Are you constipated, bloated, or cramped? Have you ever suffered from food poisoning and felt like your digestion has not been the same since? Do you have trouble falling asleep, experience skin issues, or endure muscle and joint pain? What about exhaustion, anxiety, teeth grinding, or general discontentment with life?
On TikTok, the platform hailed as the primary news source among gen Zers, a miracle cure for all of the ailments mentioned above is yet another bold—and medically unsound—solution that you can DIY from the comforts of your own cluttercore kitchen. Welcome to the fatal world of parasite cleanses, a so-called wellness trend that involves purging worm invaders from your gut and pooping them out in a bid to tackle countless health issues.
Oh, and the exorcism is not complete without posting a squeamishly-detailed description or even an eyebleach picture of the critters you have just flushed out of your system. What a day to question your existence on the internet indeed.
As noted by Medical News Today, a parasite cleanse is any diet, supplement, or detox product that is intended to eliminate parasites from our bodies without using prescription medications.
Be it via homemade tinctures or dedicated subscription boxes, these detoxes are essentially based on the same set of beliefs that everyone has a legion of invasive critters hiding in their stomach, causing them distress. And, as it turns out, the only way to clear them out is to target their food source which majorly comprises heavy metals and toxins.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has previously acknowledged the presence of “neglected parasitic infections”—by stating that at least 1,000 people in the US visit the hospital each year for cysticercosis, or pork tapeworm, and 14 per cent of the population has come into contact with Toxocara or roundworms, typically from dogs or cats—brands that promote parasite cleanses often inflate these numbers and go as far as to recommend the procedure to just about anyone without a professional diagnosis.
Now, a handful of studies have proven that some natural ingredients with powerful antioxidant properties, like wormwood, oregano oil, neem, and olive leaf, may help the body remove parasites. However, the majority of the researchers have also called for more tests before recommending the same as a full-blown treatment.
But this hasn’t stopped TikTok from fostering an entire rabbit hole—or should I say wormhole—of tutorials and video testimonies from users who have sacrificed their own bowels in hopes of deworming themselves with over-the-counter solutions and word-of-mouth diet plans.
With 365 million views on the platform, parasite cleansing enthusiasts on TikTok believe invasive gut species can only be expelled by performing multiple monthly detoxes. Here, papaya seeds are lauded as a miracle cure while others are seen recommending supplements like ParaGuard or Para-Vide.
“Did you know that 80 per cent of humans have parasites in their intestines? 80 per cent! Basically all of us, okay?” TikToker Rachel Elizabeth is heard saying in a viral video, adding that her gastrointestinal tract is all messed up. “So, I look up the symptoms of having an intestinal parasite and what are they? Abdominal discomfort, bloating, diarrhoea, fatigue… I have all of those. So, now I have ParaGuard. I’m not going to lie to you, it does not taste good at all but it’s working.”
“I can feel it in my body and I am pooping worms. It works and I think everybody needs to do this because what if this is all we need to be better, right?” Elizabeth goes on to add. “Go get it. I’m shook.”
In another viral video, TikToker Tywonny mentioned the possible connection between intestinal parasites and depression. In the clip, the user explained that she had tried deworming herself with ParaGuard. “Okay, so you know that parasite cleansing thing that everybody’s taking, ParaGuard, and then, like you look in your poopoo and there’s wormies in there? Yeah, I poopooed wormies out and, um, that’s not the problem,” Tywonny stated.
“I was looking at the side effects of having worms and parasites, and it said bloating, cramping, nausea, vomiting, gas, pains… and then I saw that it said depression. And it just made me think. So I’ve been depressed for however many years on and off… you mean to tell me it was from a worm?”
A quick scroll through the video’s comments section will also highlight claims supporting the link between parasites and depression. “Imagine how many people are clinically mentally ill and have been paying for medications for years… and a cleanse is all it could have taken,” one user wrote in this regard.
Among the countless anecdotes, enthusiasts are also seen recommending a cleansing diet that includes anti-inflammatory herbs and spices such as garlic, turmeric, and ginger—while avoiding specific types of food like sugar, coffee, and carbs. A popular concoction to evict all wormies is the “parasite cleanse juice” made by mixing a lime, an inch of ginger, a peeled papaya, and an entire pineapple in a blender before chugging it down like there’s no tomorrow.
“Do you want to shit out worms just like me?” TikTok user Jovanna is heard saying in a video, later delving into a list of ingredients including activated charcoal and fulvic acid to “murder” the soul suckers in your gut. The creator also suggested the addition of Cayenne pepper and papaya seeds (natural boba, who?) to any normal can of juice in order to aid the process.
With the amount of clips and views making the rounds on parasite cleansing TikTok, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the dubious wellness trend inspires a parallel rise of ‘Come Deworm With Me’ (CDWM) videos on the platform—where influencers vividly guide viewers throughout their detox journey every day.
