To get right to the heart of the matter: No, you shouldn’t consume borax. You won’t enjoy magical health benefits, and you might get sick.
For anyone wondering why we’re talking about this: Some wellness influencers have recently encouraged their followers to add a pinch of borax to their drinking water.
Although borax is a household name in the United States, it’s less well-known in other parts of the world. So, here's a quick explainer for anyone who’s not heard of it.
Borax is a naturally occurring compound formed when lakes repeatedly dry up. But manufacturers can also produce synthetic borax from other compounds.
It has a wide range of uses, including as an insecticide, in laundry and cleaning products, in tooth whitening formulas, and as a fertilizer.
“In the early 1900s, boron was used as a food preservative until it was discovered that consumption causes headaches, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting,” explains ZOE’s U.S. Medical Director Dr. Will Bulsiewicz.
“For this reason,” he continues, “it’s banned as a food additive in most countries. It’s also classified as a reproductive toxin.”
Why are people drinking it?
According to wellness “gurus,” borax can ease all manner of symptoms and conditions, including arthritis, mouth sores, swollen tongue, painful eyes, menstrual cramps, and urinary infections.
They also claim it can boost testosterone, improve libido, and even treat cancer.
Basically, they’ve declared it a wonder drug. According to them, there’s very little that borax can’t do.
But there’s no evidence to back up these claims. As Dr. B told us, “The track record of advice coming from TikTok keeps getting worse.”
Why do they think it works?
Wellness fads often develop around a kernel of truth. This gives even quite unusual practices — like drinking household cleaning products — a veneer of believability.
But when you drill down into the details, the benefits they claim shrivel away.
So, borax contains the chemical element boron. Boron, some believe, is an essential nutrient for humans. So, boosting its levels, wellness aficionados claim, will ease all your health concerns.
However, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), boron isn’t classified as an essential nutrient because scientists haven’t identified its biological function in humans yet.
But the picture isn’t entirely clear at this stage.
The NIH also writes that boron might benefit “reproduction and development, calcium metabolism, bone formation, brain function, insulin and energy substrate metabolism, immunity, and the function of steroid hormones (including vitamin D and estrogen).”
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And a review of the nutritional benefits of boron lays out growing evidence that boron might be important for health.
But again, we don’t know the details yet.
So, we have a lot to learn about boron. It might turn out to be an important element for human health. We simply don’t know yet.
And that means that, even if it is essential for health, we also don’t know how much we need.
Importantly, though, even if it is essential, you don’t need to drink borax to boost boron levels. And we’ll get to that later.
Is borax toxic?
According to a review on the toxicity of borax and other boron-containing compounds, they don’t seem to cause cancer or damage DNA. So, that’s good.
But they’re not without some dangers.
In tiny amounts, it’s unlikely to do much harm. But at very large doses, it can cause:
vascular collapse — serious problems with your circulation
And in extreme cases, it can be fatal.
So, boron may be important for health. It may even be an essential element — we don’t know yet. But we do know that in larger doses, it can be dangerous. So, it’s not worth the risk.
But if you’re still tempted to try borax water, we have a better idea.
Natural sources of boron
Boron is widely available in plant foods — it’s an essential nutrient for plants.
So, if you'd like to up your boron intake, there are much safer ways to do it than adding a laundry product to your glass of water.
We’ve listed some foods below with their boron content. Importantly, these foods also contain a whole host of other compounds that we know are good for your health:
½ cup of avocado: 1.07 milligrams
one medium apple: 0.66 mg
one medium pear: 0.5 mg
1 ounce (28 g) of peanuts: 0.48 mg
½ cup of grapes: 0.37 mg
one medium orange: 0.37 mg
½ cup of lima beans: 0.35 mg
½ cup of boiled broccoli: 0.2 mg
Boron naturally occurs in water, too — around 0.1 mg per liter.
For context, a pinch of borax probably weighs around 0.3 grams. And cleaning products contain about 10–20% boron. So that means your pinch of borax contains roughly 30–60 mg of boron.
It’s important to note that the list above isn’t exhaustive by any means. Most plant foods contain boron, especially fruits, leafy vegetables, nuts, and legumes.
Only around 1 in 10 people in the U.S. met their daily recommended fruit and veg intake in 2019.
And even though you’ll likely get more boron from consuming borax, it’s important to remember that more isn’t always better when it comes to micronutrients.
Even essential vitamins and minerals are dangerous when consumed in large amounts.
What should you do?
So, if you add a teeny, tiny amount of borax to your drink, you’re probably not dicing with death. But you’re not doing yourself any favors, either. If you consume too much, it’s toxic.
As it stands, scientists don’t know precisely how boron influences health. It’s looking likely that boron might play a positive role. But to date, evidence of its importance is mixed.
And we don’t know how much is too much.
For now, upping your fruit and veg intake is your best bet. You’ll naturally increase your boron intake (in case that’s important), but you’ll also fuel your body with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients that we know your body needs.
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Boron. Advances in Nutrition. (2020). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2161831322002691
Boron. (2022). https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Boron-HealthProfessional/
Boron is required for zebrafish embryogenesis. The Journal of Experimental Biology. (1999). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10333510/
Daily boron intake from the American diet. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. (1999). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10076586/
Food additive status list. (2022). https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/food-additive-status-list
Impact of boron deficiency on Xenopus laevis: a summary of biological effects and potential biochemical roles. Biological Trace Element Research. (2002). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12666830/
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The physiological role of boron in health. Biological Trace Element Research. (2018). https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12011-018-1284-3
Too much of a good thing? Toxic effects of vitamin and mineral supplements. CMAJ. (2003). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC164945/
Toxicity of boric acid, borax and other boron-containing compounds: A review. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology. (2021). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0273230021000131