Black cones, black ice cream, black smoothies, black everything! It seems the dark side has taken over for the benefit of your health. But is it really beneficial? Activated charcoal has become one of the latest trends. It is being used for everything, ranging from external applications for your face, body, and wounds, to internal uses such as toothpaste, and supplements. Now it is even in foods. Some people even take shots of activated charcoal for a boost of energy, or as a detox cleanse. But is it actually good to ingest it?
What Is Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal is created by burning organic matter such as coconut shells, wood, and bamboo. Once the matter has turned into ash, it is “activated” by being exposed to gases at high temperatures, removing all oxygen, water, and impurities. Because it is activated, it becomes highly binding to anything it comes in contact with, such as oil, and bacteria. Think of activated charcoal as a sponge with tiny pores ready to absorb unwanted items.
How It Works
When activated charcoal comes in contact with anything, it clings to it and removes it from the body. This is why people use activated charcoal masks to remove oil and dirt from their face, body washes for acne, and toothpaste to whiten their teeth (and yes this will get very messy). Many people use the powder as a detox to remove toxins such as poisons, drugs, and bacteria from the digestive system. People turn to ingesting activated charcoal pills, smoothies, or shots with the intentions of losing weight, lowering cholesterol, and relieving gas or bloating. Others use it for the purpose of removing toxins from their body if they feel a cold or the flu coming on. Some people even ingest it for the purpose of reducing a hangover!
Concerns Regarding Ingestion
Consuming activated charcoal may seem harmless, and even like a good idea, but there are some major concerns from medical professionals. Because activated charcoal binds with all kinds of things, it will also bind to the good stuff. It does not know what is considered bad or good. It will bind to vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from your food. This means that you may risk losing your positive food benefits. The end result can be extreme malnutrition. While activated charcoal removes the bad bacteria and gunk from your intestines, it will also remove the good bacteria. Lastly, because of its binding effects, activated charcoal will absorb medications, making them less effective.
Too Much Of Anything Is A Bad Thing
Before it became mainstream to have foods dyed black, activated charcoal was used for medicinal purposes such as a detox for food poisoning, and even recommended by doctors. Doctors would prescribe it, but make sure to follow up with a laxative so your body gets rid of the charcoal once it has done its job. If not, the charcoal will linger and continue to cling to things. Also, if you consume too much activated charcoal, then it can result in constipation. While it is good to use for certain issues here and there, it is not a good idea to eat or drink it every day.
Dr. Angie Sadeghi, a board certified Gastroenterologist and Internist, says consuming activated charcoal when healthy is pointless. “In my opinion, it seems counterproductive to even eat activated charcoal with food. Activated charcoal is used for detox purposes because it will bind to medications and toxins in the body – but it will also bind to nutrients in food. It is recommended when using activated charcoal for an overdose or detox to take it on an empty stomach, therefore putting it in food makes no sense other than to be a fun coloring or health gimmick.”
The state of New York has banned the use of activated charcoal in foods because they stated the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) prohibited adding it as a food coloring agent. Although the FDA has not given approval for it, they haven’t necessarily banned it either. Before consuming activated charcoal, make sure you are educated about the effects of it. It can be great for lowering cholesterol, relieving gas and bloating, or removing toxins and chemicals from your body, but it should be done with caution and moderation. Too much of anything is a bad thing.