Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about activated charcoal and its ability to do everything from curing a hangover to reducing gas and lowering cholesterol. Some say it can even be used as an emergency treatment for poisonings. In New York and Los Angeles, activated charcoal smoothies and juices have become a trend, but is there any benefit to choking them down? Here are nine things you need to know about this mystery medicine.
It’s not the same as charcoal from the BBQ
While activated charcoal is similar to the type of charcoal that is used on the grill, it’s not exactly the same. Activated charcoal is made specifically to be used for medicinal purposes. It’s available in liquid, tablet and powder form.
It is porous
To make activated charcoal, so-called common charcoal, which is made from burning coal, coconut shell, peat, petroleum or wood, is heated with oxygen gas that triggers pores to develop–pores that trap chemicals and toxins.
It’s used to treat overdoses
Carbonated charcoal leaches many pharmaceuticals and chemicals, and a handful of studies support its use to treat overdoses and to treat emergency poisonings. It has been found only to work in the gut, though, not in fat cells or the liver, according to Dr. Paul Wax.
It tastes terrible
That is to say, you will want to spit out this chalky, dusty charcoal. And what may seem like an easy solution—cloaking the charcoal taste with sweet and fruity juice—will also reduce the effectiveness of the medicine. Why? because instead of binding to toxins, the activated charcoal actually attaches itself to the juice.
It’s not proven to reduce diarrhea or gas
Activated charcoal has not been proven to effectively ease the runs or a case of embarrassing gas, according to the Mayo Clinic. You’re better off with research-backed natural treatments to settle the stomach, such as the healing herb ginger.
Not the best for hangovers
It’s been suggested that taking activated charcoal can stave off hangovers. Yet, experts remain skeptical because the coal has not been found to trap alcohol as effectively as other pharmaceuticals and chemicals. Dr. Paul Wax told Men’s Journal, “Don’t expect a weird grey juice to cure a hangover.”
May cause the runs
Some products may contain Sorbitol, which is a type of sweetener that can work as a laxative to push toxins out of the body. The sweetener is also handy for preventing poison from being absorbed from the stomach into the body. Given their immediate effects, it isn’t advisable to take an activated charcoal product with Sorbitol without consulting and being supervised by your doctor. Well, actually, it is wise to consult your doctor before taking any form of activated charcoal.
It isn’t toxic
While there is currently no evidence to show efficacy of a supplement (typically containing less than 1 gram; compared to medicinal doses of up to 50 grams) or soap containing activated charcoal, you can’t overdose on the grey, chalky stuff.
It doesn’t prevent all poisons from being absorbed
Activated charcoal shouldn’t be used to treat cases of poisoning by petroleum products (including gas, paint thinner, cleaning fluid) and boric acid, alcohol, lithium, iron, and corrosive agents like alkalis. The coal does not prevent the body from absorbing these intoxicants and poisons, so put down the paint thinner.