The Rugglion Blog

The hashtag #Guttok continues to trend on TikTok, where influencers push a variety of gut health trends, which they claim can lead to a flat belly and improved well-being. However, experts warn that there is a lot of bad advice on the social media platform when it involves health trends.

When it comes to staying fit and healthy, they say don’t trust your gut and certainly don’t trust everything posted on TikTok.

Dr. Rachel Koransky-Matson, online family nurse practitioner and clinical coordinator at Regis College, said that social media can still be an excellent place to find trends in healthcare and that more licensed professionals have started using the platforms as outlets for creativity.

At the same time, it is best to check with a healthcare provider before engaging in a diet or other activities just because they went viral.

“Patients should always check with their primary care provider or specialty providers before trying a new ‘trend,'” added Koransky-Matson. “What is good for one patient may not be good for another. Only someone with a complete medical history could make recommendations on whether the trend would be beneficial.”

Others take an even harsher view of medical advice shared on social media.

“You never know who the person is and if they have actual evidence-based knowledge or not on social media. Always reach out to a local health care provider for any questions vs. going to social media,” suggested Dr. Mykale Elbe, director of the MSN nurse practitioner program and assistant professor of nursing at Maryville University.

“Taking health advice from TikTok is a dangerous trend that might be considered reckless or high risk,” added Dr. Allison Forti, associate teaching professor and associate director of the department of counseling online programs at Wake Forest University.

“We are living in a time where trust in traditional sources of medical information is fragile and people are voyaging into the modern-day Wild West of social media-sourced healing,” explained Forti. “To understand whether or not taking medical advice from TikTok is safe, we first have to understand why people are engaging in this trend.”

Access and resources to mainstream medical advice, including physicians is increasingly limited, so many are turning to social media for advice instead of waiting for weeks for an in-person appointment. Another factor may be the cost of mainstream medical care.

“TikTok does not come with a health improvement guarantee, but neither does mainstream medicine,” said Forti. “It is easy to see why risk is relative to the given circumstances of a person in need of medical treatment. TikTok is seductively accessible to the masses.”

The platform is also marketed through the use of sophisticated algorithms designed to sustain attention, create heightened emotional arousal, draw users into a dopamine-filled rabbit hole, and invite our friends along for the ride noted Forti.

In the same way that some people can engage in doomscrolling for hours, while others spend the day watching cat videos, some TikTok users are now seeking an endless stream of medical advice as they seek to turn over a new leaf for the New Year.

“The algorithms and marketing override even well-intentioned consumers of medical information, leaving them prey to potential medical misinformation,” warned Forti. “A lazy attention span also contributes to turning to TikTok for medical advice and consuming potentially misleading medical information. Multiple research studies suggest poor user attention contributes to quickly accepting information on social media and not questioning the validity or sourcing of the information.”

In other words, mindless scrolling can easily lead to an acceptance of misinformation and a lack of discernment for truth. Social media is also often filled with seemingly happy and fit influencers, so users can in turn expect to become happy and fit by following advice that they read on the platforms.

Users need to learn to fact-check what they read. That can include cross-checking information from multiple reliable sources.

“People should prime themselves that they may be more likely to accept false medical information if they are consuming a TikTok video that has been viewed by high rates of people or been shared by a friend,” said Forti. “This reminder will help activate a critical analysis of the content.”

And instead of social media – users should seek out more mainstream online options.

“Nowadays, more and more healthcare providers are available to patients to ask questions through their provider’s online portals and nurse call lines,” added Elbe. “There should not be a need to turn to social media for medical advice.”

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