The NHS surgeon on a mission to save us all from TikTok’s snake-oil peddlers: Dr Karan Rajan reveals HIS health hacks that may save your life – from how to sit on the loo to not pulling out nose hair

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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  • Dr Karan Rajan has five million people following his evidence-based health tips
  • The Hampshire medic has amassed five million followers on TikTok

Health advice on TikTok is, in general, comically bad. In the past year alone we’ve reported on numerous dodgy fads: a low-point was the trend for cooking chicken in paracetamol-containing cold-and-flu remedy syrup to induce sleep (risking a potentially fatal overdose, if you were wondering).

Or there was the equally stupid practice of taping the lips closed at night which advocates claimed (with basically zero evidence) could reduce snoring and improve concentration. Negative consequences included, erm, not being able to breathe.

And this sort of claptrap is why the phenomenal popularity of Dr Karan Rajan is so surprising – even though it shouldn’t be. Since he started posting on the app in 2019, the Hampshire-based full-time NHS surgeon, aged 33, has amassed as astonishing five million plus followers, who are no doubt hooked on his pithy and sometimes eyebrow-raising ‘explainers’.

Dr Karan, as he prefers to be called, might not quite be a household name, yet. But given his reach, with millions more subscribers and followers on YouTube and Instagram, he is arguably now one of the world’s most influential doctors, on social media at least.

Dr Karan Rajan, pictured, has five million followers on TikTok who watch his videos debunking bogus social media health hacks

One TikTok trend involved cooking a chicken marinated in cough medicine - which could poison you

One TikTok trend involved cooking a chicken marinated in cough medicine – which could poison you

His regular posts swim against the tide by tackling quackery online in an unconfrontational way, while offering unfussy health tips (eat more fibre, don’t get dehydrated, you get the idea).

He’s also an expert in simplifying complex medical topics – ‘How does ibuprofen know where to go?’ was the title of one recent clip. He manages to answer the question, simply, along with some amusing illustrations and animation, in less than 60 seconds.

Another explains the bizarre phobia-like condition misophonia: when the noise of someone else eating triggers extreme feelings of revulsion and even vomiting.

On YouTube he does lengthier dives into subjects as diverse as weight loss jab Ozempic, whether probiotic supplements work and how to have an effortless bowel movement (you’ve been sitting on the loo all wrong, apparently).

Dr Karan has now encapsulated his approach in a book. It’s called This Book May Save Your Life – serialised exclusively in the following pages – and I’d argue that, in a world of charlatans and social media snake-oil salesmen, he provides a voice of reason.

Still, given that medical misinformation is so enduringly popular on social media, I wonder if he’s fighting a losing battle. Last week, in a live interview on the @DailyMailUK TikTok channel, naturally, I put this to him. ‘I don’t feel like that,’ he answers. ‘Even if one person benefits from what I’m doing, then job done.’

Influencers have been peddling nonsense health hacks on social media channels such as TikTok

Influencers have been peddling nonsense health hacks on social media channels such as TikTok

So how would he advise people to differentiate between fake health news and sound advice online?

‘Do some due diligence,’ he answers. ‘If someone is doing a video talking about probiotics and then you go to their profile and they’re selling their own brand of probiotics, then that’s a red flag.

‘If someone speaks in superlatives – never saying “maybe” or “could be” or “possibly” and instead promising “this will”, with very little nuance – again this is a sign of a potential bulls**t merchant.’

A splash of water can lower your stress level

If you want the most effective, science-based way to keep your stress in check, channel your inner dolphin. It works wonders.

Every one of us is hard-wired with an archaic feature called the mammalian diving reflex. This is triggered when you plunge your face into cold water – or splash your face and nostrils – while holding your breath.

The combination of these physiological changes is known to decrease anxiety and stress

The combination of these physiological changes is known to decrease anxiety and stress

Once your face is underwater and your nostrils are full of water, this information is relayed to the brain by the trigeminal nerve. In turn, this pushes the vagus nerve to induce a lowering of the heart rate, known as bradycardia.

This prompts the blood vessels to narrow, which restricts flow into the limbs to preserve it for the heart, brain and lungs. The combination of these physiological changes is known to decrease anxiety and stress.

