The rise of ‘health challenge trends’ on social media, particularly TikTok, is alarming health professionals across Asia. The latest involves the consumption of Borax, a laundry detergent powder, purported by TikTok creators to alleviate inflammation and joint pain.
However, medical experts have unequivocally denounced this practice due to its health hazards.
What is Borax?
Borax, or sodium borate decahydrate, commonly used in laundry cleaning products, is a chemical compound derived from boron, sodium, oxygen, and hydrogen. It is easily dissolved in water and appears as colourless crystalline solids.
While the element boron is found in multivitamins and is beneficial for plants, its safety and usefulness in humans are still under debate. It’s crucial not to confuse Borax with boron, despite their shared origins.
Borax is potentially harmful and can induce symptoms like stomach irritation, ‘blue-green vomit’, diarrhoea, and in the long term, anaemia, seizures, and severe rashes.
@andydoeshealthy #greenscreen DO NOT EAT BORAX. GOOD GRIEF. #boraxchallenge #borax #stupidwaystodie #dietitian #andydoeshealthy #nutritionist #nutritionisttips #nutritionscience #dietitiantips #stupidity ♬ original sound – Andy MS RD LD 🚫 BS Dietitian
Consequences of Borax Ingestion
Despite the low likelihood of acute toxicity causing death in humans due to Borax consumption, its side effects can still be debilitating.
Dr Genevive Quek, Family Physician at Clinic 10, states “People who have eaten boric acid have had nausea, vomiting, stomach pains, and diarrhoea. Diarrhoea and vomit may have a blue-green colour. Eating extreme amounts has resulted in a red skin rash, followed by skin loss. It may also affect the neurological system leading to headaches and lethargy.”
She continued, “Damage to the oesophagus and stomach continues to occur for several weeks after the boric acid was swallowed. Death from complications may occur as long as several months later.”
It is also classified as a reproductive toxin with potential harm to fertility and unborn children.
The lethal median dose (LD50) for Borax in rats stands at about 5g per kilogram of body weight. Although this suggests that acute toxicity causing death in humans is unlikely, it by no means warrants the substance’s ingestion.
Borax served as a food preservative historically until we discovered side effects like headaches, nausea, and gastric discomfort. Nowadays, authorities classify it as a reproductive toxin. Several countries, including Australia and the United States, have banned it as a food additive.
Trend Motivated by Prescription Drug Inaccessibility?
Health professionals speculate that these dangerous trends could stem from difficulties accessing prescribed medicine. High costs and a low supply of prescribed drugs, particularly in America, push individuals towards risky health fads.
Additionally, the spread of such dangerous health trends on TikTok is fuelled by the monetary gain from high viewership. Fake health videos also tend to garner significant views and revenue, thereby encouraging the perpetuation of these dangerous trends.
Wendy Stephan, a Florida Poison Information Center epidemiologist, highlighted that the creators of these misleading health videos are profiting significantly from the extensive viewership.
An Appeal for Safety Awareness
In conclusion, we urge consumers to stay vigilant about daily substances and understand their potential dangers. Reading the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) of household products could be a beneficial habit to ensure safety. As the dangers associated with ingesting Borax become more widely known, medical experts continue to urge caution against following viral ‘health trends’ on social media.
Dr Quek concluded, “Please bring them down to the emergency department immediately. Treatment will depend on the individual’s symptoms. Doctors may perform a gastric lavage if needed. If kidney function deteriorates, they might conduct dialysis. They may also carry out an endoscopy to check for burns in the oesophagus and stomach.