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July 24, 2023

People are eating borax to help reduce inflammation — here's why that's dangerous

Consuming the toxic chemical has become the latest social media trend. Doing so can cause nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, convulsions and collapsed lungs, according to the National Institutes of Health

Social media is home to plenty of questionable health trends. The latest has people ingesting borax, a laundry detergent booster, in hopes of treating a variety of ailments. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibits borax as a food additive, but some TikTok users have started putting a pinch of borax in their drinking water – or bathing in it. They claim it can reduce inflammation, improve bone health, eliminate brain fog and "detoxify" the body. TikTok contains hundreds of videos referencing this so-called "borax challenge," though some are jokes that liken it to other dangerous social media fads, like eating Tide Pods or dousing chicken in NyQuil

Borax, a powdery cleaning product that often is used with laundry detergents, includes boron, a trace element naturally found in many foods and sold as a dietary supplement. Boric acid, product made with boron, is used to treat yeast infections. But experts say borox does not have any health benefits. 

"Borax is a chemical that contains the element boron. Borax and boric acid are used in disinfectants, and ant and roach killers," Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, a medical toxicology physician and co-medical director at the National Capital Poison Center, told Yahoo's In The Know. "Borax consumption has been recently popularized on TikTok as a way to treat inflammation, but borax is actually a poisonous compound and should never be eaten." 

U.S. Borax, the company that manufactures borax cleaning products, does not make any product that is approved as a dietary ingredient or pharmaceutical. None of its borax products are approved for internal use. 

The National Institutes of Health notes that there is no evidence of adverse effects of consuming boron in food or water, but the consumption of borax can lead to nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, flushed skin, rash, convulsions, depression and collapsed lungs. 

"Current manufacturing practices and guidelines make borax ingestion highly dangerous," Dr. Robert S. Miller, an internal medicine specialist, told Parade. "Limited data is available to support a standardized normal level of borax that people should consume, and current FDA guidelines do not recommend borax as a food additive." 

Consuming borax also may cause boron toxicity, which can cause headaches, hypothermia, restlessness, weariness, renal injury, dermatitis, alopecia and indigestion. People who experience any adverse side effects due to borax consumption are advised to contact their local poison control centers. 

Wendy Stephan, an epidemiologist at the Florida Poison Information Center, told NBC News that she understands why people are drawn to these types of health trends. Prescription drugs can be in short supply and, if doctors are overbooked, people look for quick solutions, she said.

"When there's somebody who seems very personable and credible telling you that 'this worked great for me and it's great,' I can see how people find that appealing," she said. 

In some cases, social media trends stem from a misunderstanding of existing scientific research. Some TikTok users cited a 1994 study as their reason for consuming borax products. The study suggested may be an essential nutrient for bones and joints and recommended further research on its potential to treat arthritis. But the NIH says boron has not been classified as an essential nutrient because "research has not yet identified a clear biological function for boron." 

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