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Dr Karan has also begun to limit his personal screen time to around an hour a day. ‘With TikTok, there’s an endless loop of content. I used to spend hours watching but now I’ll have an hour to go to the gym, an hour to make a meal, and an hour to spend on social media. I don’t want to deprive myself of it, because I do get joy from it, but I don’t want it to be the main force in my life.’

Dr Karan was born in Mumbai, coming to the UK with his family aged five. He often credits his mother, a consultant haematologist, for inspiring him to become a doctor – along with medical TV shows such as Scrubs.

At present he is a general surgeon but plans to specialise in trauma – dealing with life-threatening injuries such as road traffic accidents, stabbings and shootings, fixing ruptured spleens, bowel perforations and major internal bleeding. He says he’d rather people didn’t end up on his operating table at all, however. ‘An old boss once told me a good surgeon knows how to operate, a better surgeon knows when to operate, and the best surgeons know when not to operate,’ he explains. ‘I want to educate people to take a greater interest in their own health – something as simple as encouraging people to eat more fibre and exercising more.

‘If someone does that they may not develop constipation, and if they don’t develop constipation they may also not develop haemorrhoids, and they won’t have surgery for the haemorrhoids.’

Today, however, he wants to talk about bananas – in particular a viral video doing the rounds on social media warning people not to put bananas in a berry smoothie.

‘It talks about a study that suggests adding in bananas reduces the polyphenol [beneficial antioxidants in many fruits and vegetables] content,’ he says. ‘But you look at this study, it’s tested the effect on cocoa extract not berries. And even if bananas completely got rid of all the polyphenols, that’s not the be all and end all because berries are more than just polyphenols. Berries have fibre, Vitamin C, manganese, B vitamins. And bananas are also healthy. So I would look beyond these fear-mongering headlines. We should be encouraging people to eat more fruits, not scaring them about it.’

So there you have it. Ignore the naysayers. Have a banana berry smoothie. Doctor’s orders. And for more helpful tips and intriguing medical insights, read on…

DR KARAN RAJAN: My health hacks that may save your life… from How to sit on the loo to the correct way to pull out your nasal hair

Let me describe my job in non-medical terms: I slice into people when they’re asleep and remove things. I should stress that I’m one of the good guys, because despite missing some stuff from their bodies, when they surface my patients feel more whole as a result.

As a general surgeon, I have the pleasure of dealing with just about everything: from guts and gallbladders to bleeding haemorrhoids and beyond. Over the course of my career, I’ve had the blessing to witness miracle cures and the misfortune of experiencing tragic losses. In the process, I’ve come to appreciate that the human body is both a wonder of biology and a deathtrap.

As a general surgeon, I have the pleasure of dealing with just about everything: from guts and gallbladders to bleeding haemorrhoids and beyond

As a general surgeon, I have the pleasure of dealing with just about everything: from guts and gallbladders to bleeding haemorrhoids and beyond

On TikTok – where I started out posting videos on how to perform the perfect bowel movement – I bust myths about the body and explore subjects that shouldn’t be taboo. And when it comes to our health, I believe that not talking about our personal issues does us a massive disservice. I’d like to right that wrong by creating an occupant’s guide to getting the most out of your body.

You’re basically a living, breathing canvas of hand-me-down traits, and that includes structures that seemingly serve no purpose. I won’t hold back on the flaws, dodgy designs and cack-handed wiring that makes us so unique.

But for all its faults, this organic life support system that you’re on provides ample opportunity for customisation and even improvement – it’s just a question of understanding how the body works, and then highlighting ways to make it better.

Maybe you’ll fine-tune your sleep health, say goodbye to indigestion or, at the very least, start to slow the inevitable decay your body initiated from the moment you were born.

Why pulling out nose hair could be DEADLY

Yanking out nose hairs might be satisfying, but there is a catch: it could kill you.

Firstly, there are different varieties of nose hair. The tiny ones, known as cilia, move mucus from the nasal cavity to the back of the throat for you to swallow. The larger ones that stick their heads out serve as gatekeepers to deter unwanted guests such as dust and pollen.

