Liver disease misinformation rampant on TikTok: study

Around 40% of liver disease posts on social media site TikTok contain misinformation in a worrying trend doctors want to reverse.

That’s according to a new study led by Macklin Loveland, M.D., from the University of Arizona College of Medicine and presented at the Digestive Disease Week 2023 event this month. The study found that most of the posts containing misinformation about liver disease were “pushing inaccurate claims about fad diets, ‘detox’ drinks and herbal remedies." 

For the study, researchers scanned 2,223 posts with the terms “cirrhosis” and “liver disease” on TikTok in October and November of last year and found that 883 contained misinformation. The posts falsely claimed that consuming various mushrooms, eating beef liver or doing a parasite cleanse would heal the liver, as well as herbal remedies. 

Liver disease has several causes from genetic conditions to alcohol misuse, obesity, drug misuse and viral infections. Liver damage can also come in many stages, but is often called a “silent disease” as many patients don’t have symptoms until their liver disease has progressed.

But the researchers noted that liver disease is on the rise and may require any number of medical interventions, from lifestyle changes to surgery or medication.

Encouragingly, the study found that the inaccurate posts had “far less” engagement than accurate posts, with the misleading posts getting an average of 1,671 likes and 140 shares compared to an average 14,463 likes and 364 shares on accurate posts.

“Even though inaccurate posts were less popular, they still represent a high volume of misinformation on the platform, leaving people with liver disease susceptible to false claims,” Loveland warned in an accompanying press release.

“Given the high mortality associated with liver disease, the impact of spreading inaccurate claims on such a popular social media platform could have serious clinical ramifications.”

He concluded that: “In general, TikTok and social media platforms are great sources to disseminate health information. However, we need to put more guardrails in place against false or misleading claims.”