Are the benefits real?
The substance once only known for treating accidental ingestion of poison is now popping up in everything from toothpaste to ice cream. Some label it a “detoxifier.” Getting rid of toxins might sound appealing. Is this black stuff okay to use and eat?
WHAT IT IS: Activated charcoal is made by taking plant materials rich in carbon, such as wood or coconut shells, then heating them at very high temperatures. The “activation” comes from stripping the substance of previously absorbed molecules, making them able to bind again. The resulting charcoal absorbs various substances, depending on the application. As a side note, this is not the same as food that has been burned in the process of cooking. The problem is that activated charcoal doesn’t discriminate. It will bind to any substance it meets, whether it is medicine, or the vitamins and minerals found in your food. When ingested, the charcoal itself is not absorbed by the body.
WHAT IS KNOWN: The only approved use of it is for poisonings. The claims being made by trendy products right now are based on its chemical properties and potential. No major research has been done to back any other applications of activated charcoal.
THE CLAIMS: Some of the claims out there right now are for: skin cleansing, deodorants, water filtration, neutralizing intestinal gas, improving kidney function for those with kidney disease, whitening teeth, and wound care. As far as its detoxifying properties, activated charcoal binds to things in your stomach and small intestine. It cannot remove built up “toxins” found in your body. “Detoxing” is a buzz word these days, but this method of detoxification can be detrimental to your health if you don’t know the risks of it absorbing medications, vitamins, and minerals. No evidence exists to support its abilities to cure hangovers either. When used in foods, some have noted it turned their mouths a shade of gray. This probably is not the best choice if you’re on a first date.
WHAT’S NEXT: Look for continued research on this activated charcoal. Education is the key. New York City has placed a ban on using it in food and drinks, even though the FDA has not specifically banned it…but they also have not approved it. If you are considering ingesting this for any purpose, check with your healthcare provider first, as it might interfere with absorption of your medicines and nutrients in your food.
The following articles were referenced for this newsletter: