It seems like every other week there's a new health trend making the rounds on TikTok. And some of these wellness fads are sticking around — even if there isn't enough science to back up the claims and the risks outweigh the supposed benefits.
It's now common to see doctor influencers on TikTok create videos debunking these wellness trends, though it's usually after they have already gotten significant traction and made their way to the screens of users willing to try them. Which ones should you avoid?
Here are five TikTok "health" trends du jour that really aren't that healthy at all, according to experts.
Raw potato juice for strep
Yes, you can juice a potato. Recently, influencers on TikTok have posted videos claiming that drinking raw potato juice can "cure" strep throat or other infections.
While potatoes do contain vitamins and anti-fungal compounds, “there’s no evidence at all that these can treat any infections in humans, whether they’re bacterial or viral,” Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, a medical toxicology physician and interim executive director at the National Capital Poison Center, tells TODAY.com.
Strep throat is a bacterial infection caused by Group A streptococcus bacteria, Johnson-Arbor adds, so drinking potato juice can be harmful if it prevents or delays treatment with strep antibiotics.
“Just because you drink potato juice and your strep symptoms went away does not mean that the potato juice cured the strep,” Johnson-Arbor points out. The sore throat from strep is typically 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,” says Johnson-Arbor.
Other complications of untreated strep include abscesses around the tonsils, kidney disease and arthritis, Dr. Kay Leaming-Van Zandt, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Texas Children’s Hospital, tells TODAY.com.
While potato juice on its own may not do much harm, “using alternative or natural substances like potato juice instead of being prescribed antibiotics is really dangerous,” says Leaming-Van Zandt.
So if you have symptoms of strep, 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, Leaming-Van Zandt adds.
“Dry scooping” pre-workout powder
The “dry scooping” trend has taken the fitness influencer world by storm. It involves swallowing scoops of dry pre-workout supplement powder instead of diluting it in water, and it looks as enjoyable as it sounds.
Pre-workout supplement powders "are marketed to give you more energy so that you have a more explosive, more intense workout,” explains Johnson-Arbor.
Pre-workout powder typically contains a blend of energy-boosting ingredients, like caffeine, taurine or guarana, as well as protein or creatine, she says. One scoop can contain anywhere from 150 to 300 milligrams of caffeine, equivalent to three cups of coffee, TODAY.com previously reported.
However, studies have shown that nutrition labels on these supplements can be misleading and inaccurate because the amount of caffeine or other stimulants listed is not always consistent with the actual amount in the powder, says Leaming-Van Zandt.
Johnson-Arbor adds that dietary supplements are not heavily regulated and some pre-workout powders can be contaminated with ingredients that have been banned in the U.S. due to harmful side effects. “These can make the heart race and raise blood pressure ... and even cause death,” she explains.
Such ingredients include 1,3-dimethylamylamine (DMAA), per the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and ephedrine, per Leaming-Van Zandt. A 2018 statement from the FDA stated that "DMAA-containing products marketed as dietary supplements are illegal and their marketing violates the law." And the FDA has prohibited the sale of ephedrine alkaloids in dietary supplements for almost 20 years, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Depending on how much is consumed, pre-workout supplements can do more harm than good especially in adolescents and children, says Leaming-Van Zandt. “Some ingredients can cause problems with the kidneys or the liver, and in people with underlying cardiac disease, complications could include stroke or death.”
The actual dry-scooping method can also be risky, the experts note. The idea is that you get the entire dose of the supplement in your body all at once so it has a more powerful effect, says Johnson-Arbor. But some of the powder can wind up in your esophagus and lungs if it’s inhaled, which can cause irritation, coughing or even an asthma attack, she adds.
“The other problem is that you can get caffeine toxicity or toxicity from other agents,” says Johnson-Arbor, and people with a history of heart problems should avoid pre-workout supplements entirely.
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 are saying that alkaline water is better than tap water or bottled water because it has a higher pH, and a lower pH is associated with inflammation and all sorts of illnesses,” Johnson-Arbor says, adding that others claim it prevents cancer, slows aging and improves hydration.
“There’s very minimal evidence suggesting that alkaline water has any proven health benefits,” she stresses. In fact, the FDA denied a 2007 petition to authorize health claims that alkaline water minimizes risk of osteoporosis due to insufficient evidence.
“The pH of our stomach acid is naturally very low. ... That helps break down food and kill bacteria,” says Johnson-Arbor. “Whatever you drink is going to go into your stomach and get neutralized by the acidity, so (alkaline water) probably does nothing to you physiologically.”
Drinking normal amounts of alkaline water is unlikely to do harm, she adds. But too much alkaline from any source can disrupt your blood and body fluid's acid-base balance and lead to alkalosis, which can cause muscle cramps, tremors, seizures or coma, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
The BORG (blackout rage gallon)
"Blackout rage gallon" in itself sounds like a health hazard, but it's touted by many as a safer intoxication method. 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 personalized, allegedly hangover-proof drink, NBCNews.com previously reported.
"It's always interesting to hear what people come up with in order to make things seemingly more healthy," Leaming-Van Zandt says, adding that the main concern about borgs is the amount of alcohol consumption. There's still a risk for intoxication or poisoning, she says, which can lead to changes in behavior, coordination, memory impairments, falls, injuries, respiratory depression or death.
"The influencers are marketing (borgs) as being 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’re pouring a fifth of vodka into the gallon, that's still 17 shots of vodka, which is not safe for anyone to consume even over the course of one day, says Johnson-Arbor.
In early March, students at UMass Amrherst made 28 ambulance calls in one day due to borgs, TODAY.com previously reported.
"Binge drinking for women is four or more drinks at a time and for men five or more drinks at a time, so the borg is equal to binge drinking my opinion," says Johnson-Arbor. There's no evidence that adding electrolytes will prevent a hangover either, she adds.
Mixing caffeine flavor enhancers or powers and alcohol is also risky. People often do so thinking caffeine will "counteract" the effects of alcohol, says Johnson-Arbor, but "this is very dangerous. ... You can get alcohol and caffeine poisoning, which can be life-threatening."
Mouth taping during sleep
Although many experts want to put this TikTok sleep hack to bed, the mouth taping trend just won’t go away. It involves using a piece of tape or a special bandage to keep the mouth shut so you only breathe out of the nose while sleeping.
While mouth-breathing during sleep is linked to a number of long-term problems and sleep disorders, per Cleveland Clinic, taping isn't the answer. The experts stress there isn’t enough research to back up any health claims around improving sleep, and mouth taping has dangerous side effects, such as decreased oxygen levels and cardiac arrest.
If snoring is the concern, first address the underlying cause — one of these is obstructive sleep apnea, says Leaming-Van Zandt, which leads to frequent pauses in breathing. “If people aren’t adequate or efficient nose breathers, (mouth tape) could actually worsen respiratory pauses or obstruction while sleeping,” she adds.
Another concern is that the tape could become dislodged and get into the mouth while someone is sleeping, creating a choking hazard, Leaming-Van Zandt says. If you have concerns about your sleep health, talk to your doctor.