Activated Charcoal: Should We Be Chugging It?
by Molly Rieger, RD, NLC and Leah Silberman, MS, RD, NLC
Activated charcoal seems to be the latest fad in the juice world.
This “black magic” is being marketed as a powerful agent that helps you detox, fights bloat, whitens teeth, aids in digestion, and maybe even cures hangovers. But before jumping on the charcoal bandwagon, let’s dig deeper.
Activated charcoal is derived from wood, peat, or coconut shells that are exposed to an oxidizing agent at high heat.
This process creates a fine powder with microscopic pores on the surface, which work as traps for compounds and particles.
The activation process causes the charcoal to have a magnetic effect; it attracts toxins throughout the body, inhibiting absorption, hence its rep as a “cleansing” agent.
This charcoal powder is now being added to juices and supplements. The most popular varieties include charcoal activated green juice, protein shakes, and lemonade. Sounds awesome, right?
Wrong. Unfortunately, the charcoal doesn’t just attract the bad guys. It also attracts the good guys, which means that vitamin C and folate you thought you were getting from the greens in your juice may not actually be absorbed.
Another big attraction of activated charcoal is that it allegedly helps to cure hangovers by preventing the absorption of alcohol.
But charcoal doesn’t bind well to alcohol and it would only work if the alcohol remained in the upper GI tract.
Unless you want to start chasing your tequila with a charcoal juice, this isn’t the best approach to avoid hangovers.
You should also know that if you’re taking any medication, ingesting charcoal may reduce its effectiveness. Yes, this includes your birth control (YIKES). Don’t worry, drinking one juice probably doesn’t mean you’re bound to get pregnant but it’s certainly something to be aware of.
The good news is, activated charcoal may work nicely on your teeth.
We know, it seems counterintuitive that a black juice can whiten your teeth, but when swished around in your mouth it binds to tannins found in coffee and wine and removes the stains, leaving a whiter smile.
We’re all looking for the magic potion to fight toxins, so here’s the good news: our bodies are miracle workers on their own!
With a clean, balanced diet and proper hydration, our bodies work around the clock to detoxify and cleanse our digestive systems.
So for now, let’s keep our juices green and keep the black magic on the shelves.
Molly Rieger and Leah Silberman are registered dietitians and the co-founders of Tovita Nutrition (link to tovitanutrition.com) , a virtual nutrition counseling and concierge service. As graduates of the NYU masters of clinical nutrition program, they combine their science and clinical backgrounds with the counseling and business skills learned at The Nutrition School.