Jan. 16, 2024 – There is no shortage of reasons why getting health and lifeadvice from TikTok is a bad idea. 

We’ve scoured the site to present you with a list that might horrify or amuse. But more importantly, it will hopefully provide fodder for important health conversations with your loved ones and, more ideally, prompt a trip to the doctor’s office to discuss evidence-based alternatives to the wacky and sometimes dangerous world of TikTok health tips.

Here are the eight of the worst TikTok health tips of 2023, ranked from least to most potentially dangerous.

8. Castor Oil Navel Pulling

Has a bottle of castor oil suddenly appeared in your kid’s medicine cabinet or carry-on? Evidently, placing castor oil in and around your bellybutton will improve digestion. The “how it works” is important here, because influencers claim that the oil is “pulled” or absorbed through the bellybutton into the gut. 

Hope or hype? Castor oil has been around for more than 6,000 years. It was used as fuel for lamps in ancient Egypt, and today, as an ingredient in skin and beauty products, and as a laxative. There may not be any harm in rubbing it on and around the bellybutton, but as far as benefits go, all bets are off. ”The bellybutton is just like any other part of your body that’s completely occluded or has barrier protections,” said Marc Kai, MD, an internist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. “It’s not a keyhole or another entrance or access point into your body any more than your arm, your leg, or the rest of your stomach would be. The absorption there is very, very minimal.” 

7. ‘Medical Grade’ Alkaline Water

Water is the new … antacid? If you don’t feel like trekking to the store, an expensive appliance offers a do-it-yourself option that will “alkalize” your water – in other words,  add minerals like calcium, potassium, and bicarbonate to help neutralize and balance the acid concentration in gut and in the bloodstream. 

Hope or hype? Drinking alkaline water isn’t dangerous, per se, but evidence of its benefits is mostly lacking. “Although the trend is based in logic, it’s oversimplified logic,” said Marissa Scavuzzo, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “Your stomach produces acid to digest good effectively; the amount of water you consume is not going to combat this constant production.” On the other hand, scant evidence suggests that alkaline water might improve hydration and anaerobic performance in trained athletes.

6. Raw Potato Snacks

One potato, two potatoes, three potatoes, raw. There’s no need to cook your potatoes any longer because snacking on them raw appears to improve digestion and alkalize stomach acids, according to TikTok influencers. 

Hope or hype?  Like other nightshade vegetables, potatoes contain naturally occurring compounds called glycoalkaloids. “Generally speaking, glycoalkaloids are potentially toxic and are going to give people more gut issues,” said Danielle Omar, a registered dietitian, and integrative culinary nutritionist based in Northern Virginia. The same is true for lectins, a naturally occurring protein, which are resistant to digestive enzymes. In excessive amounts, “they’ve  been reported to damage the lining of the intestine and the cells that line the inside of your gut,” said Scavuzzo. 

5. Earwax Removal

Is your teen collecting odd-looking hollowed-out candles? Chances are, they’ve gotten an earful of bad advice from a TikTok influencer. These ear candling backers claim that placing a fabric tube soaked in beeswax in the outer part of the ear canal, lighting the other end, and holding it in place for about 15 minutes will “suck out” excess earwax, debris, and bacteria. 

Hope or hype? Earwax “helps reduce the risk of infection and prevents viruses, bacteria, debris, and other particulates from taking residence in the ear canal,” said Kai, the Baltimore internist. And heat from the end of a candle doesn’t create suction, he explained. “The best-case scenario is that you’re able to avoid burning your face from the wax, and the worst, you end up with foreign wax in your ear,” he said. Inserting a Q-tip farther pushes the wax into the canal even more, which, Kai noted, can cause “pain, infection, and even physical damage to the eardrum.” In most people, good personal hygiene does the job of keeping the area clean.

4. Eye Mucus Fishing

Eye mucus fishing is the habitual removal of mucus from the eyes using a Q-tip or a finger for beauty and aesthetics. Aside from appearance, “mucus fishing syndrome” is a bona fide condition that, more times than not, becomes a vicious cycle.

Hope or hype? This is a huge “no-no,” according to Brian Boxer Wachler, MD, an ophthalmologist at the Boxer Wachler Vision Institute in Beverly Hills, CA, and author of Influenced, a book that explores the impact of social media on perception. “Mucus is produced by the eye to various degrees and is generally benign” he said. “Anytime it gets irritated, it produces mucus, so using a rough Q-tip can irritate the eye surface, and the more it occurs, the greater the reaction.” Boxer Wachler also explained that using one’s fingers is just as irritating, and also increases the risk of transferring a virus, bacteria, or even flu or COVID germs to the eye. Other complications include scratching the cornea and vision loss. The best advice is to avoid fishing altogether. But when and if the urge strikes, artificial tears or saline drops are better options.

3. Bed Rotting

Bed rotting is a form of “soft” self-care, according to TikTokkers who believe that staying in bed for hours, days, or over a week is helpful. Bed rotters eat in bed, text in bed, watch videos in bed, sleep, rest, and loll. And the practice has mental health practitioners very concerned.

Hope or hype? “We’re definitely seeing a lot of negative ramifications – both physical and mental – due to trends such as bed rotting,” said Bushra Rizwan, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. Mental health concerns include isolation, a perpetual lack of motivation, and worse depression symptoms, she said. “We’ve also had children who may not have a psychiatric diagnosis, but have engaged in this,” which placed them at risk for things like depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). “We used to say that sitting is the new smoking. This is even worse, and can lead to a host of long-term chronic health issues,” said Rizwan.

2. BORG (Blackout Rage Gallon) Challenge

Born on college and university campuses well over a year ago, the BORG challenge is still making the rounds. This recipe for disaster is simple and the results, disastrous. Take a 1-gallon jug of water, empty out 50% to 75% of it, add a fifth of vodka, some flavorings, electrolytes, and even caffeine, shake, and you are good to go. TikTokkers will tell you that BORG keeps you hydrated and alert so that you stay sober longer, helps avoid spreading diseases, and prevents drink spiking.

Hope or hype? Generally, the human body can process one to two drinks, explained Kai. “When you overwhelm that number, it doesn’t matter how much water, electrolytes, caffeine you also drink, the liver can only process so much and your blood alcohol level goes up,” he said. Adverse effects range from sedation and sleepiness to passing out, vomiting, and choking. It’s a lousy, potentially dangerous way to consume alcohol.

1. Borax/Baking Soda Libation

A pinch of borax, a pinch of baking soda, and a pinch of salt mixed in water or your favorite drink is all it takes to cure yeast infections, boost magnesium and energy levels, fight migraines, and support gut health, according to TikTok. Bathing in the same (in larger quantities) helps detox the body. If this miracle concoction sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is.

Hope or hype? Borax is a naturally occurring mineral that is used in cleaning products and for pest control. It’s often mistaken for boron, a trace mineral that is found in many fruits, tubers, and legumes. “Borax is toxic, it’s poison even in small amounts,” said Kai. There’s no research, no physiological evidence of it being helpful. And unlike other things that we might ingest that the body can process or eliminate without issues, borax can cause a lot of side effects including vomiting, fatigue, shock, and kidney failure. What’s more, Kai doesn’t recommend bathing in it for any reasons, citing the potential for skin irritation.

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