By: Kimberly Rodrigues
Activated charcoal is a black, tasteless, and odourless powder with a history of use for various health issues. It is commonly used in medical settings for drug overdose treatment and as an antidote for poison.
Additionally, it is believed to provide benefits such as reduced gas and bloating, decreased cholesterol, enhanced kidney function, teeth whitening, water filtration, and hangover relief, Healthline informs.
The focus on improving health and fitness usually intensifies in the month of January due to “new year, new me” promotions from companies and influencers. And although health trends change frequently, experts state this is one to watch out for, particularly if you take medication.
Kim Kardashian, known for her support of charcoal’s health advantages, was seen drinking a cup of grey charcoal tea on her Instagram story, which is a common sight for the 42-year-old, the Mirror reports.
But despite its popularity among influencers and celebrities, nutrition experts are warning against the charcoal trend due to its potentially harmful effects.
What is activated charcoal?
Charcoal is known for its ability to absorb chemicals and toxins, reducing their absorption in the body. This makes it a popular detox ingredient, often consumed in powder form mixed in hot drinks or smoothies to boost their effects.
Activated charcoal is a type of charcoal that has undergone high-heat oxygen treatment, making it more porous. The process enhances its internal structure by decreasing pore size and increasing its surface area.
Activated charcoal is sold in its powder form or as a supplement, and is used in the production of various food and non-food items, such as ice cream, toothpaste, etc.
However, activated charcoal is not the same as charcoal briquettes used for grilling or barbecuing, which are not treated with high heat and can contain harmful toxic substances.
Lead nutritionist, Hannah Macey at Feel Complete, reportedly told Yahoo, “Active charcoal acts like a binder, so it essentially acts as a sponge, soaking up different chemicals from within the body and on the skin.
“It has been used to support the recovery of people who have been tested for certain toxins such as mould. It is also used in medication to treat drug overdoses and accidental poisoning.
“When the correct dosage is given by a professional it can bind to the drugs and poisons, and reduce how much is absorbed in the gut.”
But she also cautions that there is limited research on the long-term impact of activated charcoal and although “small amounts should not cause any harm or side effects, the long-term impacts of higher doses have yet to be studied,” she said.
Another concern regarding activated charcoal is its binding properties, which can interfere with oral medications such as contraceptives, anti-depressants, etc., and reduce their effectiveness.
Is activated charcoal safe?
Activated charcoal is generally considered safe, with rare adverse reactions, an earlier report in Healthline explains.
Common side effects include vomiting. Also, in very uncommon instances, bowel blockages may occur, particularly in individuals with gut motility issues, taking opioids or antimuscarinic meds, or receiving multiple doses of activated carbon.
The American Academy of Clinical Toxicology (AACT) cautions against using activated charcoal in cases of gut bleeding, blockages, or holes in the gut.
Additionally, if used as an emergency poison treatment, activated charcoal can accidentally enter the lungs instead of the stomach, especially if the person is vomiting, drowsy, or semi-conscious.
Thus, it should only be administered to those who are fully awake. It’s also important to note that activated charcoal can reportedly decrease the absorption of some medications.
So, before taking it, experts advise consulting a doctor, if you’re on other medications.