In a way, the trend in question reminds me of the time TikTok was obsessed with salt water flushes—promising to “clean and flush” the “sludge” out of one’s gut in exchange for short-term weight loss. The procedure essentially hinged on drinking a mixture of warm water and non-iodised salt which, in turn, has a laxative effect and results in urgent bowel movement within the next 30 minutes to an hour.
The only catch was that a salt water flush is typically done first thing in the morning after waking up. Alternatively, it can also be performed in the evening, a few hours after your last meal. But just like most wellness trends on the platform, salt water flushes turned out to be utter BS.
In the case of parasite cleanses, however, things take a fatal turn when we acknowledge hundreds of comments from mothers who claim to have administered the tinctures and concoctions to young children. Apart from the lack of evidence to back the remedies and false beliefs that they’ll “cure disabilities” in the younger generation, that is.
First off, let’s establish the fact that invasive parasites are very much real. However, most of them don’t lead to any symptoms. Heck, most of the intestinal parasites you might have aren’t something you would see as literal worms in your poop in the first place.
“There are plenty of people out there who have been exposed to a number of different parasitic organisms, though the overwhelming majority of them have no symptoms at all,” Dr. Mitchell Blass, infectious disease physician at Georgia Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with SELF. “Those symptoms are quite vague and they’re quite nonspecific. To say all of that is from an intestinal helminth, which is one of the worms that we can see, and to attribute all of those to it, I would say that that is singularly unlikely.”
According to the expert, parasites like roundworm, tapeworm, or hookworm are relatively rare in the US. Although they can happen, especially if you’ve travelled to a place where the worms are more prevalent, they’re certainly not as common as social media suggests. “The people that get usually more ill from things like this are either, one, unlucky—it’s just an unlucky event—or, two, they have some underlying immune dysfunction,” Dr. Blass added.
So if parasites are not all that common, what’s the deal with TikTokers claiming that a quick cleanse has made them poop for days at a stretch? As per Dr. Blass and Dr. Cynthia Sears, professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the most likely explanation is that these products are triggering both bowel movements and a heightened attention to what you leave behind in the toilet bowl—both of which could lead to suspicious-looking poops.
“I think they may be seeing mucus threads, for example,” Dr. Sears explained. “And food, as it’s digested, can have very odd appearances at times.” In most of the graphic evidence, the alleged worms could also just be undigested bits of kale. “That long spindly thing in your stool can certainly look like a tapeworm if you don’t know what you’re looking for,” infectious disease specialist Thomas Moore told The Washington Post. “When in fact, it’s just a string of vegetable matter.”
When it comes to the holy grail diet plans in parasite cleanses, it’s worth noting that dietary changes alone may be enough to cause a noticeable change in one’s body, as they are shifting to a cleaner and more healthy regime in general.
Many parasite cleanse products may also make a person feel better simply by eliminating processed and greasy foods and introducing healthful probiotics and antioxidants. “The ingredients in the detox product tend to be very high in antioxidants, and many can easily cause a reaction in the digestive system,” Medical News Today reported on these terms. “People often mistake these effects for what they call ‘parasitic die-off’.”
At the end of the day, Dr. Sears recommends consulting a licensed health care provider if you’re dealing with persistent diarrhoea and symptoms of anaemia, instead of bingeing on baseless TikTok trends and spending days trying to emulate the DIY potions.
“The things that will make us look for parasites are a history of travel, a history of anaemia, persistent or chronic diarrhoea, or intermittent diarrhoea that doesn’t have another cause,” the expert said. “And with diarrhoea can always come abdominal discomfort, bloating, your appetite can be down, that whole constellation of symptoms that tend to go together in any sort of intestinal illness.”
Parasite cleanses reiterate a classic problem with most health trends on social media, where the symptoms advertised tend to be very common—as a result of which a large chunk of viewers may feel like they’ve fallen victim to the ailment in question. Unless the wellness industry curbs its obsession with creating problems in order to sell solutions, I’m afraid that such questionable trends will continue to grip your FYP for the foreseeable future. The best you can do is eye roll and scroll.
If you ask anyone to describe gen Zers in three words off the top of their head, chances are that you’d end up with the video-sharing app TikTok being one of them. Ever since its conception in 2016, the platform has become synonymous with dynamic—and often questionable—trends, majorly fronted by its unhinged and loyal gen Z user base. To date, we’ve seen people vabbing their way into romantic attractions, taping their mouth shut for “enhanced” nap time, and even razor-brushing their teeth for the love of gore.
With concerning reports of TikTok becoming a major news source for American audiences comes a brand new ‘wellness’ trend that involves drinking a concoction, which can only be described as incredibly sus, to “clean and flush” the “sludge” out of one’s gut in exchange for short-term weight loss. Welcome to the explosive little world of salt water flushes.
