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Borax-drinking TikTok trend slammed: ‘You’re not a washing machine’ – National |


Borax, a versatile household cleaner, finds its place as a laundry detergent, a pesticide for ants and cockroaches and even a weed killer. But some social media users are also trying to promote it for questionable and potentially harmful uses, such as adding it to water or coffee and bathing in it.

TikTok users posting videos of themselves ingesting borax have falsely claimed it can help treat of range ailments, including inflammation, joint pain, kidney stones, chronic fatigue and erectile dysfunction.

“You’re not a washing machine. There’s no evidence this is going to help you, but still, you see these trends take off and it is completely driven by the power of social media,” Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta, told Global News.

“When I first saw this, it became immediately obvious that this was another ridiculous trend, another potentially harmful trend, and another example of how we need to continue to debunk misinformation as it emerges.”

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Why borax isn’t safe to consume

Borax is a chemical compound commonly found in household cleaners. The powder is a combination of boron, sodium, oxygen and hydrogen, and has been banned from food products in Canada and the United States.

On TikTok, some users say that adding a bit of borax to their water or coffee can work wonders, like helping with osteoporosis. Some even claim that taking a borax bath can detoxify the body.


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But there’s nothing to support any of the health claims. In fact, experts stress that ingesting significant amounts of household chemicals can be very harmful.

“Just because something is natural doesn’t necessarily mean it’s harmless. Consuming borax, especially in large doses, can cause real harm. In extreme cases, it’s been associated with death,” Caulfield warned.

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For example, he said arsenic and mercury are natural elements, but they are still highly toxic to humans.

Dr. Margaret Thompson, the medical director of the Ontario Poison Centre (OPC), said even in small doses consuming borax can be dangerous.

“The first symptom that people would probably develop, even if it’s a non-toxic amount, would be nausea and vomiting,” she said. “It causes irritation to the stomach lining. And so you can start vomiting up blood as well.”

“The larger the amount, you end up with some kidney damage. You can end up actually having seizures.”

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Although the OPC has not had any recent calls related to borax poisoning, she emphasized that the lack of reports does not necessarily mean it’s not happening. Reporting to the OPC is voluntary, and numbers can be underreported.

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Rio Tinto, the company behind borax, told Global News in an email Thursday the labels for its products clearly say, “do not ingest.”

“We are deeply concerned by false claims made on social media about borate properties and its use for unintended purposes. Let us be clear: Rio Tinto U.S. Borax does not offer product for use as a dietary ingredient, pharmaceutical and/or over-the-counter active ingredient, nor food additive or direct additive to food,” the spokesperson wrote.

So why are people drinking borax?

Experts aren’t exactly sure how this latest TikTok trend started, but users promoting it are citing its health benefits because of its boron content — a naturally occurring chemical element present in foods like fruits and vegetables.

However, boron in its elemental state is different from borax, explained Dr. Chris Kozak, a professor of inorganic chemistry at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. The two are not the same thing, just like sodium and table salt aren’t the same thing, he said.

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“In order to get boron from borax, you’ve got to do a lot of chemistry to refine it, to remove the boron from the borax, and then purify it,” he explained.

The main purpose of borax is to act as a cleaning and bleaching agent, so when ingested it can irritate the stomach, Kozak warned, adding that it’s the same as consuming other laundry detergents, like Tide.

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“We add it to our wash to help whiten our clothes. And borax itself is very mildly acidic when it’s dissolved in water, so it’s a very weak acid.”

In terms of bathing in the substance, Kozak said it is it would be the same thing as washing your skin with bleach.

“Exposing your skin to high levels of this stuff isn’t very good. And exposing your digestive system to high levels of this isn’t very good,” he said.

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“The claims that people have that …  it helps with joint pain and inflammation, there has been no clinical evidence to support that. So I have no idea where this information has come from, or what sources people have. I think this is all it is getting people to view their sites on social media. So it’s an attention-grabbing thing.”

TikTok and misinformation

This is not the first time a potentially harmful trend has circulated on social media.

One example is the activated charcoal trend that popped up in 2017. Activated charcoal is a substance that has been used for medicinal purposes, like in emergency medical settings to treat certain types of poisoning and drug overdoses.

But on social media, it started gaining popularity as a supposed detoxifying and health-enhancing supplement. However, experts warn that if ingested it will bind with all sorts of particles in your stomach, including vitamins and minerals needed for your body.

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Platforms like TikTok are especially dangerous for misinformation, Caulfield said, because many young people use it not just for entertainment, but also to get their news. Many studies have shown that the algorithm in TikTok often pushes misinformation.

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Misinformation can easily spread online when you have a “compelling influence” who shares an engaging testimonial, Caulfield noted. Research shows traits such as personability and humour can make the influencer more persuasive to users.

These users, especially in the wellness field, usually refer to vague research that supports the position, he said.

“Even if you look at the research and it doesn’t actually support their position, but that gives it a veneer of scientific credibility,” he added. “You still need evidence to show it works. And by the way, things that are natural can be really harmful.”

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Because of this, it’s important for users to be aware of all the misinformation on these platforms, especially in the health field.

“So just constantly reminding yourself of that, that can make a difference,” Caulfield said.

“The other thing you want to do is try to verify from credible sources, especially if you’re going to act on it, before you act on it. Do your best to verify that this really does work.”

— with files from The Associated Press


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