of the treatment, “the jaw line gets tighter and tighter, just like a neck lift.” But she later admitted that she had no way of predicting how well the treatment would work, and that during her appearance on the show she left out all mention of the treatment’s risks, which included the possibility of facial burns and indentations.

Thread Lift

In 2004, Oprah and dermatologist, Karyn Grossman, were raving about the thread lift, which they described as a “one-hour lunch-break’ facelift. But they failed to mention the risks of the procedure, like the fact that the suture starts to act like a ‘cheese wire’ and damages facial tissue. 

The Secret

Oprah loved hit book, The Secret, which illustrated the scientific power of positive thinking. The book’s author, Rhonda Byrne, claimed that thinking positively attracted positive vibrations, which could help people get money and have better health—indeed, the book claimed that any disease could be cured through positive thinking alone. But Oprah became very concerned when one of her viewers wrote in to say that she would be stopping her cancer treatment and relying on the power of thought to fight her ailment. At the time, Oprah said that the book “is not the answer to everything,” and advised the viewer to listen to her doctors. But Oprah claims that the book’s message continues to be important. She said, “I’m grateful that for so many millions of people the door was at least opened to the idea that we are each responsible for the quality of our lives.”