So they have their uses. In addition, plucking out any hair at the root results in a small opening that can allow microbes to gain entry to your innards and potentially cause an infection. Popping a pimple inside the nose can also have the same effect.

Yanking out nose hairs might be satisfying, but there is a catch: it could kill you

Yanking out nose hairs might be satisfying, but there is a catch: it could kill you

An infection near your nose has a minuscule potential to spread from your face to your brain, as it’s in the ‘triangle of danger’. This area extends from the bridge of your nose to the corners of the mouth and has a direct connection to your brain due to the cavernous sinus: a network of veins behind your eye sockets that helps drain blood from your brain.

In extremely rare scenarios, an infection here can lead to a septic cavernous sinus thrombosis – an infected blood clot in your cavernous sinus which can cause a brain abscess, facial nerve damage or even stroke.

You have FOUR nostrils and they enhance taste

Chances are you’re blissfully unaware that you have four nostrils instead of two – the surprise ones are situated internally at the back of the nasal cavity by the throat.

The good news is that you can use these to boost your sense of taste, which isn’t really down to your tongue at all: smell accounts for about 80 per cent of the perception of flavour.

As you chew food, some of the airborne molecules wafting around your mouth pass through the back door of the nose. From there, your brain processes the odours of what you’re eating. You can enhance these tastes by holding food in your mouth for a bit longer and breathing out of your nose so the aromas percolate through these internal nostrils for longer.

The useless heart part causing lethal strokes

It is a redundant pocket of tissue about the size of your little finger – and it’s thought to cause a quarter of all strokes.

This truly villainous body part is called the left atrial appendage, and is a small pouch found close to the wall of the left atrium, one of the chambers of the heart.

Most of the time it doesn’t do much. But if you end up with an irregular heart rhythm, also known as atrial fibrillation – which becomes increasingly common as we get older – blood can start to pool in this pouch.

It is a redundant pocket of tissue about the size of your little finger ¿ and it¿s thought to cause a quarter of all strokes

It is a redundant pocket of tissue about the size of your little finger – and it’s thought to cause a quarter of all strokes

Eventually it solidifies into a blood clot, and before you know it it’s gone up to the brain and caused a stroke. The appendage is a menace to your body, serving no good purpose other than to be a medical curiosity with potentially deadly consequences. Fortunately, for some people with atrial fibrillation, there is a procedure on offer to close the pouch, helping to prevent strokes without needing to use medication.

Swap sugar in your coffee for SALT

We could all benefit from eating less sugar, and one good way is by reducing the amount we add to hot drinks. Try using a red-coloured mug. Our brains are wired to associate colours with flavours: green for bitter, yellow for sour, brown for savoury and red for sweet.

A red mug will trick you into feeling it’s sweet already, without the need for sugar.

You could also try adding salt to coffee. What happens next is an illusion – salt doesn’t actually alter the coffee, but it tricks your brain into ignoring the bitterness and amplifies any sweetness.

A red mug will trick you into feeling it¿s sweet already, without the need for sugar

A red mug will trick you into feeling it’s sweet already, without the need for sugar

Seeing ghosts? It may just be your hearing

In the early 1980s, British engineer Vic Tandy was working late in his lab in Warwickshire. He began to feel an intense sense of impending doom and then caught sight of a grey figure stooping against the white laboratory wall.

Tandy refused to believe the building was haunted and sought a scientific explanation – and it turns out he was right.

Interestingly, sound at this frequency has been shown to cause feelings of anxiety, dizziness and disorientation

Interestingly, sound at this frequency has been shown to cause feelings of anxiety, dizziness and disorientation

The culprit was the lab’s newly installed extractor fan that hummed at a soundwave frequency of 18.9 Hz – just below the lowest bass notes the human ear is able to hear. Interestingly, sound at this frequency has been shown to cause feelings of anxiety, dizziness and disorientation. They often use it in horror movie soundtracks to add extra creepiness – something that has been dubbed ‘the fear frequency’ or ‘ghost frequency’. And these low-frequency sounds don’t just make you feel on edge, they can also interfere with the vibrations of your eyeballs, which causes your eyes to see things that aren’t there.

Everything from wind turbines to rumbling fridges can cause these low-frequency sound waves – so how many hauntings have been down to domestic appliances?

