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Weird TikTok ‘health’ trends are more likely to make you sick

Putting garlic up your nose clears your sinuses? No. It blocks them.

Putting garlic up your nose clears your sinuses? No. It blocks them.

The hottest health trend at the moment – at least for health writers – is debunking the wild, crazy and often dangerous claims made on TikTok.

Just last week, The New Daily published a piece about mouth-taping – an astonishingly popular and potentially dangerous ‘cure’ for mouth breathing and snoring. See here.

What about sticking a clove of garlic up your nose as a cure for blocked sinuses?

Short version: Someone made a video of themselves sticking a clove of garlic deep into a nostril, then pulled it out again. A little river of snot flowed out.

Woo hoo!

Garlic up the nose. That nice burning feeling means it must be doing good.

A string of imitators followed suit, each one of them amazed that they too could produce rivers of snot with a garlic clove.

Since 2021, news media and health sites have piled on with expert opinion. Short version, from health.com:

“Stuffing garlic up your nose will not help with your congestion. While removing the clove may cause mucus to come out of your nose, garlic won’t treat your symptoms. In addition, you risk choking on the garlic, getting it in your airway, and getting it stuck in your nose.”

But nothing will stop the great rivers of snot. They just keep running and the warnings keep coming.

Will potato juice cure Strep A?

In a video posted in March, American lifestyle blogger and “mom coach” Allie Casazza told how she gave her 14-year-old daughter a juiced potato to drink and claimed the “super bad Strep” infection was “completely gone within two hours”.

The video was reportedly viewed hundreds of thousands of times – and sparked complaints from doctors – before it was removed by TikTok.

And for very good reason.

Potato juice a cure for strep throat? Ah… no.

In kids, Strep A commonly presents as tonsillitis or impetigo, which are relatively harmless.

The trick is to seek treatment quickly with antibiotics – which protect your tot against the rare possibility of the infection becoming severe.

Only yesterday we wrote how the incidence of invasive Strep A (iGAS) has been steadily increasing over the past two decades worldwide – and led to an increase in deaths, mostly in small children and the elderly.

In the last year, though, there has been an “intense” surge in severe infections – with an attendant rise in hospitalisations, serious side-effects (including flesh-eating disease and toxic shock) and deaths.

So … potato juice doesn’t cut it. However, the TikTok baton has passed to other enthusiasts who swear that potato juice is good for all manner of ailments.

Tame your period with carrots?

Just last week, an article in The Sydney Morning Herald was the latest to address the myth of ‘rebalancing your hormones’ as a winning strategy for losing weight and clearing one’s skin of blemishes.

Even better, hormonal rebalancing – the story goes – will tame your unruly period so it occurs at a time that’s convenient, and at a flow rate that’s pain-free and less messy.

One approach is to eat a lot of carrots. Another is ‘detoxing’. Or, if you need something in a jar of pills, there’s always a product called … ‘Rebalance’.

This issue is a nightmare

Women who suffer painful and irregular periods, or severe pre- or post-menopausal symptoms, can be particularly vulnerable to snake oil.

Read here for what a couple of gynaecologists have to say about the concept of hormonal rebalancing.

Short version: The way hormones work is immensely complicated, and the idea of lining them up like so many obedient toddlers is not a medical thing.

And read this TIME magazine piece that tells how hormone rebalancing is a con job that predates TikTok by decades.

In 2022, Rutgers University sociologist Norah MacKendrick – who has spent 20 years “analysing how hormone balancing has infiltrated popular culture” – examined 25 books pushing the hormonal balancing line.

In a subsequent paper, she reported that all were written by medical doctors, who all sold supplements. There was, she said, “almost no legitimate medical support for the concept”.

TikTok influencers have simply climbed aboard these flawed ideas and ridden off into the money-making sunset.

Dry scooping? Choking and heart attacks 

Many gym junkies consume pre-workout powders that claim to boost performance and contain ingredients such as amino acids, B vitamins, high levels of caffeine and creatine.

These powders are meant to be mixed with water and drunk. Some bright spark got the idea that ‘dry scooping’ – swallowing a dry scoop of powder followed by a swig of water – amplifies the boost. There’s no evidence for this.

