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Few social media platforms have gained traction as fast as TikTok, which rose to popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, it has continued to soar in downloads as one of the most popular apps and now boasts over 1 billion users. Although there are many verified accounts on TikTok from various subject matter experts, not every account is an accredited professional. For instance, one trend that has generated over 470 million views as of February 2023 is the #parasitecleanse–and not everyone weighing in on it is an expert.”
The TikToker with the most views on #parasitecleanse clearly states on her bio page: “Not Medical Advice” despite having the most views from the hashtag. In fact, not a single healthcare professional is cited amongst the top 20 accounts talking about #parasitecleanse. Statistics like this are alarming, especially considering that most of the accounts promoting #parasitecleanse products are those of social media influencers. This means that misinformation likely has been — and, likely, still is being — widely spread on the topic.
Inesa Ponomariovaite is a holistic health practitioner and an expert on the benefits of hemp oil and CBD who has spent years studying the impact of holistic treatments on gut health. She has developed her own CBDa oil for pain among other treatments and agrees that everyone should be concerned about parasites and gut health; however, she also agrees that it must be tackled the right way, and only if one truly needs it. “What people don’t know is that parasites know how to sustain themselves and continue their lives,” she states. “If you don’t use the correct methods, or do not use it as consistently as you should, it could do more harm than good overall.”
Most of the time, the entire process to remove parasites takes months rather than days. Doctor-prescribed medication will last about 10 days, but it requires monthly checkups and testing to make sure that the parasites are in fact leaving your body and you’re noticing your symptoms are dissipating. “The parasites will get angry if not properly handled and attack your body,” Ponomariovatie says. “If they attack a vital organ like the lungs, they can cause asthma or eventually mutate into cancer cells.”
According to Ponomariovatie, the problem with anti-parasitic medication is that if the parasites are not killed correctly, they only become stronger. “The key is to get rid of the mother parasite,” she clarifies.
For instance, the papaya seed method or the holistic medicines promoted by many TikTokers simply don’t have enough evidence to back up their credibility. For example, using papaya seeds as an anti-parasitic has only been the topic of two studies — one conducted with 60 children from Nigeria, and the other being a part of a research thesis from a student from UF on goats — neither of which provides good enough indication that ground papaya seeds help one get rid of parasites. “As far as holistic medicine goes,” Ponomariovatie adds, “there’s no telling what’s in the medication unless it’s been backed by a trained professional with a significant study group.”
Most evidence suggests that one may not even need to get rid of the parasites living inside them. According to an article published by the NIH’s National Library of Medicine, “humans are hosts to nearly 300 species of parasitic worms and over 70 species of protozoa.” This doesn’t mean that one single individual has that many species of parasites, but rather that those specific species are the ones that have been found in humans. Throughout the NIH’s article, the author cites that much bigger diseases may be related to parasites, which is supported by further evidence from HealthPath which states: “A parasite infection is almost always part of a much bigger picture of disharmony.”
While it may seem like a good idea to take advice from a non-healthcare expert on TikTok, take into consideration what your symptoms are and why you want to try a parasite cleanse. “Receiving a parasite cleanse from your doctor was common practice 100 years ago,” Inessa acknowledges. “But now, it’s not so common, and this is almost always where a trend begins.”
The truth is that humans today lead far more hygienic lives now than we did 100 years ago. And most people don’t live on farms or are dealing with substances that may be considered harmful or are common hosts to parasites — meat, poultry, or manure, for instance. Ponomariovatie agrees that not all parasites are bad, but recognizes that getting rid of the ones causing harm could “lead to a healthier life with more immunity and fewer chances of becoming susceptible to diseases.”
Thankfully, there are other ways to promote a healthy gut and anti-inflammation. Ponomariovatie has spent years studying the benefits of CBD — more specifically CBDa — and has found the full range of benefits it can provide. After creating her own process to extract CBDa from hemp, she has produced the world’s first-ever full-spectrum beyond organic CBDa Hemp Oil. While this can’t get rid of the body of parasites, it can help with supporting a healthy inflammation response and promoting the process of self-healing within the body.
The reality is that taking health advice from TikTok should already be a warning sign that one is in need of a parasitic expert. TikTok is great to help people become more aware of potential health risks, but ultimately everyone should be going to healthcare professionals to get the appropriate treatments they need. “I suggest always talking to your healthcare provider to ensure you are getting the appropriate treatment for you,” Ponomariovatie says.