GP Dr Ellie Cannon and Steve Boggan dissect the dodgy ‘health’ fads that have gone viral

Getting to see your GP is hard. Very hard. Actually, scratch that. Getting to see any GP is hard. Actually, scratch that again. Getting through to the surgery reception is a feat involving superhuman levels of cunning and stamina. Having made your way up from 37th in the telephone queue, can you face the crushing defeat of being asked to fill in an online consultation form only to discover that the drop-down box doesn’t have an option for your ailment? 

Research released at the end of last year indicated that only two per cent of GP practices were seeing all their patients within two weeks. Hardly surprising that when people can’t get hold of a professional to discuss their worries with, they take matters into their own hands and seek advice elsewhere. 

Where once upon a time this health advice might have been sought from Granny, these days the internet – and TikTok in particular – has stepped into the breach. The trouble, of course, is that, as The Mail on Sunday’s GP Ellie Cannon puts it, ‘It’s like the wild west out there.’ The health and wellbeing advice online is often nonsense, perpetuated by a growing ‘wellness’ industry (now worth around £20 billion a year), while some of it is downright harmful. 

Steve Boggan and Dr Ellie Cannon debunk the myths on TikTok about trends such as DIY tooth bleaching 

‘The main problem is a lack of regulation,’ says Gunter Kuhnle, professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Reading. ‘It’s very easy to make sometimes preposterous claims without having to provide any evidence. In contrast to medical professionals, who are very careful with promises and guarantees, the wellness sector tends to ignore this uncertainty and makes fairly bold claims.’ 

Opposite are six at-home health fixes currently popular on social media sites – and the experts’ reasons why you definitely shouldn’t be trying them… 


Why would you do it? 

It’s not just doctors who people are struggling to see these days. It’s dentists, too, and prices for treatment have skyrocketed as many clinics have given up their NHS work to offer private treatments only. No wonder patients are turning to TikTok for their dental advice. 

Why you should avoid it

The main problem with the DIY take is that unqualified influencers mistake medical-grade products for household ones with the same name. Dentists do not use regular bleach to whiten teeth, but safety-assured non-toxic concentrations of specially designed products. There is a reason bleach carries toxicity warnings. Yet hashtags for hydrogen peroxide teeth whitening are instant hits, with videos of young women reaching for three per cent hydrogen peroxide and cotton buds. One video featuring a teen doing this had over 15 million views recommending followers repeat this for days at a time. Dentists say this risks inflamed gums and overly sensitive teeth in the long term. 


Why would you do it? 

The #rawmeat diet has a staggering 610 million views on TikTok. Influencers encourage viewers to take it up, suggesting that it can keep your heart healthy and help you to lose weight. One TikTok shows someone noshing on a raw steak (with accompanying chewing noises soundtrack), then washing it down with raw eggs. 

The only weight you’ll lose on the raw meat diet will be from food poisoning 

Why you should avoid it 

Honestly, the only weight you’ll lose following this diet will be from cramps and diarrhoea caused by salmonella or other bacteria in the uncooked meat. This is not a recipe for weight loss but food poisoning. 

What’s more, raw meat has never been proven to keep your heart healthy. Reducing meat consumption is a much better option in the long term. 


Why would you do it? 

Raw carrots and sushi are good for you, right? But raw water? It was perhaps inevitable that someone, somewhere (OK, California) would join the dots and figure that everything raw had to be better than cooked. In fact, ‘raw’ water is simply taken straight from springs, rivers or lakes. It contains, proponents argue, minerals, electrolytes and probiotics filtered out by the treatment process, helping combat anxiety, fatigue and weight gain. 

Why you should avoid it 

‘Drinking raw water is a lottery, with poor odds,’ says Dr Katrina Charles, professor of environmental health risks at the University of Oxford. ‘Globally, around two billion people do so because they have no other option, and they are the people with the highest risk of diarrhoea. Water is naturally contaminated. The faeces of birds, rats, rabbits, cows, lizards and humans end up in the water in the ground or in rivers and lakes, and can carry diseases that will make humans sick. These include campylobacter, E.coli, norovirus and giardia. While these pathogens are mostly going to cause diarrhoea, they do kill people and they do cause chronic conditions too. 


Why would you do it? 

People with complexions prone to spots worry about using make-up in case it blocks pores and exacerbates the spots. One TikTok star’s advice has been to smother the face in calamine lotion before applying make-up.

Why you should avoid it 

Dr Ellie Cannon says, ‘I see a lot of children with chickenpox. Usually I tell the parents to use good old-fashioned calamine lotion – dab it on the spots and wait it out. But in the past few months, it’s been apparent that no parents can get hold of calamine lotion, so they come back to me for an alternative. Thank you, TikTok! If you search #calamine on the site you find videos with millions of views of the lotion being used as a base for make-up. The thick pink liquid blocks out all moisture and air. If you use it every day on your face you’ll strip the skin of moisture, irritate it thanks to its ingredient phenol and worsen any rosacea, eczema or spots you have. Calamine is a medicine, not make-up. And now my poor patients with chickenpox can’t get hold of it for their spots!’ 


Why would you do it?

Search #teatox on TikTok and you will find getty images more than 5.1 million views from bloggers and influencers claiming teatoxes can help you lose weight, get a flatter tummy and reduce bloating. Many ‘weight-loss’ varieties contain senna, a naturally occurring laxative.

Why you should avoid it 

In 2017, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) ordered a posting for ‘Flat Tummy Tea’ by Geordie Shore star Sophie Kasaei to be taken down. According to the ASA, the manufacturer, Nomad Choice, ‘did not hold scientific data to support their claims that the tea ingredients could help with water weight loss’. 

In fact, according to Professor Kuhnle, ‘Using laxatives without medical supervision is potentially dangerous – it can lead to constipation and is also associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. 

‘A particular concern are the active compounds – sennosides – in senna which could potentially be genotoxic and carcinogenic. There is no need for “detox” or “cleansing” as the body is fairly capable of doing this alone.’ 


Why would you do it? 

The craze for ‘v-steaming’ was first reported in the US in 2010 and later promoted by Gwyneth Paltrow on her Goop wellness website. According to Harper’s Bazaar, Paltrow recommended vaginal steaming with a mix of herbs and aromatics ‘to rebalance female hormones, and for the super-clean uterus you had always wanted’. 

Its popularity was fuelled by social media, not least an Instagram post of model Chrissy Teigen sitting over a steaming box, with the words ‘Vagina steam. No I don’t know if any of this works but it can’t hurt right?’ 

Women are turning to it to deal with irregular periods, hormonal bloating and menstrual cramping.

Why you should avoid it

In 2018, the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada reported the case of a 62-year-old woman who suffered second-degree burns while steaming her vagina. In the UK, Dr Leila Frodsham, consultant gynaecologist and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), says, ‘The RCOG doesn’t recommend vaginal steaming. This treatment is not medically necessary and may lead to harm. 

‘There is no evidence to support the use of vaginal steaming, and this treatment may increase the risk of infection, as well as being expensive. Vaginal steaming can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria and pH levels in the vagina. This can cause irritation as well as inflammation, and lead to infections such as bacterial vaginosis and thrush.’ 

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