A salt water flush allegedly cleanses your colon, treats chronic constipation, and helps detox your body. As noted by Healthline, the practice involves drinking a mixture of warm water and non-iodised salt—which, in turn, has a laxative effect and results in urgent bowel movement within the next 30 minutes to an hour. “Advocates of this process believe the procedure helps remove toxins, old waste material, and parasites that may be lurking inside the colon,” the health information site explained.
Salt water flushes are typically done first thing in the morning after waking up. Alternatively, it can also be performed in the evening, a few hours after your last meal. “It doesn’t matter what time of day you do the flush as long as it’s done on an empty stomach,” Healthline continued. “Don’t plan on running errands or exercising for a few hours after drinking the salt water. You’re likely to have multiple, urgent bowel movements. So, you shouldn’t venture too far from a toilet.”
Although a salt water flush is effective at cleansing the colon by causing bowel movements in the short run, it should be noted that there’s no scientific evidence whatsoever regarding claims that the process actually detoxes the body or removes the so-called waste buildup and parasites from your digestive tract. Anecdotal evidence, on the other hand, is plentiful.
Enter TikTok in all its DIY instructional glory. With 14.6 million views and counting on #saltwaterflush, the gen Z-first platform is swamped with tutorials and testimonies from enthusiasts who have tried flushing the heck out of their guts at home. Here, users are seen reporting at length about how to spice up the otherwise-unpleasant mixture with lemons, how much weight they’ve presumably lost, and even the exact amount of time they’ve spent absolutely destroying their toilet bowls in the process.
“Salt water flush: 32 ounces of lukewarm water, a teaspoon or two of good sea salt,” explained Olivia Hedlund, a creator who claims to be a “Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner,” on TikTok. “You wake up, you chug it, you lay down for 30 minutes, and then you have to go to the bathroom. You feel yourself going to the bathroom, that’s how you flush your system.”
In the video, which first hit the platform on 12 September 2022 and has garnered over 3.6 million views since, Hedlund highlighted that the ultimate goal of salt water flushes “is to really get the sludge out of your small intestine.” Another TikToker @mitch.asser explained that the procedure will “go from top to bottom and straight out the back and flush out the entire digestive system.”
On 14 September, actress Amanda Jones also documented herself trying a salt water flush. “It worked—fully, it worked,” she claimed. Meanwhile, a second TikToker alleged that they lost four pounds immediately after their salt water-induced bowel movements.
As much as I hate to admit, salt water flushes as a wellness trend is still in its infant era on TikTok at the moment—meaning it has both the potential of being regulated at this phase or blowing up even more over time.
With the former goal in mind, several experts have already responded to the trend in horror. Registered dietitian Abbey Sharp first stitched Hedlund’s video and called the practice “unethical,” with the caption: “No health care professional should be giving a salt water flush tutorial—even if they preface it with a ‘do your research’ disclaimer.” In the clip, Sharp told viewers that a salt water flush is “literally napalm for your bowels,” later labelling it “very dangerous for the masses.”
“The ‘sludge’ that Olivia [Hedlund] is referring to is actually straight-up stool and water,” the expert said, adding: “If you’re struggling with constipation or poor elimination, it absolutely will clear you out. This is literally being used as an alternative to colonoscopy prep.” Sharp went on to explain that the rapid loss of sodium and fluids will increase risks of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance—and that it’s definitely something people with existing medical conditions should stay away from.
In terms of the risks associated with the so-called wellness trend, Healthline further noted that the consumption of salt water on an empty stomach may cause nausea and vomiting. You may also experience cramping, bloating, and dehydration. What’s worse is that, even though some TikTokers have mentioned their concerning bouts with vomiting shortly after trying the trend, they stated that they would still update their followers if they “lost weight or not.”
“I’ll be doing the salt water trend in a while so um yeah, I hope I don’t die,” reads a video on the platform with the caption: “Wish me luck!”
Adding onto Sharp’s insights about electrolyte imbalance, Healthline mentioned that the rapid loss of sodium and fluids can lead to muscle spasms, weakness, confusion, irregular heartbeat, seizures, and blood pressure problems. “Although most people experience bowel movements after a salt water flush, some people don’t. A salt water flush may increase your risk of sodium overload. This may lead to high blood pressure,” the publication continued.
A medically-reviewed article from Medical News Today further mentioned that our bodies are perfectly able to cleanse themselves without help from flushes or washes. “Salt water flushes are not a good option for everyone, and speaking to a doctor before starting a salt water flush is essential,” the article noted. “Again, it is worth remembering that the body can cleanse and flush itself without additional help.”
Let’s be honest here. After hours of routine mindless scrolling through TikTok, the platform’s algorithm is bound to initiate you into some bizarre unchecked trends to keep you engaged. It’s ultimately up to you to decide if you want to jump on these said trends without a second thought or be wiser and continue your bottomless eye-roll and scroll sesh. I recommend the latter and, if at all possible, try to avoid spiralling into a cycle of self-diagnoses in the middle of the night.