It seems like every week there’s a new health trend making the rounds on TikTok. And some of these wellness fads stick — even if there’s not enough science to back up the claims and the risks outweigh the supposed benefits.
It’s now common to see medical influencers on TikTok creating videos debunking these wellness trends, although this is usually after they’ve already gained significant popularity and made their way onto the screens of users willing to try them out. Which ones should you avoid?
Here are five “healthy” TikTok trends that aren’t so healthy at all, according to experts.
Raw potato juice for strep
Yes, you can juice potatoes. Recently, TikTok influencers posted videos claiming that drinking raw potato juice can “cure” strep throat or other infections.
Although potatoes contain vitamins and antifungal compounds, “there is no evidence that they can treat any infections in humans, whether bacterial or viral,” Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arber, a medical toxicology physician and interim executive director at the National Capital Poison Center, TODAY.com reports.
Strep throat is a bacterial infection caused by group A strep bacteria, Johnson-Arber adds, so drinking potato juice can be harmful if it prevents or delays strep antibiotic treatment.
“Just because you drink potato juice and your strep symptoms go away doesn’t mean the potato juice cured the strep,” Johnson-Arber points out. Strep throat is usually self-limiting and will go away on its own, she adds, but the infection can persist and cause significant problems if left untreated.
“Antibiotics for strep reduce the risk of long-term complications, such as heart problems and rheumatic fever,” Johnson-Arber says.
Other complications of untreated strep include abscesses around the tonsils, kidney disease and arthritis, Dr. Kay Leeming-Van Zandt, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Texas Children’s Hospital, told TODAY.com.
While potato juice itself may not do much harm, “using alternative or natural substances like potato juice instead of prescribed antibiotics is really dangerous,” Leeming-Van Zandt says.
So if you have strep symptoms, such as a sudden sore throat and painful swallowing, it’s important to see a doctor and get tested so you can be treated with the appropriate antibiotics, Leeming-Van Zandt adds.
Pre-workout powder with dry scooping
The “dry scoop” trend has taken over the world of fitness influencers. It involves swallowing spoonfuls of a dry powdered supplement before a workout, rather than diluting it in water, and it looks as nice as it sounds.
Pre-workout supplement powders “are marketed to give you more energy so you can have a more explosive, more intense workout,” Johnson-Arber explains.
Pre-workout powders typically contain a mix of energy-boosting ingredients, such as caffeine, taurine or guarana, as well as protein or creatine, she says. One scoop can contain 150 to 300 milligrams of caffeine, the equivalent of three cups of coffee, TODAY.com previously reported.
However, studies show that the nutritional labels of these supplements can be misleading and inaccurate, as the listed amount of caffeine or other stimulants does not always match the actual amount in the powder, Leeming-Van Zandt says.
Johnson-Arbor adds that dietary supplements are not strictly regulated, and some pre-workout powders can be contaminated with ingredients that are banned in the US due to harmful side effects. “They can make the heart beat faster and raise blood pressure … and even cause death,” she explains.
Such ingredients include 1,3-dimethylamylamine (DMAA), according to the US Food and Drug Administration, and ephedrine, according to Leaming-Van Zandt. A 2018 FDA statement stated that “products containing DMAA sold as dietary supplements are illegal and their trade violates the law.” And the FDA has banned the sale of ephedrine alkaloids in dietary supplements for nearly 20 years, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Depending on the amount consumed, pre-workout supplements can do more harm than good, especially in adolescents and children, Leeming-Van Zandt says. “Some ingredients can cause kidney or liver problems, and in people with underlying heart disease, complications can include stroke or death.”
The dry scooping method itself can also be risky, experts note. The idea is to get the entire dose of the supplement into your body at once so it has a more powerful effect, Johnson-Arber says. But some of the dust can get into the esophagus and lungs if inhaled, causing irritation, coughing or even an asthma attack, she adds.
“The other problem is that you can get caffeine toxicity or toxicity from other agents,” Johnson-Arber says, and people with a history of heart problems should avoid pre-workout supplements altogether.
