There’s activated charcoal everywhere. It is applied to face masks, toothpaste whitening and sold to be eaten in tablet, capsule and powder form. This stylish food supplement promises to cleanse us of toxins, beat bloating and even heal a hangover, but what is it and why is it getting popular?
Though it sounds like something that you might use to fire up the grill, the new ‘detox’ trend is activated charcoal. It is usually made of carbon-containing material such as wood, which is heated to produce charcoal at high temperatures, and oxidized, a process known as “activation.”
The surface of activated charcoal has plenty of small gaps, increasing its surface area and making it more porous. It is this sponge-like property that helps to soak up activated charcoal from a variety of chemicals and that’s why you can see it used in filtration products, including water filters.
There is a long history of the use of activated charcoal in emergency medicine to treat drug overdoses or accidental poisoning. By administering charcoal immediately and at sufficient doses, it is possible to bind to certain drugs or toxins, reducing their absorption in the gut and preventing the adverse effects on the patient.
Recently,’ activated charcoal detox’ health goods have been improved, citing amazing benefits such as the ability to reduce bloating and flatulence, clean your system, and even whiten your teeth. Scientific evidence does not exist to support these or other claims. Furthermore to maximize the market value, the quantity of charcoal added to something like a ‘detox juice’ is likely to be aesthetic at best. Research indicates that activated charcoal can provide excessive gas relief. A small study published in the International Medical Journal found that in men with and without excessive gas, activated charcoal effectively decreased gas and bloating.
Given its use in overdoses and poisonings as a gastrointestinal absorbent, it follows that some individuals can recommend activated charcoal as a diarrhea remedy. The researchers also pointed out that activated charcoal had few side effects, especially in comparison with common antidiarrheal drugs, while noting that it was an effective treatment for diarrhea.
Activated charcoal is used in hundreds of teeth-whitening products. Some oral health products containing activated charcoal appear to have different advantages. The toxin-absorbing properties of activated charcoal may be important here, but there is no substantial evidence to support its use for whitening of teeth or oral health.
Ironically, while activated charcoal binds well to certain chemicals, such as unique poisons and medicines, it does not bind well with alcohol, so it might disappoint those hoping for a hangover remedy. Because of the small number of research participants, most of the studies investigating the use of activated charcoal focus on poisoning and many others are reduced in consistency.
Even where promising results, such as reducing flatulence, are available, there is contradictory evidence. Some studies report positive results showing that activated charcoal can help remove excess gas from the gut at recommended levels, while others report no effect.
How activated charcoal reacts with other nutrients is an environment we don’t completely understand. In particular, it may bind water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C) with beneficial nutrients, rendering them less usable, which unfortunately makes good’ juices mixed with activated charcoal a tad less beneficial than they might first seem. Activated charcoal and its effects are confined to your gut, so your ‘detox’ juice does not absorb harmful materials from other parts of the body, regardless of what the marketing propaganda tells you. There is no evidence that supports the daily use as either beneficial or helpful of activated charcoal.
What’s more, a fallacy is the belief that you need extra support to help the body eliminate regular toxins to remain healthy. Detoxification is performed very effectively by the body through organs such as the liver and kidneys in a generally healthy person and is not assisted by detox juices, smoothies or supplements.
However, you would be well advised to avoid or at least eat it with caution if you are on prescription medication, since activated charcoal can make the medication less effective.
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