Teens are being urged to drink herbal supplements to help prevent bloating in a TikTok trend that has spooked health experts.
Dramatic videos of people undertaking DIY ‘detoxes’ and cleanses have racked up over 650million views on the platform.
Users claim their detox has cleared their vague ‘digestive issues’ and even rid them of supposed parasites and ‘toxic metals’ stored in their intestines. Others have raved over its power to boost energy.
But medics told MailOnline that the trend has ‘absolutely no robust scientific evidence’ and said the ‘pseudoscience gibberish’ may even pose a danger to those who try it.
Wormwood — one of the supposed herbal remedies being pushed — can be toxic if taken in large quantities. It works as a laxative.
In one video, under the #parasitecleanse, watched 41,600 times @thedetoxmama, told her TikTok followers: ‘We are exposed to toxic heavy metals and environmental pollutants all the time. Parasites are attracted to toxic bodies.’ Holding up bottles of liquid supplements, including ‘fulvic minerals’, she added, ‘these minerals are very protective against heavy metals because toxic heavy metals and essential minerals bind to the same receptor sites’
Sharing a second video, seen 11,400 times, she said: ‘There are two schedule options you can follow when doing your annual parasite cleanse.’ She added: ‘You can follow the full moon cycle schedule where you cleanse for three consecutive full moon cycles and you take a break in between. ‘There’s also another option where you can cleanse for three weeks on, of your parasite cleanse, one week off and then three weeks on again’
In another video watched over 156,000 times, @sisiiuwu said she decided to undertake a 10 day parasite cleanse. Adding drops of ParaGuard Liquid into her glass of water, she told the video, ‘it tastes like water but spicy’. Tracking her progress through the week, later in the video she added: ‘Continuing with this cleanse, I did notice some changes. ‘I went to the restroom more regularly, saw a decrease in bloating and overall had more energy’
One dietary liquid supplement floated in the trend, called ParaGuard, can be bought online easily, including from Amazon and eBay for around £30 a bottle.
Made by US-based vitamin company Zahler, the firm says the product is ‘oftentimes used as a potent cleanser to promote intestinal health’.
The ParaGuard liquid contains a blend of ingredients including wormwood (a bitter herb used in absinthe), pumpkin seed and garlic bulb to ‘optimize digestive flora and support a healthy intestinal balance’.
Its packaging states that even those who have no digestive discomfort can take the supplement ‘once or twice a year’ to ‘cleanse’.
What actually causes bloating? And how can you reduce it?
Up to a quarter of adults in the UK and US regularly experience bloating.
Abdominal bloating is often little cause for concern and can be attributed to diet and digestion.
Excess gas in the gut is the most common reason for bloating, according to the NHS.
This can be caused by some food and drinks, such as some vegetables and fizzy drinks, or by swallowing air when you eat.
Constipation, food intolerances or conditions including irritable bowel syndrome and coeliac disease can trigger bloating.
Some also bloat when stressed or around their menstrual cycle.
When is bloating more serious?
According the charity Guts UK, if bloating persists alongside other symptoms including weight loss, abdominal pain or diarrhoea, this may be a sign of a more serious bowel condition.
Some people experience bloating regularly. However if you feel bloated more than approximately 12 times per month, you may have persistent bloating.
The health service advises visiting the GP if bloating has persisted for three weeks or you’re experiencing persistent bloating.
You should also contact your GP if you discover a swelling or lump in the stomach or if dietary changes have had little impact on bloating, it says.
Although rare, early signs of ovarian cancer can also include frequently experiencing bloating – more than 12 times a month.
This visible symptom of ovarian cancer is often a result of ascites – the presence of excess fluid in the abdominal cavity – according to Ovarian Cancer Action.
It is important not to panic, but in situations of extreme and visible bloating you should urgently visit your GP and ask to be referred for further investigations.
How can you reduce bloating?
Lifestyle changes including drinking plenty of water and exercising regularly to improve digestion can help reduce bloating.
Eating foods high in fibre if you feel constipated and chewing with your mouth closed to avoid swallowing air may also help.
The NHS also advises massaging your stomach from right to left to release trapped wind.
While treatment for bloating is not often necessary, pharmacists can help with laxatives to help treat constipation and medicines like Buscopan to help ease the bloating.
Followers of the cleanse are told to avoid sugar and drink plenty of water, ‘especially if you are experiencing diarrhoea from the die off’ — an internal reaction that causes flu-like symptoms and unpleasant bowel side effects.
But Zahler says on its website these are signs of ‘real deep cleansing’ and ‘generally don’t last for too long’.
Yet wormwood oil contains the chemical thujone, which may be poisonous if taken in high doses.
