01.03.2024

Meet the NHS doctor and social media sensation who is on a one-man mission to debunk rogue health myths peddled online

You’ve probably seen his face, debunking quackery like taping your mouth shut will help you sleep. But TikTok icon Dr Karan Raj, who has amassed millions of fans for his witty, punchy explainers, is one of the few reliable social media experts.

The Hampshire-based NHS surgeon, whose full name is Dr Karan Rangarajan, has shared thousands of videos online, tackling the endless stream of rogue health myths circulating on the web.

In engaging clips, the 33-year-old also explains the body’s bizarre mechanisms through detailed but easily digestible information.

His goal? Simple. Make people more informed about their health.

But TikTok icon Dr Karan, who has amassed millions of fans for his witty, punchy explainers — is one of the few reliable TikTok experts

Dr Karan first started posting videos on YouTube in 2012.

At first he focused on giving practical explainers to students and medical professionals, covering topics on how to take a patient’s medical history and blood pressure to removing kidney stones.

But he pivoted to TikTok in November 2019 to ‘reach and disseminate more public health information’.

At the time, millions were downloading the app, where short videos can be quickly uploaded and go viral.

And with Covid plunging nations into lockdowns just a few months later, people were glued to their phones and more interested in health than ever before.

‘I realised there was a growing epidemic of misinformation online, from the mildly bad like «do colonic cleanses» to the really awful stuff about vaccines,’ Dr Karan told MailOnline.

‘So I realised that is an area that needs to be targeted.’

Doctors working in the UK need to sign up to the General Medical Council (GMC), which protects patients by setting standards for students and doctors. It sets out that medics must promote public health.

‘I was like, social media is essentially an extension of that. So you know, I’m doing my duties as a doctor,’ says Dr Karan.

One of his early viral videos was a warning to those donning gloves when venturing outside during the pandemic. He filmed the clip after just coming off a night shift.

‘I made a video about why people shouldn’t wear gloves. You know, there’s a huge rise in people, beginning with Covid pandemic, wearing gloves in the supermarkets, petrol stations.

‘I thought this is ridiculous, because they just transferring the germs and the gloves everywhere. And I made a video with my glove on and drew on it.’

Dozens of media outlets around the world picked it up and it was viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

‘That’s what really highlighted to me the power of social media,’ Dr Karan said.

More recent clips include debunking claims that a shot of lemon juice can combat acid reflux, how you can tell if you have deviated spectrum and an explainer on a new pill that appears to kill cancer.

No medical topics are off-limits for Dr Karan, with videos on women’s health, neuroscience and gut health all featuring on his channel.

Dr Karan said: ‘I’m just really curious, so I learned all these things.

‘The videos that you see are a reflection of my curiosity.

‘If I find something interesting, I want to tell the audience that and hopefully they find it interesting as well.’

But while his videos have removed the wool from the eyes of many of his millions of followers, Dr Karan has witnessed first-hand how tricky it is to debunk some topics — with vaccines and Covid being among the most contentious topics.

‘The community of people who think of a certain conspiracy or who have a certain mindset, there’s a certain psychology there, that’s very difficult to shift,’ he said.

‘There’s almost a certain delusion, and when someone has a delusion that is really profound and deeply sits within their own psychology, it’s sometimes very hard to shift, even if you show them science that shows the contrary.’

He added: ‘There’s more misinformation now than ever because more people access to social media and the online spaces.

Dr Karan first started posting videos on YouTube in 2012 that were practical explainers for students and medical professionals ¿ covering topics on how to take a patient's medical history and blood pressure to removing kidney stones. But he pivoted to TikTok in November 2019 to 'reach and disseminate more public health information'

Dr Karan first started posting videos on YouTube in 2012 that were practical explainers for students and medical professionals — covering topics on how to take a patient’s medical history and blood pressure to removing kidney stones. But he pivoted to TikTok in November 2019 to ‘reach and disseminate more public health information’

‘Sometimes people grow in these little silos where they’re just stuck in their own echo chamber. And it propagates that misinformation.’

But it doesn’t dishearten Dr Karan who believes he can ‘chip away’ at pseudoscience and change some people’s views.

In one video, he explained the science behind Covid vaccines. In his own words, it was done ‘just very simply without being derogatory or condescending’.

