From the automotive industry to the pharmaceutical one, activated charcoal already encompasses a wide spectrum of uses and it is expanding to new ventures. Unsurprisingly, in a booming segment projected to reach a global market value of 6.2 USD billions in 2022, it is somehow symptomatic for certain myths to arise, and for the properties of activated charcoal to be exaggerated, if not completely made up.
The properties of activated charcoal
Its absorbing properties are what make activated charcoal especially useful for removing toxins from the body. Microscopically, activated charcoals particles have a negative electrical charge, which causes positively charged molecules to be attracted and “trapped” within the pores. Since the human body does not absorb charcoal particles, toxins are expelled together with them, thereby purifying the body.
However, activated charcoal does also attract non-threatening substances, like fundamental nutrients, minerals and vitamins, making the food or drinks that we ingest poorer in nutritional values. Furthermore, it can also bind to medicines’ molecules, like in the case of contraceptive pills, thus reducing or eliminating their effects.
How and when you should use activated charcoal
As the only clinically tested purposes of activated charcoal intake are for toxins absorption and gas reduction through oral ingestion, this substance should be considered as effective only in these two instances.
Debunking charcoal myths
- 1. The first is the common belief that activated charcoal is great for hangovers. This myth is false on the ground that during hangovers alcohol has long been absorbed by our body, so charcoal does not have any toxins to absorb. Actually, it can make hangovers worse, as some of the side effects of excessive activated charcoal ingestions are constipation and nausea.
- 2. Another commonly believed myth is that charcoal is healthy and enhances the beneficial effects of a healthy meal. This conviction is based on the popular opinion that being slimmer equals being healthier. In reality, activated charcoal sticks to many of the nutrients contained in healthy meals, which the body subsequently expels, thus giving us the impression of having eaten less and in an healthier manner, much to the detriment of those nutrients our body actually requires.
- 3. Other popular home uses of charcoal are for skin treatments, teeth whitening and oral health. In case of the former one, only limited medical evidence has been found on the argument, and with very limited effects. Regarding the role of activated charcoal for teeth whitening and oral health, its uses are based on anecdotal reports. What’s more, a report of 2017 stated that no scientific evidence was found to support this argument.
Bottom line, unless you have ingested poison, drugs or other harmful substances, activated charcoal will do very little for your health and will only blacken your meals and drinks.