Consuming wormwood products that have not had the compound removed — either for more than four weeks or at a higher than recommended dose — could trigger nausea, restlessness or even seizures, studies have shown.
Evidence showing the benefits of wormwood for treating or preventing any health condition is also limited.
In one TikTok video, under the #parasitecleanse tag and watched 41,600 times, user @thedetoxmama told her followers ParaGuard and another product, Intestinal Edge from US-based Go Nutrients, are ‘effective cleansers’.
‘We are exposed to toxic heavy metals and environmental pollutants all the time,’ she claimed. ‘Parasites are attracted to toxic bodies.’
Holding up the supplements, she said fulvic minerals — found in clay, sand and rocks — ‘are very protective against heavy metals’ because ‘they bind to the same receptor sites’.
She urged: ‘Once a year, you’re going to want to incorporate a parasite cleanse.’
In another video, @thedetoxmama claimed: ‘These toxins that these parasites love and thrive off in your body are just being thrown at us at record speed.’
Metals including arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury are present at various levels in the soil, water and atmosphere.
They can turn up in food and water but historically, these metals have also found their way into our environment — and, ultimately, bodies — through air pollution, lead paint and pipes.
Repeated exposure to very high levels of these metals pose a risk to people’s health.
However, humans are very rarely exposed to dangerous quantities.
The body itself already filters out toxic substances, excretes waste and digests food through the liver and kidney.
Similar videos even have hundreds of comments from mothers saying they’ve given parasite cleansers to young children.
Meanwhile, in another video watched over 156,000 times, @sisiiuwu stated that she decided to undertake a 10-day parasite cleanse.
Adding drops of ParaGuard Liquid into her glass of water, she told the video ‘it tastes like water but spicy’.
She added: ‘I put 30 drops into my water, three times daily.
‘I haven’t noticed any major changes and I’ve been to the restroom, but so far I haven’t seen anything in my poo.
‘But I will say I did have ice cream yesterday and I do feel a little less bloated than I normally would be after eating ice cream.’
Tracking her progress through the week, later in the video she added: ‘Continuing with this cleanse, I did notice some changes.
‘I went to the restroom more regularly, saw a decrease in bloating and overall had more energy.’
Another TikTok influencer @aliasherbals, who boasts 180,000 followers, hailed the benefits of wormwood supplements to block bloating.
‘Wormwood is used to eliminate intestinal parasites from the body’, including, she said, ‘pinworms, roundworms and tapeworms’.
Up to 80 per cent of people are thought to have parasites, with poor hygiene and poor sanitation, including contaminated water, food and soil, among the most common ways to contract them.
Once inside the body they feed, grow or multiply. But most worm infections are not serious and can be easily treated with medication prescribed by a GP or pharmacist, according to the NHS.
In the video viewed over one million times, @aliasherbals added: ‘It’s said to destroy cancerous cells and contains antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties.’
Pouring the herb wormwood into a glass bowl, influencer @aliasherbals -who boasts 180,000 followers – also said ‘wormwood is used to eliminate intestinal parasites from the body’. This includes ‘pinworms, roundworms and tapeworms’, she added. ‘It’s said to destroy cancerous cells and contains antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties,’ she said
Meanwhile, in another video, viewed 4.8million times, @detoxheather, said: ‘Five years ago I was struggling with horrible digestive issues that would not go away, no matter what I did. ‘I realised at the time that my gut was filled with parasites, bacteria, all kinds of organisms. ‘And when I cleansed them, all of my digestive issues went away, not to mention my mood improved, skin, sleep, everything’
But Professor James Dooley, a microbiologist at Ulster University, warned the videos are spreading ‘unsubstantiated claims’ and use the term parasite as an ’emotive’ marketing ploy.
He told MailOnline: ‘These videos are a bunch of pseudoscience gibberish. There is absolutely no robust scientific evidence to support any of the claims made.
‘Luckily the types of supplement will probably not cause harm but that is certainly not the main point here.’
He added: ‘All we have here is a couple of unsubstantiated claims about people feeling better after taking a relatively undefined supplement.
‘These videos are simply using the term “parasite” as an emotive marketing trick to try to frighten people and encourage them to buy a product that has absolutely no scientific credibility.
The US manufactured ParaGuard provides a warning at the bottom of its manufacturer’s website. ‘These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any diseases,’ it reads. Yet the product ParaGuard is ‘often used as a potent cleanser to promote intestinal health’, it claims
‘There are really no supplements that have been shown to do anything useful in this context — eliminating certain groups of organisms from the gut.’
The products themselves may not even be performing the ‘cleansing’ they claim to be on those who really are suffering with a parasite infection, he also warned.
