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TikTok can be great for many things, such as recipes, style inspiration, cat videos or comedy relief. But when it comes to wellness trends, following all of TikTok users’ suggestions could mean gambling with your health.
Every year there are at least a few new wellness practices that content creators purport to be hacks, and they spread like wildfire. Last year there was sunscreen contouring for making one’s face look sculpted, putting garlic up the nose to clear sinuses, and drinking dry protein powder to enhance its effects — all of which experts said don’t always work and are potentially dangerous.
Why such practices can become popular without evidence boils down to a few things.
“It’s human nature to want the path of least resistance,” said Dr. Niket Sonpal, an adjunct assistant professor of clinical medicine in the department of basic biomedical sciences at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City. “There’s pain and suffering, and they want relief.”
Some people might have difficulty seeing a physician due to health illiteracy, health care disparities or time constraints, he added — which can lead to crowdsourcing from dubious sources.
“It’s difficult because, on the one hand, there are practices that are harmful. But on the other hand, there are some that actually offer benefits for individuals’ health,” said CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.
Of the wellness practices that populated TikTok this year, here’s what we should leave in 2022 or could take with us into the new year, according to experts.
Hot girl walks
Mia Lind, a 23-year-old TikTok user, was quarantining in January 2021 when she put her own spin on an exercise routine, over time transforming her body and mind with what she coined the “hot girl walk.”
“Obviously there are a lot of health benefits when you go on these walks for a long time and walk kind of quickly,” Lind said in a TikTok she posted that month. “But it’s what you do on the hot girl walk that matters.”
“You’re only allowed to think about three things on the hot girl walk: One, things you’re grateful for. Two, your goals and how you’re going to achieve them, and three, how hot you are.”
The hot girl walk rose in popularity in 2021 and continued to do so this year: As of December 21 of this year, her video has been viewed more than 3 million times and liked by nearly 800,000 people.
“In general, anything that encourages exercise and mental well-being will be a net positive for people’s health,” Wen said.
Walking can have multiple benefits, Wen added, including for reducing blood pressure or risk for cancer, heart disease, stroke or type 2 diabetes. Walking can also improve your mood — and be more approachable than other exercises.
Lind has suggested walking a few miles every day, but if that’s not immediately feasible for you, start small or spread the distance out throughout the day, said both Wen and Joey Thurman, a certified personal trainer and author of “The Minimum Method: The Least You Can Do to Be a Stronger, Healthier, Happier You.”
Frustration and burnout due to long hours and understaffed companies led some people to stop doing work beyond what they were hired to do and aren’t getting compensated for — a trend known as “quiet quitting.”
The premise of quiet quitting — reducing stress — is good, but quietly dropping certain work tasks might not be sustainable over time. A better route is to set boundaries, evaluate what your priorities are and communicate with your manager to ensure you both are on the same page about what your responsibilities are.
The ‘internal shower’ drink
Some TikToker users have touted a flat stomach and constipation relief as benefits of the “internal shower,” which involves adding 2 tablespoons of chia seeds to a glass of water with fresh lemon juice, letting the drink sit for 10 to 15 minutes then drinking it as fast as possible. Some drink this once, while others take on a challenge of doing it once daily for anywhere from a few days up to a month.
But while some have said the trend is worth the hype, others have experienced bloating or new or worsened constipation. The drink’s ingredients can explain both outcomes.
The key to a healthy bowel movement is fiber and water, Sonpal said. We need 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily, according to the US Food and Drug Administration, but the average American gets just 10 to 15 grams.
About 2 tablespoons of chia seeds provides around 10 grams of fiber, so they can help “relieve symptoms of occasional mild constipation,” said Dr. Geoffrey A. Preidis, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the division of gastroenterology, hepatology & nutrition at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital.
But consuming too much fiber, especially without enough water, can lead to bloating, gas, abdominal pain or diarrhea, said Preidis and Beth Czerwony, a registered dietitian with the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition.
“You don’t need something called (an) ‘internal shower,’” Sonpal said. “You just need a high-fiber diet and a lot of water every day.”
“Chlorophyll water is a trend on social media that encourages people to add chlorophyll drops into water,” Czerwony said.
Followers of this practice, which has been trending for the last year and a half, claim “various health benefits including cancer prevention, wound healing, weight loss, controlling constipation and increasing energy,” Czerwony added.
People who have praised chlorophyll water for benefitting their skin, weight loss efforts, bowel regularity and energy levels were likely just experiencing the effects of being more hydrated than they were before, the experts said, as water helps all these things.
Research hasn’t proven that chlorophyll water is toxic or dangerous, but it hasn’t shown any health benefits, either, Czerwony said.
People have been searching for years for ways to keep their mouth closed at night to prevent mouth breathing while sleeping. This year, some people found what seemed to be a simple solution on TikTok: taping one’s mouth shut. But some experts have said although tape can keep your mouth shut and facilitate nose breathing, mouth taping can have downsides.
“If you have obstructive sleep apnea, yes, this can be very dangerous,” sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta, an associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, told CNN in October. Obstructive sleep apnea, the complete or partial collapse of the airway, is one of the most common and dangerous sleep disorders.
Using tape can also lead to painful loss of facial hair or damage soft tissue around the mouth.
“There is limited evidence on the benefits of mouth taping, and I would be very careful — and even talk to your health care provider before attempting it,” he added.
One TikTok challenge that might make you recoil in horror is “sleepy chicken,” a recipe for cooking chicken in a mixture of the basic ingredients of Nyquil and other similar products … actually, we can’t really tell you why people thought this was a good idea.
Still, the dish trended widely enough to catch the attention of the US Food and Drug Administration, which issued a warning in September.
“These video challenges, which often target youths, can harm people — and even cause death,” the FDA said in a statement on its website. “Boiling a medication can make it much more concentrated and change its properties in other ways. Even if you don’t eat the chicken, inhaling the medication’s vapors while cooking could cause high levels of the drugs to enter your body. It could also hurt your lungs.”
The fact that viral TikTok hacks can be as innocent as walking for fitness and self-confidence or as dangerous as cooking chicken in NyQuil is a testament to social media trends being a mixed bag.
If you have a health provider, always consult them before trying anything, Wen said. “Another way is to check the trend against trusted websites for health information.”
CNN’s Jen Rose Smith contributed to this story.