Viral wellness trends and health misinformation on TikTok

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TikTok has graced us with a compendium of tools to nourish our mental and physical health. Hot girl walks, digital detoxes, and easy, healthy recipes to say the least. It’s also rife with misinformation and wellness trends that can cause more harm than good. Like swallowing a whole clove of garlic for glowing skin and shoving garlic up your nose to clear your sinuses. Why is garlic the magical, all-healing messiah?  

Inside the niche

For every interest on TikTok, there’s a clique of like-minded people behind it. BookTok for avid readers, FoodTok for chefs and home cooks, and even CleanTok, for ASMR-loving clean freaks. These niches allow content creators and consumers to bond over a shared interest as a community. Creating a space for users to receive support and share coping mechanisms is important, even more so for those with chronic health conditions and issues like celiac disease and diabetes. But where there are health concerns, misinformation can rear its ugly head. 


A study by the University of Chicago researched the extent of misinformation on ‘#sinustok’, or the corner of TikTok for sinusitis sufferers. As it turns out, chronic sinus infections are a prime target. The study found that 44% of videos in the #sinustok hashtag contained non-factual information. Despite being portrayed as educational, most misinformed videos were posted by influencers without medical credentials. These creators would encourage engagement in baseless trends like stuffing their noses with garlic to relieve congestion. 

Though it might seem like it to the untrained eye, not all medical information on TikTok is bogus. The analysis concluded that one of the best ways medical professionals can combat misinformation is by ensuring social media users have access to high-quality, truthful health information, especially from content creators working in the medical field.


In the last few years, there’s been a growing number of adult ADHD diagnoses as a result of the disorder’s proliferation on TikTok. #ADHDtok sheds light on the experiences of adults (particularly women) with ADHD and is working to reduce stigma and educate users on the symptoms. It also aims to help adults feel comfortable in reaching out for help. 

A quick search in the app will show you how much traction the ADHD in women hashtag is getting. There are 3.2 million posts in the ADHD hashtag and almost half a million in the ADHD in women hashtag. These videos offer support and coping mechanisms and propose overlooked symptoms that could be indicative of ADHD. 

Many women go without ever thinking they have ADHD because their symptoms are overlooked during childhood. We associate ADHD with the hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and disruptive behaviour that often presents itself in boys. However, it’s a different story for young girls. They’re more likely to have trouble making or maintaining friends, focusing in an academic setting, and avoiding challenging tasks or events as a result of ADHD. 

While it’s dangerous to self-diagnose based on a few TikTok videos, it can be a starting point for recognising the type of help you need. In Australia, getting an ADHD diagnosis is a long, expensive road, so if you tick all the boxes and think medication might help manage your symptoms, it’s worth booking an appointment with your GP.  Also, contact your health insurance provider to see what you're covered for.

Spreading like wildfire

For better or for worse, TikTok is an effective platform for spreading health-based information.

Some trends based on misinformation are relatively harmless, like sticking potatoes in your socks at night to ‘draw out toxins’. Other creators claim the key to curing liver disease is a ‘parasite cleanse’. Sure, Jan. 

Other trends can be incredibly harmful, like encouraging people to drink laundry detergent with their coffee to ease joint pain and *checks notes*... cure cancer. The anti-vaccine rhetoric that was rampant during the 2021 COVID-19 vaccine rollout had creators declaring that it gave them cancer and made their chronic illnesses worse. Others claimed it destroyed their cognitive function and that there was no need for it because they hadn't caught COVID-19 before. Yikes. 

Dr. Siyab Panhwar is a qualified interventional cardiologist. In a live webinar for the University of New York's School of Global Public Health, he expressed how those who weren't exposed to the effects of the virus typically believed it didn't exist.

“You used to defer to people who know more than you. But that doesn’t happen on social media now. Everyone’s an expert,” Dr Panhwar said.

In traditional social settings, the vast majority of people will divert to the recommendations of experts. But on social media, the wealth of information at people’s fingertips allows them to pick and choose facts and use them out of context.

Online, ordinary citizens began to ignore medical advice and give in to misinformation. The same misinformation and uninformed opinions of news outlets permeated social media.