Professor Dooley told MailOnline: ‘To measure cleansing you need to identify exactly what parasite you want to cleanse — and give a good reason why it should go — and perform a study, where the amount of parasite is measured before and after the administration of a set dose of the supplement, to ensure that the supplement actually reduces the amount of the parasite.’
To test this effectively, a large number of volunteers would need to undergo the same cleanse, because there is huge individual variation between the microbes in each person’s gut, he added.
Instead, Professor Dooley advised people concerned about their gut health to eat a balanced diet ‘with a good mix of fruit and vegetables while avoiding overindulging in processed foods’.
Reported benefits — such as indigestion relief and reducing bloating — can actually be attributed to the herbs such as ginger and turmeric, commonly found in many of these detox supplements, medics also said in their own TikTok videos debunking the trend.
Research has also suggested undertaking so-called ‘parasite detoxes’ to reduce bloating can flush out the good bacteria in the gut, damaging gut microbiome — microorganisms, including bacteria, archaea, fungi, and viruses, that live in the intestine.
The digestive tract relies on trillions of different microbes and bacteria to function properly.
Herbal supplements like ParaGuard act as laxatives, causing the person who ingests them to pass stool frequently and have diarrhoea.
Yet, in another video uploaded to TikTok and viewed 4.8million times, user @detoxheather said: ‘Five years ago I was struggling with horrible digestive issues that would not go away, no matter what I did.’
She claimed: ‘I realised at the time that my gut was filled with parasites, bacteria, all kinds of organisms.
‘And when I cleansed them, all of my digestive issues went away, not to mention my mood improved, skin, sleep, everything.’
Holding up a bottle of ParaGuard liquid, she added: ‘I really like this product.’
New York based influencer @maddiecostantino also hopped on the TikTok trend. In her video watched over 119,000 times, she told her followers: ‘There are these drops you just put in your water and I’ve been taking it for about a week now. It works.’ She added: ‘I’m not one to go on a quick fix or anything like that’
New York-based influencer @maddiecostantino also hopped on the TikTok trend.
In her video watched over 119,000 times, she told her followers: ‘There are these drops you just put in your water and I’ve been taking it for about a week now. It works.’
She added: ‘I’m not one to go on a quick fix or anything like that.’
But experts also warned the digestive symptoms that TikTok influencers claim to be treating with supplements could indicate a range of other — more common — health issues.
Dr Arianna Basile, a research associate at the Medical Research Council Toxicology Unit at University of Cambridge, told MailOnline: ‘Numerous TikTok videos on this topic covered a broad spectrum of symptoms that may be linked to parasites, such as diarrhoea, bloating, tiredness and sleeplessness.
‘However, these symptoms can also be indicative of various other — more prevalent and less serious — health conditions.
‘Some TikTokers reported seeing something different in their faeces, but this may be due to an increase in bowel movements caused by the product and heightened awareness of feces appearance.
‘However, it’s uncommon for people to examine their faeces closely. They might become more curious about their bowel movements if they’re taking a miraculous placebo potion.
‘Nevertheless, I don’t believe that a parasite cleanser exists, and there’s no scientific evidence to support the extraordinary activity of those ingredients in combination.’
ParaGuard liquid, equally, is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is responsible for monitoring the safety of all regulated medical products in the US.
Instead, it categorises itself as a supplement, meaning it supplements the diet and ‘supports’ gut health.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) — which polices the safety of medicines in the UK — told MailOnline it equally does not regulate ParaGuard as it ‘does not appear to make medicinal claims’ and does ‘not consider that it falls under medical regulations’.
ParaGuard’s manufacturer Zahler, which produces a range of multivitamins and probiotics, also provides a warning at the bottom of its website.
‘These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any diseases,’ it reads.
Yet the product ParaGuard is ‘often used as a potent cleanser to promote intestinal health’, it claims.
Adults are advised to take 30 drops, three times a day for 10 days, for ‘mild support’.
‘Intensive support’, meanwhile, advises 30 drops, four times a day for 10 days.
Directions for use by children are also provided, yet research has shown wormwood should be avoided in small children, especially those under the age of six.
While wormwood is understood to be relatively safe for short-term low dosage use in adults, in 2020 the European Medicines Agency warned use of artemisia absinthium — otherwise known as common wormwood — in children and adolescents under 18 years of age ‘has not been established due to lack of adequate data’.
However, limited research has suggested other alternative natural methods for those definitely suffering from parasites to help clear them from stools.
While wormwood has been researched for its possible antiparasitic effects in animals, a 2020 study testing its efficacy in treating schistosomiasis — a disease caused by parasitic worms — was later retracted due to issues over participant consent and reliability of the data.