Social Media Health Trends Debunked

a bald man wearing glasses in a doctor's coat
Dr. Vijay Nuthakki, thoratic surgeon, Ascension Medical Group St. Vincent Thoracic Surgery

Dr. David Patterson weighs in on a medical social media health trends. He's wearing a suit and bowtie in front of a window

Social Media Trend: Inserting Raw Garlic into the Nostrils

As a decongestant?

Dr. David Patterson, immunologist, Ascension Health

“When eaten in pasta or some other dish, garlic is good for your body. It has a lot of excellent properties when it’s ingested orally. But when you stick it up your nose, it’s a very powerful topical irritant to the skin of the nose. It creates a tremendous irritated response to the lining—what we call the mucosa. Your nose has mucus glands, so it’s going to pour out all this mucus. That’s just a reaction to the irritant, not a medicinal thing. As a matter of fact, when you put garlic cloves up your nose, they may get stuck. You may irritate your nose and actually get dermatitis, which is an inflammation of the skin inside your nose that would be very uncomfortable. You can cause trauma when sticking a foreign body up there. There are just better ways to open up your nasal passages, such as using Vicks VapoRub, which has menthol in it. Or use some saline nasal spray, a sinus rinse like NeilMed, a neti pot, or even Sudafed. Those are all ways to open up your nose that are much safer than sticking garlic into it.”

Dr. Kingsley on the social media health trend of drinking aloe vera juice to clear acne. She's in front of skincare in her white coat.

Social Media Trend: Drinking Aloe Vera Juice

To clear acne?

Dr. Melanie Kingsley, dermatologist, IU Health

aloe stalks contain juice that can be ingested as a social media health trend for some.

“Be wary. The people recommending these things on social media usually are not doctors. They’re influencers, and they’re looking for views. We’ve been using aloe vera topically on the skin for centuries for wound healing. It does have some anti-inflammatory effects. When drinking it, maybe the people who claim to benefit are getting an anti-inflammatory effect, which is calming down the acne. Aloe also has antioxidants in it, so that may play a role in clearing up and brightening the skin. But I would never say, ‘Hey, this is a great fad. Aloe is all natural, go ahead and drink it,’ because we still don’t know. More studies need to be done to verify that patients truly are getting the results that some are claiming. I probably would just say keep your body hydrated. The central component of aloe, that gel, is 99 percent water. The middle layer is latex. If you’re ingesting the aloe latex, you have a risk of kidney failure. There’s not one way to treat acne. Some people will respond to just washing their face. Some people need oral antibiotics and Accutane. Some people need salicylic acid. There are so many different components, and we have to tailor everyone’s regimen to what works best for them. Many times, even with over-the-counter medicines—benzoyl peroxide, things like that—we can actually get a great response.”

Dr. Shea in front of treadmills in a blue suit. He's discussing the social media health trend of an inclined run.

The 12-3-30 Workout

Walking on a treadmill set to 12 percent incline and 3 mph for 30 minutes to burn 30 pounds?

Dr. Richard Shea, cardiologist, Franciscan Health

“This workout actually has some benefits to it. It’s short. It’s simple. And it’s easy to remember: You walk into a gym, dial up a treadmill, finish your 30 minutes, and you’re done. Because you’re on an incline, it’s very efficient. It burns more calories than it would on a flat walk. You’re not going to be running, so you won’t have the pounding on joints, and it’s very good for building strength and endurance. Three miles per hour is typically what most of us would do just walking, but it’s the 12 percent incline that’s the killer. I don’t think most of us can walk into a gym and do this today. You’ll have to be able to walk for 30 minutes on a flat surface and then some degree of incline before you get it to 12 percent. Like most trends, though, the value may be overstated. Lauren Giraldo [the influencer who created this workout] said she did this five days a week and was able to lose 30 pounds. I think that’s pretty optimistic. As a steady-state cardio workout, I think it’s a good idea. But remember, having an element of cardio and an element of strength training—and perhaps a large element of diet—is what’s going to get you both fitness and weight loss. The workout is helpful, but it’s not magic. It does burn calories, though, so if it gets you engaged, give it a try.”

