ACDC: Activated Charcoal & the Detox Conspiracy
Charcoal ice cream, lemonade, and toothpaste, oh my!
So, what works and what doesn’t? This trend seems too good to be true and usually that means it is. I’ve highlighted how it works and when activated charcoal can be useful and useless.
HOW IT WORKS
Activated charcoal (AC) is created by heating wood or other high-carbon products such as coconut husk and then oxidizing it. It is called ‘activated’ because of its increased surface area for maximum absorption potential. It’s been popularized for it’s ‘detox’ abilities. It binds to certain molecular structures in the gastrointestinal system to help eliminate them so they aren’t available for absorption.
WHAT IT DOESN’T WORK FOR
Everyday “detox”: The amount of charcoal added to ice creams, lemonades, and in detox supplements is not enough to have a detoxifying effect. Furthermore, it will only be removing what is actively in the gastrointestinal system (specifically the large intestine), so the majority of the so-called ‘toxins’ that must be removed are not touched (ie. in fatty tissue). Not only is it not actually helping rid your body of the bad, it can rid your body of the good! It binds to vitamins such as B1, B3, B6, B7 (biotin) and vitamin C and escorts them out of the body before you can absorb them. [Note: This would only cause a deficiency if you were continuously ingesting AC.]
Reducing gas: In the last 15 years there have been 2 human studies with regards to AC and gas/bloating; one concluded it worked, the other did not. Rather than reaching for the charcoal, find out why it's happening !
WHAT IT WORKS FOR
Medical-grade poison control: It IS effective in helping to eliminate substances from the body, reducing gastrointestinal absorption. In large enough doses, it has been used to remove drugs such as aspirin, acetaminophen, phenobarbital, digoxin, and phenytoin which is administered in the hospital. It can also be used in acute situations of diarrhea to help adsorb harmful pathogens and clear them from the body.
Bottom Line: For internal use, it must be used in higher doses than commercially found; it will also take out the good with the bad, so beware of nutritional deficiencies. If you’re going to spend $10 on a cold-pressed juice, reach for the green bevy’s before the activated charcoal. Your body is GREAT at detoxing everyday, but sometimes it needs help; check out this article on maximizing it’s efficiency.
Levy, Gerhard. "Gastrointestinal clearance of drugs with activated charcoal." (1982): 676-678.
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash