Is Activated Charcoal Healthy?
Sorry, but that charcoal-spiked cocktail, smoothie and juice won't detox your body.
In the past, activated charcoal was associated with poison control and hospitals. Today, cocktail bars, smoothie shops and juice bars are all spots you might find charcoal-spiked beverages on the menu claiming to "detox" your body to wellness. You may even find charcoal supplements on health store shelves claiming similar benefits. While activated charcoal appears to be making its way to the mainstream, it's not the miracle wellness cure it often purports to be. Here's what you need to know about consuming activated charcoal.
What Is Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal is charcoal made in the presence of a gas, which gives the charcoal pores that can help trap chemicals. Charcoal can be made from wood, peat, coconut shells and more.
How Is Activated Charcoal Used?
Activated charcoal is a medical treatment used for certain kinds of poison control. In humand, it’s generally most effective one hour after ingesting a toxin as it helps prevent the poison from being absorbed in the stomach and body. Sometime several doses of activated charcoal are needed to treat severe poisoning or a drug overdose. Activated charcoal for poisoning should only be administered by a medical professional.
Some other not-well-researched uses of activated charcoal are cholestasis prevention in pregnancy, preventing gas, lowering cholesterol and preventing hangovers. Activated charcoal is not believed to absorb alcohol well, so the prevention of hangovers is probably unlikely. For gas prevention or cholesterol treatment, talk with your doctor before using activated charcoal. If you’re pregnant and prone to cholestasis, it’s very important to consult your doctor before trying activated charcoal. In general, more research needs to be done on these use-cases.
Is Activated Charcoal Healthy?
Activated charcoal may be useful in certain circumstances when used under the supervision of a medical professional, but it’s not something you should be adding to your daily diet. There have not been any randomized controlled studies (the gold standard) to prove an efficacy of activated charcoal. Moreover, if you were to add it to a smoothie, for example, it could bind to the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, meaning those beneficial ingredients wouldn’t be absorbed into your body, negating the health benefits of the smoothie.
What Are the Side Effects of Activated Charcoal?
Some of the side effects of activated charcoal use can be pretty nasty, and they include:
- Black stools
- Black tongue
If you’ve taken activated charcoal and experience any of these side effects, talk to your doctor.
Bottom Line: Activated charcoal is not a miracle wellness cure.
Activated charcoal is not a “detox” tool. Our bodies are able to regulate themselves don’t need help removing toxins. The best way to keep your body regulated and toxin-free is to hydration. Drink water, your kidneys will do all the detoxing for you.
Vanessa Rissetto received her MS in Marketing at NYU and completed her Dietetic Internship at Mount Sinai Hospital where she worked as a Senior Dietitian for five years. She is the co-founder of Culina Health and is certified in Adult Weight Management (Levels I & II) by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the founder of Culina Health. Her work in private practice also includes treatment of GI disorders, bariatric surgery, weight management, PCOS, and family nutrition. She loves helping clients take an active role in their health journey, motivating them and ensuring that they always achieve success. Vanessa was named by one of the top 5 black nutritionists that will change the way you think about food by Essence magazine. Vanessa lives in Hoboken NJ with her husband, two kids and their new goldendoodle Freddie. An exercise enthusiast, she is always up for a class as long as it's after she rides her Peloton.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.