‘My approach is giving the science and then letting people decide what they want.’

After posting the clip, Dr Karan saw a thread on Reddit, where someone had said they had gone from being an anti-vaxxer to getting the jab and recommending it to their friends.

‘That is the sort of ultimate end goal of what I’m trying to do, you know, changing people’s minds improving health on a person by person basis,’ he said.

But it’s not just the web fuelling the rise of health misinformation.

Dr Karan has encountered inaccurate understandings of a swathe of conditions among patients who have been informed by celebrity doctors.

One patient, suffering from diverticular disease — when bulges develop in the lining of the large intestine — believed that if they ate seeds or nuts, they would get stuck in the small sacks.

Dr Karan’s patient had read the ‘completely not true’ health advice in a book written by a ‘very well known British ex-doctor, current pseudo scientist, who’s on the best selling chart’, he said.

‘I tried to tell the patient, «the book you’re reading is complete trash and what you’re telling me is also incorrect»,’ he said.

Eventually, the patient accepted this after Dr Karan was backed up by colleagues.

‘So [health myths] are everywhere. It’s not just in the online space, it trickles into the real world,’ he said.

TV and breakfast show doctors are among the worst culprits and are either misinformed or trying to tout something — such as a book, course or vitamins — as ‘disinformation is sexy and it sells’, Dr Karan says.

When the medic isn’t working in an NHS hospital or posting on TikTok, he’s often at home spending time with his English Mastiff, Shadow.

‘I sort of leave my weekends relatively unstructured. Maybe I’ll put like put aside an hour two for making videos and social media,’ Dr Karan said.

‘And actually, that’s my interaction with social media. I don’t scrolling videos, I just go on there to make and post a video and then I’m out of there.’

The Referral, which launched in May, has covered topics ranging from why women aren't having enough orgasms to the daily habits destroying your gut health

The Referral, which launched in May, has covered topics ranging from why women aren’t having enough orgasms to the daily habits destroying your gut health

He also enjoys working out, gardening, baking — and napping.

Some studies and medics blast the idea over fears a siestas are linked with insomnia, diabetes, heart disease and depression.

But Dr Karan is a firm supporter.

‘Humans have this biphasic sleeping pattern where we naturally experience dips in [energy during] the day’ — around 10pm and 1pm, he said.

‘That’s a perfect time for a nap. But you won’t want to do the nap too close to your bedtime, because then you won’t get to sleep at night, which is not good.

‘Naps are proven by science to improve cognition, memory can improve learning as well.

‘So it’s scientifically proven — you must have naps,’ Dr Karan says.

Dr Karan was born in Mumbai, before moving to Nairobi, aged three, Hong Kong aged four and London when he was five.

He attended Westminster School in central London, which charges up to £50,000 per year for boarding pupils and more than £37,000 for day pupils.

A combination of excelling at science at school and hearing tales of his mum’s hospital shifts as a haematologist — a doctor that treats blood and bone marrow disorders — was behind Dr Karan’s decision to become a medic.

‘I wanted to do something with my hands — fix a problem. And for me, surgery made sense. So my path almost crystallised as I grew up,’ he said.

He spent six years studying medicine at Imperial College in London, where he hosted FIFA tournaments and play cricket with friends, alongside his studies, before joining the health service in 2014, where he now sees up to 15 patients a day.

Between juggling working for the NHS — he says he would never go private — and his social media accounts, Dr Karan has also found the time to start a podcast and write a book.

The Referral, which launched in May, has covered topics ranging from why women aren’t having enough orgasms to the daily habits destroying your gut health.

In an episode this week, he quizzed fertility expert Dr Helen O’Neill on the causes of infertility, the cost of egg freezing and the chances of getting pregnant using frozen eggs.

He’s also written This Book May Save Your Life — due to be released by Penguin on December 28 and available for pre-order — which promises ‘potentially life-saving facts about the human body’.

‘It’s a cocktail of my memories from med school, time as a hospital doctor, as a surgeon, anecdotes from that,’ Dr Karan said.

‘But also debunking the medical myths that I talk about online, interesting facts that I always love to share, medical history — which is another passion of mine — combined with health hacks and to improve people’s lives.’

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