The stomach taste buds that seek out sweets

If you’ve ever wondered why you always have room for a dessert, even after a particularly filling meal, you can blame your biology.

Just as your mouth is fitted with taste buds, your stomach also has taste receptors. These can recognise the value of certain foods and teach us to seek them out.

We can thank our predecessors for this ancestral reflex, as in times of famine a sweet food represented an energy-dense, high-value commodity. As a result, when you’re presented with a sugary delight, it can trigger your stomach’s receptors to produce the hunger hormone ghrelin.

Even if your brain is telling you you’re full, ghrelin can override and urge you to stock up on dessert before famine hits.

It is true – you CAN die from a broken heart

Your heart can actually break and cause you to die. During periods of emotional upheaval, such as the breakdown of a long-term relationship or a bereavement, your body may experience elevated levels of stress hormones.

In turn, this can lead to a weakening of the heart muscle called stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

The condition is named after the Japanese vase-like octopus trap ‘tako-tsubo’ for the shape the heart adopts during this condition.

During periods of emotional upheaval, such as the breakdown of a long-term relationship or a bereavement, your body may experience elevated levels of stress hormones

During periods of emotional upheaval, such as the breakdown of a long-term relationship or a bereavement, your body may experience elevated levels of stress hormones

It can start suddenly, even in healthy individuals. Warning signs include chest pain, shortness of breath, abnormal ECG readings – all the typical things you would find in a heart attack, but your coronary arteries won’t be blocked.

Oddly enough, the strong emotions don’t have to be negative. One per cent of stress-induced cardiomyopathy cases are initiated by positive events, such as the birth of a baby, which lead to intense feelings of happiness.

Why multi-tasking can leave you exhausted

When you input demands on a computer, it can cause the fan to kick in to stop it from overheating. The brain doesn’t have that kind of fail-safe, but it can make mistakes if you’re asking too much of it.

When I’m watching TV, for example, I have to remind myself to stop scrolling through social media. Multi-tasking such as this makes it more likely you won’t do anything properly, so might accidentally lead to a picture being sent to the wrong group chat.

One study from the University of Sussex looked at the MRI scans of individuals who texted while watching TV. It found a reduced density in the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex – an area involved in empathy and emotional regulation. What’s more, constantly shifting attention from one thing to another results in parts of the brain burning rapidly through its energy supplies. This is why you can feel exhausted even after short bursts of multi-tasking, because you’ve literally depleted your brain’s energy reserves.

The ‘sixth sense’ you didn’t know you had

Proprioception is the hidden ability possessed by everyone on the planet. It allows you to know the position of parts of your body in space – known as your spatial orientation – without looking.

It’s why we’re able to walk without watching our feet, take a sip from a glass without thinking about it or touch our nose with our eyes closed. This is because your joints and ligaments are saturated with nerve fibres that constantly feed back signals to your brain when we move. Think of it as your internal body compass.

This system can also be improved with simple balance exercises. Essentially, the better your body’s ability to auto-calibrate or correct itself without thought, the lower your risk of injury from trips or falls.

With your eyes closed, stand on one leg that is slightly bent. This forces the muscles around the knee to work harder to maintain your balance and fine-tunes your joint sense. Make it more difficult by moving your head to one side, as this meddles with your inner ear balance, too.

The more of this – and regular physical activity in general – the more your body and brain will instinctively know how to protect you without conscious signals being made. Ultimately, your knees will thank you.

Pain is all in the mind, so learn how to reduce it

The brain decides how we experience pain. If you burn your hand, or stand on a Lego brick, that information is sent to the brain. It then decides how to respond – either dialling up or dialling down the pain depending on how it wants to perceive it.

This might go some way to explain how fakirs – holy men in Muslim culture – can tolerate sitting on a bed of nails.

But does that mean we can brainwash ourselves to exert some control? Not entirely – we can’t block out the agony of gallstones or tooth abscesses, but it is possible to hack the process.

