Is Drinking Charcoal Healthy or a Hoax?

An activated charcoal drink contains a black, odorless powder typically used in emergency rooms for people who overdose. There is minimal evidence to suggest its efficacy for uses other than overdose, so some folk use a charcoal detox drink for their reported health and beauty benefits.

Drinking charcoal may have some benefits.
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Tip

Drinking charcoal for anything other than an emergency overdose situation may have some health benefits. However, you should talk to your doctor prior to consuming this medicine.

Activated Charcoal's Intended Use

To produce activated charcoal, manufacturers heat materials, such as wood, peat or sawdust, to an extremely high temperature. The result is an odorless, black powder. In the final step, the powder is chemically activated to make it incredibly porous, with a large surface area. In fact, According to Poison Control, 1 teaspoon of activated charcoal has as large a surface area as a football field!

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The only approved use of activated charcoal juice or charcoal in other forms is in emergency medicine. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is used to treat certain types of poisoning by preventing their absorption through the lining of the stomach. For example, activated charcoal can help prevent the absorption of drugs if a person overdoses.

Activated charcoal is available over the counter (OTC) as well. According to Poison Control, the regular tablet size is 250 milligrams. They recommend you don't use OTC activated charcoal to provide emergency overdose treatment at home. It could take hundreds of OTC tablets to match what is given in an emergency room situation.

Activated charcoal has only a limited time frame in which it is effective for overdose. According to research published in StatPearls in October 2019, the time frame for treating an overdose with activated charcoal is between 1 and 4 hours. Therefore, it is important that you take a person who you suspect may have overdosed to an emergency room as soon as possible.

Activated Charcoal Drink Potential Benefits

Some people report many benefits from drinking activated charcoal drinks or a charcoal detox drink like charcoal juice. The claims indicate that activated charcoal can detox the liver and kidneys to help keep your teeth clean. However, only a few benefits have any published research with which to back up the claims.

For example, it is well known that doctors use activated charcoal in emergency rooms to treat overdoses and other poisoning. However, there is also limited evidence to suggest that activated charcoal promotes kidney health. In a small study on rats published in the American Journal of Nephrology in 2013, researchers showed that the rats who ate activated charcoal as part of their diet for two weeks saw improved resilience to inflammation and damages related to kidney disease.

A similar study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology in March 2014 examined the effects of activated charcoal on rats with renal failure. The rats in this study also saw improvement in their kidneys and reduced inflammation and damage.

Activated charcoal is also approved for use in some European countries to treat intestinal pain and discomfort. According to a report the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published back in 2011, activated charcoal can help reduce intestinal gases and is safe for human use.

An August 2017 study published in PLOS One partially backs up the claim. It notes that people treated with activated charcoal and simethicone saw a reduction in stomach discomfort after 10 days of using the mixture three times per day.

In addition, a review of studies published in July 2017 in Current Medical Research and Opinion found that activated charcoal may help with preventing diarrhea. Specifically, activated charcoal may help prevent drugs or bacteria which can cause diarrhea from being absorbed during regular digestion.

Read more: Foods to Eat to Stop Diarrhea

However, the Mayo Clinic points out that some products which contain activated charcoal may also contain a sweetener called sorbitol. Sorbitol can cause both stomach discomfort and side effects such as diarrhea. So you should use caution when trying an activated charcoal drink.

Also, because activated charcoal can interfere with the absorption of medications, you should talk to your doctor before either taking activated charcoal supplements or consuming activated charcoal drinks. Your doctor can advise you on whether an activated charcoal drink may interfere with the medications you are taking.

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