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Food Fad Myth Busting #1: Activated Charcoal

by Jennifer Hopper |



                            Photo credit: @Kanzaicharcoal

At Activated Nutrients, we’re all for activating foods when it provides a health benefit, such as almonds, for instance. But we’re doubtful about ingesting ‘activated’ things that are as far from real food as you can get - like charcoal! As you’ve probably heard, activated charcoal is popping up everywhere, appearing in toothpaste and skin care products, burger buns, and even lemonade (yeah, it’s not yellow anymore).


Firstly, what makes activated charcoal different from ordinary old lumps of charcoal? Basically  charcoal is ‘activated’ through a process of exposing it to high temperatures and gas to expand its surface area. That. Is. It.

The health claims of those spruiking the benefits of activated charcoal centre around the idea that it can trap and eliminate toxins from the body. And this claim is somewhat true - charcoal is used in modern medicine in emergency departments in cases of poisoning or overdose  - but the doses used are large, and it is only effective if administered within 1 hour of poisoning or overdose.

Essentially, charcoal binds to the poison or chemical in the gut preventing it from being absorbed into the bloodstream. Incredibly effective and lifesaving stuff for sure. But, and this is a BIG but, applying this theory to an everyday diet is wholly ineffective and in some cases harmful. Given it binds to chemicals in the gut, ingesting activated charcoal could mean that medicines (think the contraceptive pill, heart meds or antidepressants) don’t get to where they should be going. Likewise nutrients and antioxidants from food. FAIL.


                            Photo credit: @Kanzaicharcoal

As far as topical applications of activated charcoal go, you might have just a weenie bit more success there. While using it in toothpaste hasn’t been shown to truly whiten teeth, activated charcoal has been shown to have some benefit when used in skincare, such as a mask. It’s ability to bind to dirt makes it most effective used in this way than any other.