September 26, 2023

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People are eating borax. Why? Here’s what experts say about this dangerous TikTok trend.

People are eating borax. Why? Here’s what experts say about this dangerous TikTok trend.

Is ingesting borax safe? No way, says experts. (Photo illustration: Blake Cale/Yahoo; photo: Getty Images)

People are ingesting borax.

Also known by its chemical name sodium borate decahydrate, borax is a salt typically used to kill ants and boost laundry detergent, among other household cleaning needs. It is also found in some kinds of toothpaste and cosmetics. Now TikTokers are drinking it, claiming that a pinch of borax dissolved in water, or even mixed into a smoothie or coffee, has plenty of health benefits.

The claim and how it started

Borax is not new in the world of alternative health treatments, but videos of people on their own “borax journey” began to spike on TikTok around July. These videos claim that ingesting borax helps with myriad issues, including reducing inflammation, alleviating joint pain and preventing osteoporosis.

This isn’t the first time borax has made headlines in recent years: In 2021, individuals online claimed that people could undo the effects of their unwanted COVID vaccine by bathing in borax, which is not true.

The context

  • Some people are jumping on the borax bandwagon partially because they are mistaking it for boron While borax is a combination of boron, sodium and oxygen, it is a chemical compound and not structurally the same as boron

  • Boron is a trace element found in plant foods, particularly fruits, peanuts and coffee. According to the National Institutes of Health, it is “not classified as an essential nutrient for humans because research has not yet identified a clear biological function for boron”

  • According to VeryWell Health, there are alleged benefits of boron, such as reducing inflammation in people with osteoarthritis. The study which showed this benefit, VeryWell Health noted, was also funded by the manufacturers of a boron supplement.

  • Boron has also been linked to lower cancer risk for certain types of cancers — but that has yet to be evaluated in clinical trials

Experts weigh in

While there are plenty of TikTokers waxing poetic about borax, many experts on the platform are ringing alarm bells. “Borax is toxic; do not drink it,” Dr. Meghan Martin, who regularly shares health advice on the platform, warned in a TikTok response to the trend. She pointed out that consuming borax can lead to kidney failure or death, among a slew of other symptoms.

Dr. Anant Vinjamoori, chief medical officer at Modern Age, says, “As a general guiding principle, substances designed for cleaning and industrial use should not be ingested, and borax is no exception to that rule of thumb. There are some claims that borax, in very small amounts, can be used as a nutritional supplement due to its boron content, but the risks outweigh the potential benefits, and it’s not recommended by most medical professionals to consume.”

Liz Weinandy, a registered dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, agrees that Borax is not for human consumption, despite belief to the contrary.

“Although borax is naturally found in the soil in some places, it should not be consumed because it can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and even kidney failure and death if eaten in large amounts,” she tells Yahoo Life. “Even when just using cleaning products that have borax in them, it is advised to wear gloves and use in well-ventilated areas because just breathing in borax can be harmful.”

There’s very little reason to worry about how much boron you are getting, provided you have a decent diet, and Weinandy notes that “there isn’t a recommended amount of boron people should get each day, and there are no clear signs or symptoms of what a boron deficiency may look like.

“Overall, it is estimated most Americans get enough boron through foods they eat and that supplements are not needed or recommended,” she explains, adding that the exception may be someone who eats mainly highly processed foods all day. In that case, it may be a good idea to incorporate more fruit to get more boron. There are, however, already plenty of reasons to include more fruit in your diet, including fiber and other micronutrients.

Is it debunked?

While there may be some benefits to including boron in your diet through whole foods, there’s no reason to risk ingesting borax, which experts agree can cause serious damage — so, yes, this trend is debunked.

Borax may be made of naturally occurring elements, but so are plenty of things that are bad for our bodies, Weinandy points out.

“Wild mushrooms are also ‘natural,’ but some are very toxic and can kill humans when eaten,” Weinandy says. “Healthy eating might not be as glamorous or exciting as borax, but it will help give you more instead of fewer years of life.”

Foods that have anti-inflammatory properties include:

  • Fruits

  • Vegetables

  • Whole grains

  • Spices and herbs

  • Olive oil

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Fish

“Not surprising, these foods are all part of a very healthy diet,” Weinandy says. “On the flip side, foods that are highly processed like deep-fried French fries and potato chips, fatty processed meats and foods high in added sugar like pop, candy and desserts are all considered to increase inflammation markers in the body.”