Is Drinking Charcoal Healthy or a Hoax?

Beautiful hipster woman
Some juice makers claim that activated charcoal can flatten your stomach. (Image: JohanJK/iStock/GettyImages)

Activated charcoal has long been used in acute situations for pulling toxins out of the human body. Its composition is adsorbing, which means that it pulls other substances onto its surface and carries them out of the body. The process of creating activated charcoal is done chemically by heating charcoal made from wood, coal, coconut or peat until it develops sponge-like pores. Some traditional uses for activated charcoal:

  • Food poisoning
  • Hangover prevention
  • Reducing intestinal gas
  • Lowering cholesterol levels
  • Drug overdoses

Drinking Charcoal for Health?

Nowadays, adding activated charcoal to detox beverages and cosmetic products is gaining in popularity. Many juice companies offer “charcoal lemonade,” which is a mix of water, lemon juice, sweetener and activated charcoal. The taste of the inky beverage is often described as not too different from regular lemonade (though some people say it reminds them of cement), and the texture is typically described as a bit chalky. As far as whether there are any benefits of drinking charcoal, the answer is a soft yes — with a couple of major caveats.

First, the actual quantity of activated charcoal in a prepared charcoal beverage can be pretty minimal. Find out if the $10 drink you’re considering actually contains much charcoal; otherwise you’re just buying some very expensive lemon water.

Timing Is Everything

Next, it’s important to understand that when you take activated charcoal is incredibly important. Juice brands generally fail to mention that charcoal binds to everything in your system! Not only will charcoal help pull out any toxins floating around, it will also render medication taken in recent hours inert and prevent you from absorbing the nutrients in your food if taken within several hours of eating.

All too often, companies make no mention of this on the label. Additionally, it’s also sold as an addition to green juice in bottles; this means that all those good vitamins and minerals from the green juice will never have the opportunity to enter your system because the charcoal will prevent that. The best time to drink charcoal is either at the start of the day if you won’t be having breakfast for several hours, or before bedtime, with dinner having been eaten several hours prior.

Charcoal prevents all the vitamins and minerals in your green juice from being absorbed.
Charcoal prevents all the vitamins and minerals in your green juice from being absorbed. (Image: Dirima/LIVESTRONG.COM)

Juice makers claim that activated charcoal can flatten stomachs and improve energy levels, and those claims do have some merit: By reducing intestinal gas, your stomach will be flatter after drinking it — if your lack of a flat stomach was caused by gas and not fat. If your low energy levels are because of toxins in your system, charcoal will improve your energy level by removing them.

But if you think you might want to try an activated charcoal drink, you have more options than paying $10 for one at a juice bar. An entire bottle of 100 activated charcoal capsules made from coconut, which is generally considered in wellness circles to be the healthiest option, costs less than $20. If you’re less picky about sourcing, activated charcoal made by brands like Nature’s Way costs less than $10 for 100 pills. To match what the average juicery adds to a bottle of charcoal lemonade, you’d probably want to add two to four capsules.

If you decide to buy your own charcoal, there are other uses for it as well. It’s a safe alternative for teeth whitening and is often used in place of a whitening toothpaste. Warning: This is a pretty messy task to take on! If you do try it, you’ll need towels on hand to clean up your bathroom sink afterward. Activated charcoal can also be added to face masks, which can be helpful for acne brought on by environmental toxins.

Outside of using it incorrectly by taking it close to medications or food, activated charcoal is generally considered harmless. As for whether it will actually boost your mood, it’s worth a try if you’re curious — it just might. At the very least, you’ll look pretty hip sipping on it.

Ariane Resnick is a private chef and certified nutritionist who specializes in organic farm-to-table cuisine and creates indulgent, seeminglynormalfood out of impeccably clean, whole-food ingredients. Ariane has also been featured in Well+Good NYC, InStyle, Star, Goop.com, Food.com, Huffington Post, Refinery29.com, Muscle & Fitness, Men’s Fitness and the Food Network’s Chopped. Connect with Ariane on her website and on Facebook and Twitter.

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