Activated charcoal has been popping up in all sorts of foods and drinks lately. The most common at the moment is the black bread bun. Although the black bun does not look appealing, there is the belief that the activated charcoal found in these foods and drinks can ‘detox’ the body. This claim is commonly promoted with most fad diets or diet trends where manufacturers claim that their product or diet will detox the body. This should always cause alarm bells to go off in your head because it is important to remember that your body detoxes itself! Your liver and kidneys do an amazing job at removing toxins from your body every day. There is no need for a healthy person to take additional unregulated supplements, like activated charcoal, for your body to do this on its own.
Activated charcoal is sometimes used by hospitals to treat moderately severe to life-threatening intoxication or poisoning using specific dosages. This is after the ingestion of a toxin or poison or an overdose of medical drugs. The activated charcoal binds to the toxin and then the two get excreted together in the faeces, preventing the toxin from being absorbed by your gastrointestinal tract. So in these cases, activated charcoal can save your life. This also explains why activated charcoal can’t in fact cleanse your blood. Because the activated charcoal moves through your intestines without ever being absorbed, it never reaches the blood! Only the kidneys and your liver are capable of doing this.
The likelihood of toxic substances binding to the activated charcoal also depends on a number of factors and some substances cannot bind sufficiently or at all to activated charcoal. One of these substances includes alcohol. So if you find yourself wanting to ‘detox’ your body after a weekend of drinking and a poor diet, rather focus on eating less processed and more whole foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds as well as drinking enough water. These foods contain vitamins and minerals that will support your kidneys and liver and aid the detoxification process of the body. Eating foods or drinking drinks that contain activated charcoal can also interfere with the absorption of nutrients in the body, which defeats the point of eating well to support your liver and kidneys. Furthermore, activated charcoal may bind to and eliminate any medication that you may be taking. So eating that charcoal sandwich or burger would in fact reduce the effect of your medication and can therefore be dangerous if you are on prescription meds.