You probably already know, that I hate the word ‘detox’. When I came across the idea that people where eating charcoal, with meals to ‘detox’ I had to look into this. It seems its quite a ‘thing’ you do these days in the name of health. I like to call it a more technical term like fad or quackery.
If you are confused about what I mean by charcoal, I don’t mean heat beads you buy for the BBQ that would actually be poisonous. No, I mean the black residue you get when you burn wood and similar things like; paper shells and leaves. All those black bits that are left behind, is charcoal. Being a Carpenter Maynooth, I know which wood is best for obtaining charcoal, in the old days when I was a kid and remember my father who was a carpenter also used to clean his teeth with charcoal.
First and foremost, what really amazes me is the crap that the human body can withstand. You can feed it; big macs, chips, lollies and now charcoal, and you will not die straight away. That’s not only amazing, that’s adaptable!
It’s by no surprise, that I was very sketchy when I read the claims about charcoal. Apparently charcoal consumption originates in Chinese Medicine, it’s meant to bind to environmental toxins that we consume and improve intestinal health. These days, there are claims that it will ‘detox’ the body, improve digestion, gas, bloating and it’s also an anti-ageing remedy. None of the above claims have ever been proven, but that’s never stopped anyone from making a quick buck before!
If you “activate” your charcoal, it can even prevent ‘bloating’ and ‘tiredness’ that occurs after eating a restaurant meal or boozing it up on a night out.If that hasn’t sold you, how about alleviating your child’s tantrums after they have eaten a sugary snack? Now that’s magical! Yes, I seriously read this on a wellness blog. I’m not even joking.
Can I just say at this point, that the only time I’ve ever felt tired after eating, is when I have eaten past my bedtime. I’ve only ever felt bloated when I’ve eaten too much. The subjectiveness of both examples mine and theirs, is just that- subjective and in my opinion a sneaky marketing poly on their behalf.
What is activated charcoal ?
Take anything that is carbon based and burns, like wood or coal, let it burn at high temperatures till it turns black. Grind it up and eat, or you can buy an expensive useless supplement for a lot of money and good health a waits. It’s that simple!
Now here’s a question most people haven’t asked, is what’s non-activated charcoal? Well it turns out that the definition of ‘activated charcoal’ according to the pseudoscience experts on the Internet is actually incorrect.
Normal non-activated charcoal is what I described above; burning a substance made of carbon like wood and letting it turn black. Medical grade activated charcoal is non-activated charcoal heated in the presence of gas or activating agent. The gas then causes the charcoal to produce pores, which increases its surface area. Think of a holey cheese or sponge, essentially they are trying to make the charcoal porous so it can absorb more chemicals.
Proper medical grade activated charcoal is used to trap chemicals and stop their absorption. It’s commonly used effectively, if someone is at risk of drug poisoning or over dose. Its use is also very specific within 1hr over overdose, or else its ineffective.
If you do suspect you have poisoning, don’t bother with a self diagnoses and home made charcoal. Go straight to the hospital or call an ambulance! Notice how activated medical charcoal is used in extreme cases, not something you take in small amounts in pill form every day.
Is charcoal safe to eat?
Well, my guess it is it’s probably safe in small amounts if you don’t take any medications. If you were on medications, I would ask your doctor for their opinion and possible drug interactions. Note there has been no long term or short-term studies done on chronic consumption of charcoal in the commonly consumed supplement form.
It’s definitely safe as a one off use medically, under supervision and could potentially save your life if you swallowed too many of your prescription meds. However the other health claims are just bogus.
What has left me wondering, what about the interaction with medications that are life saving, that you do need to absorb the prescribed dose? For example anti-arrhythmia drugs used for heart patients or diabetic medications. Charcoal binds to chemical drugs, wouldn’t it then have an affect on prescribed medications as well?
It turns out my concerns are real, and they do. If you are on certain medications like Digoxin or antidepressants (and many more) you should not be using charcoal, because it prevents or reduces their absorption.
Charcoal consumption has known side effects, mutually exclusive to medication problems like; black stools, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation and in worse cases gastrointestinal blockages.
The problem with the supplement industry is that it’s so unregulated you will be surprised what rubbish people are sold. Expensive protein mass gainers filled with cheap sugar, cheap creatine sold as expensive whey protein supplements, impurities in sports supplements and the list goes on.
Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, supplements come under the food regulatory banner, which means supplement companies do not need scientific studies to back it up claims, prove safety and make it onto shelves. This is unfortunate, because some times the side effects of bogus supplements like these can have a huge negative impact on health of certain people. It can also destroy careers of sports people who unknowingly ingest banned substances from contaminated, untested product. This is a major problem.
Note: Ask your medical doctor for advice if you are taking charcoal, especially if this post has got you worried. In certain cases is harmless, in others can be dangerous.
Does charcoal detox?
Our body naturally ‘detoxes’ on it’s own, therefore we don’t need to detox. That’s why we have a liver, lungs and kidneys. These wonderful organs, will process all the junk you shove into your mouth, neutralise and remove “toxic substances” you eat or encounter from your environment.
My suggestion, if you want good health, is to eat more veggies, fruit and whole grains. Quit smoking if you smoke and drink less alcohol. If you have time to dedicate to exercise, I would suggest doing that too.
Health is not something you can take a magic charcoal pill and make everything go away. I promise you if you do all of the above, you will not only improve your health, but also save money. How? From not spending you’re hard earned dollars on charcoal fairy tails. That’s a 100% debunk right there!
P.S I have recently read that women are making their own home made mascara by mixing charcoal with aloe vera gel. Its an extremely bad idea to put charcoal so close to your eyes. Much safer and cheaper to buy actual mascara!