If you’ve perused your Instagram feed in recent months, you’ll no doubt have spotted your favourite fitness bloggers sipping on the inky-coloured elixir.
“This isn’t the same charcoal that you chuck on your BBQ in the summer, though (which, coincidentally, is a well-known carcinogen),” explains nutritionist, Sophie Griffiths, aka The Normal Nutritionist. “This is ‘activated’ charcoal, which means that it has been heated to a very high temperature to create a porous surface.”
As Sophie explains, the more absorbent material is able to catch and bind other harmful molecules (such as toxins and poisons), which prevents them from having harmful effects on the body, which explains why health bloggers are preaching the benefits of activated charcoal.
And while the super substance has been hailed for its ability to treat acute poisoning, whiten teeth, filter water, enhance gut health by reducing bloating and gas, reduce cholesterol, and even improve skin conditions, it’s not all good.
“Has Joe Public ever stopped to consider whether such a powerful substance should be freely available to buy and take without medical supervision?,” asked Sophie.
“The first safety issue with taking activated charcoal is that as well as binding to toxins, it can also absorb and inactivate regular medication and supplements – including the contraceptive pill – rendering them ineffective. It doesn’t take a genius to realise the possible consequences there.
“Another risk arises if the activated charcoal ‘goes down the wrong way’ into your lungs. There are numerous case reports of collapsed lungs and serious lung disease occurring following such an unfortunate mistake. As you can imagine, this is not a desirable outcome.
“When ingested, activated charcoal can also negatively interfere with the gastrointestinal tract, causing a black tongue, bowel obstructions, diarrhoea and black stools, which can in turn lead to severe dehydration.
“Now before you all go and throw away your stocks of activated charcoal, you should remember that this product is generally safe to use and the above risks are only triggered when large amounts of the black stuff are consumed. However, given the seriousness of some of the potential complications, readers may want to think twice before turning to the dark side.”