According to a February report from Everyday Health there are dry-scooping TikTokers choking and gagging. One woman reported that she’d stopped breathing. One of these videos was seen by more than 9.8 million people.

The problem is that the typically chalky texture of these powders makes them difficult to swallow when dry. And when you gasp for air, you’re sucking the powder into your lungs and nasal passages. Which can lead to inflammation or a lung infection.

According to Healthline, there has been “at least one documented case of a social media influencer experiencing a heart attack from dry scooping”.

When a trend impacts the real world

In January last year, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) restricted how social media influencers can post about products administered by the regulator, including supplements, protein powders, vitamins, sunscreens, skincare for acne, medicines and medical devices.

This wasn’t a ban. Influencers could still advertise and endorse these products. But if they publish testimonials, offer their personal experience or opinions, and if they have been paid or gifted a product or service for free then they are required to disclose advertisement with hashtags like #Ad or the words “paid partnership”.

It’s not much of a restriction. If you pay for a product, then technically you can spruik it. This is what has happened with the diabetes drug Ozempic – which also appears to be an effective treatment for obesity.

History of a crisis

In February 2021, The New Daily reported on a new drug labelled a “game changer” in the management of obesity – and for once, a large, gold-standard clinical trial backed up the hype.

A single weekly injection of the drug semaglutide, for 68 weeks, saw an average loss of 15 per cent body weight in trial participants.

More than a third of the participants who took the drug lost more than 20 per cent of their weight.

On the Australian scene, the drug was approved as a treatment for type 2 diabetes for patients who couldn’t tolerate or gained no benefit from the standard medication, metformin.

Great story. And it seemed to go quiet …

Social media craze

In May last year, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) quietly issued a statement, directed at GPs, urging them to stop prescribing the drug for obesity management.

The drug is such a hit with people desperate to lose weight that there’s now a shortage “significantly affecting people using Ozempic for its approved use of type 2 diabetes”.

The TGA statement, issued in collaboration with nine peak medical bodies, including the AMA, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Australian Diabetes Society, advised:

“The increased demand is due to extensive prescribing for obesity management, for which Ozempic is not indicated … Limiting prescribing of semaglutide to people with type 2 diabetes is essential.”

The story might have remained relatively low-key. Then came reports TikTokers were responsible for the shortage. Ozempic is injected into the abdomen with an epipen-style device.

In videos seen by more than 100 million people, people weren’t simply documenting their weight loss journey, they were injecting themselves with a kind of giddy Pulp Fiction cool.

https://www.tiktok.com/@curvycleofit/video/7156624580545645829?q=ozempic&t=1692929724969

The TGA gets cranky

This went on for months, and many people with diabetes – who relied on Ozempic as their primary treatment, were unable to obtain the drug.

In November, ‘social media influencers’ were warned to stop promoting prescription medicines by the TGA.

The ‘influencers’ in question were mainly overweight mums in pyjamas and slippers, and less of the high-profile glamorous persuasion.

The TGA warned these alleged pyjama-wearers were risking “jail time” – and criminal penalties of up to $888,000 for individuals and civil penalties of $1.1 million.

But the warning didn’t take. In February, the TGA stamped its foot and announced it was now actively investigating these influencers in flannelette.

The fact is, the horse has well and truly bolted. Supplies of the drug have improved. But overall, the story (and the threat to those dancing mothers) has died.

This isn’t the only instance where the regulator has struggled to rein in widespread off-label or outright illegal use pharmaceuticals. See here.

What about TikTok’s responsibility?

The Ozempic-supply crisis was a global one. In July, TikTok started cracking down on users promoting the drug, suspending dozens of accounts.

Dozens of influencers were banned because they talked about (read  promoted) the drug, instead of just demonstrating how it’s injected.

Occasionally the platform steps in when a user promotes dangerous misinformation, as was the case when “mom coach” Allie Casazza claimed to have cured her daughter’s Strep A with potato juice.

This occurred when the surge in severe cases of Strep, and attendant deaths of children, was seeping into public consciousness in the UK.

Meanwhile, influencers and wannabes continue to promote raw carrot salad as a cure for menstrual problems while others stuff garlic up their nostrils to clear their sinuses.

In the main, people are free to be as idiotic as they choose with their bodies. And they’re free to share their idiocy with the world.

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