Why TikTok is the chosen one

Long before TikTok, social media was still home to a wealth of inaccurate medical advice. Circa 2015, Kylie Jenner promoted a ✨magical tea✨ that supposedly gave you a flat stomach and slim waist. Infographics from no-name brand ‘health’ accounts flooded Pinterest and Instagram. Eating Brazilian nuts every day will prevent you from becoming depressed. Drinking coffee or water before every meal will help you eat less. Eating *insert certain fruit or vegetable here* will make you 'lose belly fat'. Despite their wildly incorrect claims, these accounts are still around if you look hard enough.

Just as Instagram was, TikTok is now the one-stop shop for unverified and inaccurate medical advice. It's one of the most popular apps right now, and it's where most people go to consume content. Memes, recipes, influencers, and ASMR. Who needs YouTube when you can watch a full episode of Young Sheldon split into 30 parts? People trust the sources and influencers they see on TikTok as much as, if not more than they trust clinicians. 

A report by Forbes found that young people typically refer to social media in place of traditional search engines like Google. However, this varies on the type of information they’re searching for.

I'll be the first to say that if I’m looking for a recipe, I’m more likely to turn to TikTok instead of Google. I don't want to have to rummage through long articles stuffed with SEO search terms to get to the guts of a recipe. While Gen Z uses many platforms to search, Instagram and TikTok come out on top. 67% of users search using Instagram, 62% use TikTok, and 61% use Google.   

This can present serious challenges when trying to direct young people to truthful, accurate medical advice, especially if there’s a sown distrust in the healthcare system. Healthcare inequality makes it hard for indigenous Australians to receive equal access to primary health care. The socioeconomic disadvantage of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population compared to that of non-indigenous peoples can place them at a greater risk of behavioural and environmental health issues. This disadvantage can also make it difficult for them to seek help. It might also lead them to seek medical advice from inaccurate sources, like TikTok influencers without medical credentials.

Harmful health and wellness trends to watch for

We can’t be sure if those spreading health misinformation know that these trends don’t work. Perhaps they distrust the healthcare system or want relief from their pain. Hesitation to reach out for medical care can cause people to seek alternative treatments online, even if there's little to no evidence they’ll work.

Be wary of health and wellness trends like:

  • Celtic sea salt for improving hydration
  • Miralax/laxatives for weight loss 
  • Potato juice to cure a streptococcal infection 
  • Rebalancing your hormones with carrots 
  • Hydrogen peroxide or candles to get rid of earwax
  • Taping your mouth before bed to ensure you only breathe through your nose

What you can do

Outside of reporting misinformation, there’s not much you can do in the way of preventing these harmful wellness trends. That’s for TikTok to deal with. Like YouTube and Instagram have refined their content standards to prevent eating disorder content, it’s up to the platform to flag and remove inaccurate health advice. 

As a consumer of internet content, make sure you get your medical advice from a qualified professional. Not an influencer with a confident voice and a dream. Most of the time they aim to garner attention for views, even if what they’re saying isn't 100% factual. Just because something goes viral, doesn't mean it works or it’s safe!

Look for any citations or public medical research that support what they’re talking about. Ask for their qualifications, and if they can't provide them, take what they say with a grain of salt. Do your research, too. This doesn't mean looking up random keywords and picking studies out of context to fit your bias. Look for present-day peer-reviewed science-based articles to back up what you’re hearing. 

When debunking health-related misinformation, look for buzzwords, like toxins, poisons, chemicals, cleanse, and detox. Oftentimes influencers cannot explain or contextualise these words, so they'll throw them around in the hopes of grabbing your attention.

The internet is no substitute for the advice of a medical professional. The next time a viral wellness trend or claim catches your eye, do your due diligence, use your critical thinking skills, and consult your doctor.

Final word

Platforms like TikTok can bring useful wellness ideas to the public eye. Every walk is a hot girl walk, and I now have 15 different ways to make a high-protein yoghurt bowl. They can also help to reduce the stigma of mental health disorders like ADHD and prompt others to seek help. But they’re also a breeding ground for health misinformation. Vaccine-related misinformation ran rampant during the pandemic and #sinustok continues to tell users that shoving a garlic clove up your nose will relieve congestion. 

Do your research and always consult a medical professional before doing something that may have adverse effects on your health. Heed what your parents said when you first started using the computer and don’t believe everything you see on the internet. 

Hannah Geremia
Written by
Hannah Geremia
Hannah has had over six years of experience in researching, writing, and editing quality content. She loves gaming, dancing, and animals, and can usually be found under a weighted blanket with a cup of coffee and a book.

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