Should We Be Chugging Charcoal?

The latest fad in the juice world seems to be elixirs made with activated charcoal, marketed as powerful detoxifying agents. This “black magic” is said to help detox, fight bloat, whiten teeth, aid in digestion, and maybe even cure hangovers.  Before jumping on the charcoal bandwagon, let's dig deeper.

activated charcoal

Activated charcoal is derived from wood, peat, or coconut shells that are exposed to an oxidizing agent at high heat. This process creates a fine dust with microscopic pores on the surface which work as traps for compounds and particles. Activated charcoal can be used in the emergency room as an alternative to stomach pumping to treat oral poisoning. It works like a magnet by binding to drugs or toxins and removes them from the body.

Is activated charcoal as effective outside of the ER? Unfortunately, not so much. The charcoal doesn’t just go after the bad guys. It also binds to beneficial nutrients and antioxidants. This means that the other nutrients in the juice may not be absorbed very well. Further, if you're taking any medication you should note that the charcoal may reduce its effectiveness. 

A big attraction of activated charcoal is that it allegedly helps to cure hangovers by preventing the absorption of alcohol. As much as we are all looking for the miracle hangover fix (please, let us know if you think you have found it), for now water and sleep remain our best bets. Charcoal actually doesn’t bind well to alcohol and it would only work if the alcohol remained in the upper GI tract. Unless you want to start chasing your tequila with charcoal juice, this is not the best approach to avoid hangovers. 

On the other hand, activated charcoal may work nicely on your teeth. When swished around in your mouth it binds to tannins found in coffee and wine and removes the staining to leave a whiter smile. 

We're all looking for the magic potion to fight toxins, so here's the good news: our bodies are miracle workers on their own. With a clean, balanced diet and proper hydration, our bodies work around the clock to detoxify and cleanse our digestive systems. So for now, let's keep our juices green!