For over 10,000 years, activated charcoal has been used as a health product: it can absorb unwanted toxins, improve the health of your gut and make poisonous substances less toxic. Some of the proposed benefits include lowering cholesterol, whitening teeth and curing hangovers. In medicine it is used for dealing with overdoses and to help in cases of poisoning. Recently though, it has been finding its way back into our diets via charcoal lattes, charcoal martinis and even black charcoal face masks as the latest wellness ingredient. Charcoal lattes have been said to cure hangovers or act as a detox for the body.
WHAT IS ACTIVATED CHARCOAL?
Activated charcoal is a fine black powder made from carbon sources such as coconut shells, olive pits or sawdust. Burning them at very high temperatures activates the charcoal. The heat changes its internal structure so that it becomes very porous and has an increased surface area. It is most definitely not the same as the charcoal that you use for your barbeque as this has not been activated at high temperature. Nor is it the same as the burnt bits on your toast. Both of these contain substances that are toxic to humans.
The negatively charged porous texture of activated charcoal traps positively charged toxins, gases, heavy metals and chemicals and so the body is prevented from absorbing them. The toxins can be carried safely through the body and eliminated by the body in faeces.
The effects of a variety of drugs are reduced by activated charcoal including over the counter medication such as aspirin, paracetamol and sedatives. If a single dose (50-100 g) of activated charcoal is taken within 5 minutes of drug ingestion, it may reduce the absorption of an unwanted drug by up to 74% in adults. This effect reduces with time so that three hours after a drug overdose its effect is down to 20%.
Activated charcoal not only works inside the body but can be used in skincare where it attaches to dirt and toxins pulling them out of the skin and helping with conditions such as acne. It can also reduce skin inflammation and insect bites.
It should definitely be a part of both your first aid and your beauty kit!
You can even find it in your kitchen. If you filter your water, it is the charcoal in the filter that removes all those toxins found in tap water.
However, charcoal may not be the wonder product for everyone. Activated charcoal is so good at its job that it does not discriminate between toxins and beneficial nutrients. It can actually absorb the ingredients of your birth control pill before your body has a chance to. This will lead to the pill being less effective at preventing pregnancy. If you are on medication it may actually interfere with the effectiveness of the drugs. It can also cause constipation if you don’t drink plenty of water.
But before you throw away all your charcoal products and give up on your charcoal lattes you can lessen your risks. If you wait at least two hours between ingestion of your regular pills and big doses of charcoal it will help. While it is unlikely that the occasional charcoal latte is going to have a negative effect on your health it is definitely worth keeping in mind that it could affect your regular medication and food absorption and end up doing you harm.