Before we dive into this trend, a quick chemistry refresher from Johnson-Arbor: To measure the acidity of water, you use the pH scale. Anything with a pH below 7 is acidic and anything above 7 is basic or alkaline.
Alkaline water has a higher pH than tap water, and you can buy it bottled or make it from tap water by adding alkaline drops or using special filters and machines called ionizers (which can cost up to thousands of dollars).
There are many videos on TikTok of people testing the pH of bottled and tap water using color-changing pH drops.
“Influencers say that alkaline water is better than tap water or bottled water because it has a higher pH, and lower pH is associated with inflammation and all kinds of diseases,” Johnson-Arber says, adding that others say that it prevents cancer, slows aging and improves hydration.
“There is very little evidence to suggest that alkaline water has any proven health benefits,” she stresses. In fact, the FDA rejected a 2007 petition to allow health claims that alkaline water minimizes the risk of osteoporosis due to a lack of sufficient evidence.
“The pH of our stomach acid is naturally very low. … This helps break down the food and kill the bacteria,” Johnson-Arber says. “Whatever you drink will go into your stomach and be neutralized by the acidity, so (alkaline water) probably doesn’t do anything for you physiologically.”
Drinking normal amounts of alkaline water is unlikely to do any harm, she adds. But too much alkaline from any source can upset the acid-base balance of the blood and body fluids and lead to alkalosis, which can cause muscle cramps, tremors, seizures or coma, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
BORG (Dark Furious Gallon)
The “Blackout rage gallon” in itself sounds like a health hazard, but it is being touted by many as a safer method of intoxication. The TikTok trend, popular among college students, involves filling a gallon jug with half water, half vodka, caffeinated flavor enhancers and electrolyte powders to make a customized drink that’s said to be hangover-proof, NBCNews.com reported earlier.
“It’s always interesting to hear what people come up with to make things seem healthier,” Leeming-Van Zandt says, adding that the main concern for the Borg is the amount of alcohol consumed. There is still a risk of intoxication or poisoning, she says, which can lead to changes in behavior, coordination, memory impairment, falls, injuries, respiratory depression or death.
“Influencers are promoting[borgs]as a safer way to drink alcohol, and yes, it may be true that it allows you to personalize your drink and keep it close to you,” says Johnson-Arbor. However, if you pour a fifth of vodka into the gallon, that’s still 17 glasses of vodka, which isn’t safe for anyone to consume even within a day, Johnson-Arber says.
In early March, students at UMass Amrherst made 28 911 calls to 911 ambulances in one day due to borgas, TODAY.com previously reported.
“Binge for women is four or more drinks in one sitting and five or more drinks in one sitting for men, so borg equals binge drinking in my opinion,” says Johnson-Arber. There’s no evidence that adding electrolytes will also prevent hangovers, she adds.
Mixing caffeine enhancers or flavor enhancers and alcohol is also risky. People often do it, thinking the caffeine will “counteract” the effects of alcohol, Johnson-Arber says, but “that’s very dangerous. . . . You can get alcohol and caffeine poisoning, which can be life-threatening.”
Sticking of the mouth during sleep
Although many experts want to put this TikTok sleep hack to bed, the mouth taping trend just won’t go away. This involves using a piece of tape or a special bandage to keep your mouth closed so that you only breathe through your nose while you sleep.
Although mouth breathing during sleep has been linked to a number of long-term problems and sleep disorders, according to the Cleveland Clinic, gluing is not the answer. Experts stress that there isn’t enough research to support any health claims about improving sleep, and that gagging has dangerous side effects, such as reduced oxygen levels and cardiac arrest.
If snoring is the problem, address the underlying cause first—one of them is obstructive sleep apnea, says Leeming-Van Zandt, which causes frequent pauses in breathing. “If people are not adequate or efficient at breathing through the nose, (mouth tape) can actually make breathing pauses or obstruction worse during sleep,” she adds.
Another concern is that the tape could become dislodged and end up in the mouth while someone is sleeping, creating a choking hazard, Leeming-Van Zandt says. If you have concerns about your sleep health, talk to your doctor.