I’ve been meaning to look into activated charcoal for a while now. It’s come to my attention quite a few times over the past year and it’s appearance seems to be increasing in the health and wellness world. Have you taken charcoal before? Does it sound familiar or does the thought of it make you feel a bit squeamish?
In fact, science knows all about charcoal. As Dinsley writes: ‘We drink water filtered by it; breathe air scrubbed with it; eat food purified through it; wear clothes made with it; preserve things with it; go to war with it; enjoy hundreds of dishes cooked with it; we move mountains with it; we make the night sparkle with it; grow our food and flowers in it; we take it with us to the bottom of the deepest oceans and out into space; and then we call upon it to clean up our many environmental mistakes. Not least and not last, medicinal charcoal plays an increasingly significant role in maintaining, restoring and enhancing man’s level of health. No wonder we naturally warm up to it.’- Food Matters
I have to admit, when I first came across activated charcoal in a raw juice, I was pretty stunned. I was sitting at a vegan cafe when I noticed that the chap beside me was sipping on a black-as-night beverage. “What the bloody hell is he drinking?” I quickly grabbed a menu and scanned for any item that would resemble a black substance. Of course, charcoal! But, why and how? Since then (when my eyes opened to the idea of a black health drink) I’ve noticed this item popping up all over the place and all over the world. California, London, Dubai and all over the world of Instagram.
When you search hashtags like “charcoaldetox”, “activatedcharcoal” or “activatedcharcoallemonade”, you will find thousands of posts of people using charcoal for all sorts of detox treatments. Whether it is for used to topical treatment (skin, facial), ingestion (pill, juice form) or for the traditional use of relieving symptoms of diarrhea- charcoal is most definitely the new (old) cool kid on the health block.
So what exactly is charcoal and why is it becoming the next BIG thing in town when it comes to the power word, D-E-T-O-X?
According to my research, charcoal is essentially carbon. Charcoal is created when items such as wood or other organic matter is heated in the absence of air. Activated charcoal is charcoal that has been treated with oxygen (placed in a steam chamber) to open up millions of tiny pores between the carbon atoms. The question still remains- why charcoal?
Charcoal has an incredible ability to adsorb odorous or coloured substances (toxins) from gases or liquids. This statement in it’s simplicity gives rise to imagining the range of possible uses. First off- the word adsorb should not be mistaken with the term ABSORB. Adsorb refers to the action of attaching to a material by chemical attraction. Due to the chemical attraction, not only does the charcoal bind to these materials (organic compounds such as chlorine, nitrates, gases), it holds onto them. Sounds pretty efficient, doesn’t it?
To a lot of people- the idea of having charcoal in your pantry (or medical cabinet) is one that is not news to the ears. I know from speaking with my nana, that charcoal is kept on-hand in a lot of European households to ease the symptoms of diarrhea and help to eliminate any foul smells associated. Interestingly, during World War I it was placed in gas masks to counteract the effects of poisonous gas. Now a days, though, it seems as though it’s traditional uses are out and charcoal’s role in daily life is transforming.
According to most sources, charcoal has a variety of uses. Some of the most popular ways include:
- eliminating bad breath, because it cleanses both the mouth and the digestive tract
- helps to purify the blood
- wound treatment: used externally to effectively adsorb wound secretions, bacteria, and toxins
- topical treatment for poison (bites, stings) from snakes, mushrooms, insects
- water and air purification
- teeth whitening
- facials/face masks
- oil pulling?
- heavy metal detox
- to treat overdose of medicine such as tylenol and aspirin
- in pets e.g., used with dogs that eat chocolate
Given that I am a Holistic Nutritionist and I do work for businesses related to the Raw & Cold-Pressed Organic Juice Business; a lot of my interest in activated charcoal comes from the overwhelming rise of raw, cold-pressed juices that include charcoal. Popularly known as a ‘Detox Lemonade’, more and more drinks are popping up that commonly include a mix of raw lemon juice, filtered water, maple syrup and activated charcoal (a play on the Master Cleanse recipe). It’s no surprise that these drinks are oftentimes marketed as the perfect hang-over cure. When it comes down to it- it seems that through the research and the available information- you can safely assume that this drink does have some noted benefits and does not cause harm to the body in in-excessive doses.
That being said, I think it is important to remember that charcoal was not originally created to be part of one’s daily diet. It is not made inside the human body. So, as with many trendy things on the health and wellness market- use products with caution and try avoid getting too obsessive/extreme with using it. The issue that I have with health and wellness marketing campaigns is that a lot of the time messages and advertisements like ‘the perfect hang over cure’ or ‘daily heavy-metal detox’ can be taken out of hand or context. Much like the whole idea of juice cleanses- I don’t think that they are out there to counteract an extremely imbalanced lifestyle (drinking alcohol every night or yo-yo dieting). Alternatively, I believe that these products work best when they are used to compliment and support your life and generally help to improve your overall health in a balanced manner. After all, that is what holistic nutrition is all about.