Dr. Fitzsimmons wearing a stethoscope around her neck. She's discussing the social media health trend of drinking lettuce water for better sleep.

Social Media Trend: Drinking Lettuce Water

As a sleep aid?

Dr. Margaret Fitzsimmons, family medicine, Hancock Regional Health

a head of iceberg lettuce is a social media health trend

“Lettuce is like 96 percent water, so there’s not much else in it. You’ve got a little bit of vitamin A, C, and K, some calcium. Iceberg lettuce really doesn’t even have a lot of that in it. Some of the other darker, greener, leafier lettuces will have more vitamins and antioxidants in them, like selenium and beta carotene. Although those things are good for your body to keep away inflammation and keep your immune system strong, I can’t imagine that it would make you sleepy. And honestly, there’s just not enough of those vitamins in lettuce, especially once you steep them in water, to really be helpful. Now, the warmth of the water before going to bed might make you feel soothed and warm inside, and could make you feel sleepy. But you could just boil warm water. If you want to actually solve this problem, there’s something we call sleep hygiene, and that involves measures like avoiding caffeine, turning out all the lights before you go to bed, and turning off all of your electronics for 30 to 60 minutes before going to sleep to give your brain a rest. Maybe take a warm shower just to get your muscles and mind relaxed. If those measures don’t help, people can try Benadryl at night. Melatonin is a natural hormone in our brains that is secreted in the evenings to make us tired, and over-the-counter melatonin can be used. But anytime you think sleep is a problem, have a conversation with your doctor, who will ask pointed questions to try to hone in on what might be causing the issue.”

Dr. Arno in her white coat with a stethoscope around her neck standing in front of windows. She's discussing eating papaya seeds as and anti-parasitic.

Social Media Trend: Ingesting Papaya Seeds

As an anti-parasitic?

Dr. Janet Arno, infectious disease, IU Health

papayas are going viral as a social media health trend.

“Parasitic infection is an unusual problem in the United States. Most parasitic disease is found outside of the U.S. or in travelers who go to other places. People will bring in a stool sample where they see a thread or a little egglike entity and think it’s a parasite. Almost always, when we bring those to the lab, they’re not. They’re food particles or things like that. For those who actually do have a parasite, there is a study from Nigeria that showed some small anti-parasitic benefit to eating papaya seeds. But it needs to be validated. It wasn’t in adults. It wasn’t in this country. If it was so useful, you’d think a drug company would have picked it up and isolated a compound and sold it for a lot of money. They haven’t. Papaya seeds taste bad and they might give you an upset stomach. This particular trend isn’t as dangerous as some, and people might think, If it’s not going to hurt me, why not try it? Because you only delay finding out what you really have, and if it’s something important, you want to know about it as soon as you can. If someone is just taking something for the heck of it, it’s only going to lead to problems later on.”

Dr. Hodges in a mint green polo wearing his stethoscope. He discusses taking zinc to shorten Covid infection.

Social Media Trend: Taking Zinc

To shorten a COVID infection?

Dr. Timothy Hodges, internal medicine, Community Health

zinc tablets are a social media health trend

“Zinc is useful in our body for over 100 enzymatic processes. It binds to the protein structure of an enzyme and helps it work. Some of those enzymes are helpful in immune system function. I don’t think that we have any hard-and-fast studies that say zinc supplements shorten the duration of a COVID infection. But studies have shown that if you use the right kind of zinc, you can shorten the duration of a common cold by a significant amount of time. There are different zinc versions out there. Zinc gluconate is the one that seems to be best at helping your body fight off viral infections. People need to be cautious about one variety of zinc, though: intranasal, which has been associated with a permanent loss of smell. The safest way to use zinc in the bolstering of your immune system is orally, either with a tablet or lozenge. Zinc acts as a protease inhibitor that inhibits the replication of viral RNA or DNA. When we use things like Paxlovid for COVID, that drug is actually a protease inhibitor, too. So zinc may both inhibit viral replication and also help your body’s immune system work more efficiently. Zinc should never represent an alternative to standard therapy, though. If you have COVID or any serious viral infection, you should always reach out to your physician to get a recommendation for a primary therapy, such as Paxlovid. Then maybe think about an adjunct like zinc to help with your symptoms.”