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Why the fuss about Activated Charcoal?

Activated carbon, or more commonly known as Activated Charcoal, is a form of carbon processed to have small, low-volume pores that increase the surface area available for absorption or chemical reactions.

Up until a few years ago – if you mentioned activated charcoal to me – I’d assume you were talking about your next braai. But over the last couple of years, it has become a big trend in the health, fitness, beauty and wellness industry. The question is – is the fuss really necessary?

Activated charcoal should not be confused with charcoal briquettes that are used to light your barbecue. Although both of the above can be made from the same base materials – charcoal briquettes have not been activated (oxidized) at high temperatures. And they (briquettes) contains additional substances that are toxic to humans.

Activated charcoal is typically made from carbon containing material – like wood, bone char, coconut shells, peat, olive pits, etc that is heated at high temperatures to create charcoal. It’s then oxidizes – a process known as “activation” – hence the name. Due to the numerous pores on the surface of activated charcoal – the sponge-like surfaces allow the charcoal to soak up a variety of chemicals. And that’s also the reason why you would see it being used in filtration products such as water filters.

Activated charcoal has been used for many years in emergency medicine for the treatment of drug overdose or accidental poisoning. As the activated charcoal can quickly bind with certain drugs/poisons – which will reduce the body’s absorption of the drugs and poison.

Over the past couple of years – activated charcoal have been advertised and promoted to have benefits such as reducing bloating, cleansing your system, whitening your teeth and even allegedly curing your hangover.

Activated charcoal basically works to “catch / trap” toxins and chemicals in your gut – to prevent your body from absorbing them. It might come as a surprise to you that activated charcoal is not absorbed by your body at all! Unlike other supplements / vitamins, which are absorbed by your body. Thus, the only reason why you should drink it, is to help with the removal of unwanted toxins and chemicals through your body in feces.

Truth is, there haven’t been done extensive studies on activated charcoal to proof nor to debunk the claimed benefits of activated charcoal. To this point, there haven’t been sufficient studies looking into the effects of long-term use of activated charcoal – from a health and detox perspective. The studies which have been conducted (although they are not very extensive) indicates that using low levels (taking it as a supplement – as prescribed) should present little to no side effects.

What is very important to remember is that if you are using any prescribed mediation, such as for chronic diseases – the usage of activated charcoal might make your other medication less effective – as it may prevent the active compounds from being properly absorbed by your body.

Some people also claimed that activated charcoal helps to cure a hangover. However, although activated charcoal binds well with some compounds of poison and medications – it doesn’t bind well with alcohol. So, it will have no effect on hangovers.

It’s important to consider when and with what other supplements you take your activated charcoal. Activated charcoal binds easily with water soluble vitamins (such as Vit C). Thus, taking them together actually defeats the purpose. As the activated charcoal will absorb the Vit C before your body gets the chance to do so and simply secrete it from your body. Talking about flushing money down the toilet. Haha

If you have kids or pets at home – I’d suggest you keep activated charcoal at home – for emergency purposes. And if you want to do the occasional detox every now and again to flush your body from toxins – who’s going to stop you. Just remember that when you drink them – it might prevent your body’s absorption of the other supplements / vitamins which you are consuming. Thus it is important to drink them at a different time of day, than which you drink your other supplements.

**Please note: this is not an extensive study on Activated Charcoal. It is purely based on the information I was able to obtain through my research. I am by no means a dietitian nor a doctor, etc. If you are unsure whether you should use it - I’d suggest you contact a qualified medical professional to assess your own specific situation and requirements.

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