A Case Against All Things Activated Charcoal

It’s almost 2019 and people are finding new ways of using just about everything.

Take activated charcoal for example. It’s showing up in smoothies, pies, and casseroles… heck, you can even find black hotdog buns! However, while this midnight dark charcoal makes for some Insta-worthy pics, many health experts disagree with this new trend, dubbing it downright nonsense. (In other words, a pinch of salt with a tablespoon of activated charcoal in your sugar cookies may not be such a good idea after all.)

Made from burning plant materials or wood, activated charcoal is often used in beauty products and food coloring. It gets its “activated” name from the negative charge that binds to its positively charged ions, thus removing toxins from the body. Doctors even use it in the ER to help remove poisons from the body — eeek!

Activated charcoal is safe by itself, but like any substance, you can misuse it.

Think of activated charcoal like a sponge that soaks up every molecule in its way, adhering to nutrients, as well. For example, if you eat activated charcoal-infused vanilla ice cream, the charcoal sups up the potassium and the calcium your body should be absorbing. It stops your stomach lining from soaking in these vital nutrients and your body eliminates it all as waste… which can harden your digestive tract.

Additionally, if you take activated charcoal with medications, it may render some prescriptions ineffective (such as experiencing mood swings when you’re on an antidepressant). Taken orally, activated charcoal may cause gastrointestinal blockages in some people. And it’s especially important not to combine it with drugs used for constipation, such as magnesium citrate or sorbitol as electrolyte imbalances may result. Many companies that sell activated charcoal recommend waiting two hours before taking prescription drugs, while some prescriptions advise even a longer wait, such as four hours. Read labels, but most importantly, consult with your doctor.

As with all things, experiment with activated charcoal in moderation and treat the food trend like what it is — an extra guilty pleasure.

Kate Harveston is a health and wellness journalist from Pennsylvania. She enjoys covering topics specifically related to mental health awareness and women’s wellbeing. If you enjoy her work, you can visit her women’s health blog, So Well, So Woman.  

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