The brain decides how we experience pain. If you burn your hand, or stand on a Lego brick, that information is sent to the brain. It then decides how to respond ¿ either dialling up or dialling down the pain depending on how it wants to perceive it

The brain decides how we experience pain. If you burn your hand, or stand on a Lego brick, that information is sent to the brain. It then decides how to respond – either dialling up or dialling down the pain depending on how it wants to perceive it

Being sad or anxious about pain can make it feel worse; not focusing on pain can dampen it.

But the simplest mind trick for dealing with pain is something I use on my patients all the time when taking blood. Just before I insert a cannula or withdraw blood, I ask them to look away.

If the brain can’t see the cause of the pain, it is less sensitive to it.

What your breath can say about your health

Giving your breath a cheeky sniff test can help you to assess your health. If you detect the following whiffs, check-in with a health professional…

A sour smell can indicate acid reflux. This means bits of food are making their way back up towards the throat, making it a fertile breeding ground for bacteria.  

A smell like mothballs can be a sign you’re suffering from an allergy or a cold.

Fruity-smelling breath indicates high levels of ketones in the blood, a sign that the body isn’t producing enough insulin and can be a sign of diabetic ketoacidosis – a potentially fatal complication of type 1 diabetes.

A sweet or mouldy note to your breath could be a sign of fetor hepaticus – an indicator of liver disease.

A sour smell can indicate acid reflux. This means bits of food are making their way back up towards the throat, making it a fertile breeding ground for bacteria.

A sour smell can indicate acid reflux. This means bits of food are making their way back up towards the throat, making it a fertile breeding ground for bacteria.

Fishy breath, if you haven’t been guzzling seafood, is a sign of end-stage kidney failure.

A metallic smell or halitosis (bad breath) can be signs of a bacterial infection in the gumline, as well as early markers of gum disease or tooth decay.

This Book May Save Your Life: Everyday Health Hacks To Worry Less And Live Better, by Dr Karan Rajan (Century) is out now, RRP £18.99.

How to stop your loo from giving you piles 

The modern toilet, while alleviating many of the diseases that flourished with poor sanitation and open public defecation, has also given rise to common and debilitating problems, including constipation and bowel conditions such as diverticulosis, as well as piles.

Why? Because the seated position results in high pressures being exerted on the end of the gut.

When you sit upright, with the legs at 90-degree angles, you have to strain to navigate your poo around a kink created by the puborectalis – a pelvic floor muscle that forms a sling around your rectum.

This results in a ‘blow-out’, causing balloon-like hernias to form in the colon (known as diverticular disease) or the appearance of swollen veins that line your anus (known as haemorrhoids or piles).

This can be easily done by sitting on the toilet with your feet on a stool

This can be easily done by sitting on the toilet with your feet on a stool

Taking the strain out of this routine, by shifting position, can reduce these risks.

Research has shown that adopting a squat-like pose makes bowel movements more effortless. When you squat, the kink in the rectum begins to unfurl so you have a clear run.

To achieve this, try to make sure your knees are higher than your hips.

This can be easily done by sitting on the toilet with your feet on a stool.

Or you can lean forwards while resting your tip-toes on a rolled-up towel.

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What do these mites get up to at night… don’t ask

Most people have heard about the gut microbiome – the bacterial population inside our digestive tract that plays an important role in keeping us alive. These microbes do everything from training our immune system and influencing our behaviour through chemical and hormonal releases, to helping us break down foods.

But there is a microbiome on the skin, too, crawling with billions of bugs and home to thousands of varieties of bacteria. They also do important work, and it’s believed that overzealous washing can strip away the natural oils that feed the microbes. The resulting imbalance of the skin microbiome might have a role to play in allergic skin conditions such as eczema.

One of the benign demons on your skin are called demodex, a type of colourless arachnid that burrow into skin around the eyelashes

One of the benign demons on your skin are called demodex, a type of colourless arachnid that burrow into skin around the eyelashes

One of the benign demons on your skin are called demodex, a type of colourless arachnid that burrow into skin around the eyelashes.

As horrific as it sounds, they act as natural exfoliants, as they feast on your dead skin cells. It’s only if you host too many that they can cause skin disease and sleepless nights.

These tiny face mites also don’t have an anus. As a result, they explode from overconsumption from the backed-up skin and oil they’ve eaten. They also have sex on your face at night.

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