Take a look around your local health market shelves or smoothie bar menu and you may notice products containing activated charcoal (also called activated carbon). Before you jump to try this latest fad, take a moment to understand what this product is, its intended uses, and health implications.
Activated charcoal is not found naturally in foods. It is made when coal, wood, or other substances are placed under high heat with a gas or an activating agent to expand the surface area. Activated charcoal has been used by medical professionals to manage poisonings and overdoses.
There are several other activated charcoal health claims that are far less studied include the following:
- treating cholestasis (a condition of pregnancy affecting normal bile flow)
- reducing high cholesterol
- preventing a hangover
- preventing gas (flatulence)
There is limited scientific evidence to support the use of activated charcoal as treatment for these conditions.
Activated charcoal is often marketed as a way to detox and eliminate harmful toxins from our bodies. Although the use of activated charcoal may be warranted in the case of poisonings or overdoses, general detoxification is done by our bodies naturally with the help of our kidneys and liver. Additionally, activated charcoal can absorb food nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that our bodies need. It is also important to remember that the Federal Drug Administration does not regulate the sale of dietary supplements, including activated charcoal.
Side effects are more likely when activated charcoal is used on a long-term basis; these include black stools, black tongue, vomiting or diarrhea, and constipation. Activated charcoal can also react with certain medications you may be taking. Always talk with your doctor before you begin taking any supplement, including activated charcoal.
The bottom line is that further research needs to be done to determine how effective activated charcoal is for the treatment of various conditions and what doses should be used.
Sources/more information: http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/activated-charcoal-uses-risks