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.
Forget the ‘Google or Bing’ debate when it comes to online search engine preferences. In 2022, TikTok has officially become the go-to platform where internet users seek advice on almost everything under the sun. Looking to cure your awful cold? Just defrost some chicken and marinate it in cough syrup. Want to prevent soreness after a vaccination instead? Windmill your arms in the parking lot of the hospital and you should be good to go!
Now, the so-called health and wellness ‘trends’ that I’ve mentioned above are bound to make those who are hearing it for the first time a little sceptical. Rightly so. Heck, the videos would still fail to convince you even if you’re halfway down the rabbithole. That being said, however, there are some health practices that have become a mainstay on TikTok—convincing users of their ‘miracle’ benefits every time they resurface on the platform. And one of the top contenders in this category is none other than ‘nose breathing’. More specifically, nose breathing by taping your mouth shut at night: Don’t Breathe style.
With 15 million views and counting, TikTok’s #nosebreathing is all about blocking the air passage through your mouth with bits of tape before bedtime—ultimately forcing you to breathe through your nose when you’re asleep. While some TikTokers are seen repurposing commercial-grade duct tape, others recommend using small strips of porous medical tape to avoid looking like a sleeping hostage.
“Mouth taping. Try it,” a user enthused, holding a skin-grade binding apparatus designed specifically for the practice. “Sleep with it… You’re going to start getting the deepest sleep you’ll ever experience.”
So how deep of a sleep are we talking about here? And why is mouth taping all the rage on TikTok again after it debuted on the platform and instantly vanished for good back in 2021? Well, according to users, mouth taping essentially helps reduce dry mouth, improve your oral health by curbing teeth grinding, cavities and gum recession, slow your breathing process and humidify the air (leading to better oxygen consumption), produce nitric oxide (which helps your body fight infections), as well as reduce your overall stress and anxiety—all the while promoting better sleep and ultimately stopping your bouts with snoring.
Now that’s a pretty long list of supposed benefits we’re talking about. At the same time, however, it should also be noted that all of these are the results of nose breathing in general, without the need to tape your mouth shut and “aid” the process. In fact, several professional experts claim the ‘miracle’ practice not only makes you look goofy but may actually do more harm than good. What a shocker, indeed.
For starters, let’s trace back to the root cause behind the popularity of mouth taping. Some of the major reasons for mouth breathing include nasal blockages, a deviated septum and sleep apnea—a sleep disorder where people have trouble breathing at night.
Now, respiring through your mouth isn’t exactly bad. However, it’s neither the healthiest nor the most effective way to breathe. It can also have some serious and long-term side effects, including low oxygen concentration in your blood—in turn contributing to health concerns like high blood pressure and heart problems. According to CNET, mouth breathing can further result in wear and fractures as well as caries and impacted teeth. Mouth breathers also have higher levels of gingivitis and halitosis.
Then comes the ‘habit’ aspect of the entire practice. Chances are that you’re not choosing to breathe through your mouth—and this is exactly what paves the way to the demand for retaining and retraining your nasal passage. Hence, the viral popularity of mouth taping. But as per Doctor Aarti Grover, medical director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Tufts Medical Center, covering your mouth won’t help solve the root issue and could make it even more difficult to breathe.
“Imagine you have an obstruction in your nasal cavity either from allergies or you’re congested and on top of that you tape your mouth, it could be problematic because you’re not getting enough air in from your nasal or your oral cavity,” Grover told USA Today, adding how it could ultimately result in a person not getting enough oxygen at night.
At the same time, the expert also noted the profound absence of data and studies on mouth taping. While a 2015 pilot study found that oral patches can help people with sleep apnea, it only included 30 participants—a sample size too small to draw significant conclusions. Another study in 2009 found that mouth taping isn’t effective for people with asthma. And that’s pretty much all the jury on the viral practice as of today.
Meanwhile, Doctor Kathryn Boling, a primary care expert at Mercy Medical Center in Maryland, explained that mouth taping is a terrible idea—harbouring other potential risk factors even for those who don’t have sleep-related conditions. “There are a lot of TikTok [trends] I see where I am like, ‘Goodness gracious, where do these things come from?’,” Boling admitted.
Most of the videos housed under #mouthtaping feature science journalist James Nestor’s 2020 book Breath: the New Science of a Lost Art. “[The book] completely changed my perspective about mouth taping and breathing through your nose,” a user commented, before reiterating the process and its alleged benefits. However, Dr. Chris Seton, Paediatric and Adolescent Sleep Physician with the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, doesn’t recommend the practice for both children and adults—although there are over-the-counter mouth taping products available in the market.
“If someone has a blocked nose, taping their mouth can lower their oxygen levels even more so they wake up more often,” the expert told The Sydney Morning Herald.
A quick scroll through the comments section of mouth taping tutorials on TikTok would plop you into unstable waters—manifested alongside remarks like, “This would just make me feel claustrophobic” and “The way my nose is set up I might sleep forever.”
So if you’re someone who stumbled across the trend on the platform but preferred staying in the comment section with all the justified uncertainty, here are three alternative tips to reap the same benefits of the practice—minus the residue stickiness of the tape and all of the risks that come along with it.
The first and foremost hack to reduce snoring and mouth breathing is to switch your sleeping position. On these terms, CNET noted how sleeping on your side is your best bet. “It’s actually pretty easy to train yourself to sleep on your side. Just use a few well-placed pillows to keep you from rolling over. You can use specialised pillows like lumbar or multiposition pillows, but that’s not essential,” the publication added.
Another tip is to take your 24-hour allergy medication at night, so it’s up and circulating in your bloodstream to bring you relief when you wake up. “Short-acting allergy medication is the most effective shortly after you take it. If you generally have trouble sleeping at night because of your allergy symptoms, try taking your short-acting allergy medication before you go to sleep,” CNET continued.
This is pretty much self-explanatory. For decades, doctors and sleep psychologists alike have highlighted how screen time is the enemy of sleep. The blue light emitted by electronic screens might impede production of the sleep hormone melatonin, while exciting content might arouse you rather than lull you to bed. Creating a nighttime routine free of digital devices has proven to result in better sleep that doesn’t leave you tired the next morning.
Think of it this way, if you’d put on some music or taken a bubble bath half an hour before your bedtime, you wouldn’t have stumbled across ‘Mouth TapingTok’ in the first place.