Activated charcoal cleanse

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Activated charcoal cleanse
Activated charcoal in various forms.jpg
Activated charcoal shown in various forms
Alternative therapy
ClaimsDetoxification or cleansing of the body
RisksActivated charcoal can adsorb some prescription medications as well as nutrients present in the stomach if taken shortly after consumption[1]
BenefitsPlacebo

Activated charcoal cleanses, also known as charcoal detoxes are a pseudoscientific use of a proven medical intervention. Activated charcoal is available in powder, tablet and liquid form. Its proponents claim the use of activated charcoal on a regular basis will detoxify and cleanse the body as well as boost one's energy and brighten the skin. Such claims violate basic principles of chemistry and physiology. There is no medical evidence for any health benefits of cleanses or detoxes via activated charcoal or any other method. Charcoal, when ingested, will adsorb vitamins and nutrients as well as prescription medications present in the gastrointestinal tract which can make it dangerous to use unless directed by a medical doctor.

Background[edit]

Production and industrial applications[edit]

Activated carbon

Activated charcoal, also known as activated carbon is commonly produced from high carbon source materials such as wood or coconut husk.[2] It is made by treating the source material with either a combination of heat and pressure, or with a strong acid or base followed by carbonization to make it highly porous.[3] This gives it a very large surface area for its volume, up to 3000 square metres per gram.[4] It has a large number of industrial uses including methane and hydrogen storage, air purification, decaffeination, gold purification, metal extraction, water purification, medicine, sewage treatment and air filters in gas masks and respirators.[5]

Medical use[edit]

Activated charcoal for medical use

Activated charcoal is used to detoxify people, but only in life threatening medical emergencies such as overdoses or poisonings.[6][1] As it is indigestible it will only work on poisons or medications still present in the stomach and intestines.[6] Once these have been absorbed by the body the charcoal will no longer be able to adsorb them so early intervention is desirable.[3] Charcoal is not an effective treatment for alcohol, metals or elemental poisons such as lithium or arsenic as it will only adsorb certain chemicals and molecules.[3] It is usually administered by a nasogastric tube into the stomach as the thick slurry required for maximum adsorption is very difficult to swallow.[7]

Use in alternative therapies[edit]

A vegan burger with a charcoal bun
Pizza made with charcoal were popular in 2016 as they gave the dough an umami flavor
A charcoal biscuit

Activated charcoal, as used in cleanses or detoxes, became popular around 2014 after it was brought to mainstream attention by Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop company where it was described as "one of the best juice cleanses".[8] Since then, it has become a popular additive to many different types of foods and drinks including juices, lemonades, coffee, pastries, ice cream, burgers, pizzas and pet food.[9][10] The City of New York has banned activated charcoal in food products unless approval for their use is granted from the FDA.[11] Activated charcoal, excluding products designed for emergency medical interventions, is available in many pharmacies, wellness and health food stores in tablet, capsule and powder forms.[2]

Claims[edit]

Proponents of charcoal detoxes claim that it will cleanse the body by aiding in the removal of excess toxins that the body is unable to get rid of by itself.[12] Other claims made include that the use of activated charcoal provides anti-ageing benefits, will increase your energy, brighten your skin, decrease wind and bloating and aid weight loss.[8][1][11]

Criticism[edit]

Scott Gavura of Science Based Medicine was highly critical of the use of activated charcoal in the wellness industry. In his 2015 article Activated charcoal: The latest detox fad in an obsessive food culture he said "Fake detox, the kind you find in magazines, and sold in pharmacies, juice bars, and health food stores, is make-believe medicine. The use of the term “toxin” in this context is meaningless. There are no toxins named, because there’s no evidence that these treatments do anything at all, but it sounds just scientific enough to be plausible."[2]

Sophie Medlin, a lecturer in nutrition and dietetics at King's College in London suggests avoiding the use of activated charcoal cleanses for a number of reasons:

  • It will bind with nutrients in food present in the stomach and intestines making the food less nutritious.[8]
  • It will bind with some medications making it dangerous to use if medications have recently been used.[8]
  • Charcoal will only adsorb particles present in the gastrointestinal tract when it is taken. So if it's being used to adsorb alcohol or cure a hangover from the night before it won't work.[8]
  • Activated charcoal will slow down the bowel and can cause nausea, constipation and dehydration[8][10]

Jay Rayner of The Guardian contacted a manufacturer of activated charcoal lemonade to ask about its detoxifying properties. He was told that they make no claims at all about the product. When he then asked how the product detoxes the body he was told that he was confusing the term "detox" with the medical term "detoxification".[13]

Carrie Dennett of The Seattle Times said of activated charcoal "unless you have a rare health condition that renders your liver — or its supporting players: your kidneys, digestive system, lungs and lymphatic system — unable to perform as designed, then your body doesn’t need help. Unless you have overdosed or been poisoned, there’s no substantial evidence that activated charcoal will benefit you."[12]

Charcoal is also used as an alternative to whitening products in toothpastes but was found to not be as effective in whitening the teeth as regular products such as hydrogen peroxide.[11]

See Also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Collins, Clare; Ashton, Lee; Williams, Rebecca (28 August 2019). "The science behind diet trends like Mono, charcoal detox, Noom and Fast800". The Conversation. Archived from the original on 27 August 2019. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
  2. ^ a b c Gavura, Scott (7 May 2015). "Activated charcoal: The latest detox fad in an obsessive food culture". Science Based Medicine. Archived from the original on 26 May 2015. Retrieved 27 November 2019.
  3. ^ a b c Dalefield, Rosalind. "Activated Carbon". Science Direct. Archived from the original on 27 November 2019. Retrieved 27 November 2019.
  4. ^ Dillon, Edward C; Wilton, John H; Barlow, Jared C; Watson, William A (1989-05-01). "Large surface area activated charcoal and the inhibition of aspirin absorption". Annals of Emergency Medicine. 18 (5): 547–552. doi:10.1016/S0196-0644(89)80841-8. PMID 2719366.
  5. ^ "Find the activated carbon that's best for your specific applications". Activated Carbon. Archived from the original on 5 July 2019. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
  6. ^ a b Gavura, Scott (28 December 2017). "Top ten signs your detox may be a scam". Science Based Medicine. Archived from the original on 2 February 2018. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
  7. ^ Gorski, David (30 January 2017). ""Detox": Ritual purification masquerading as medicine and wellness". Science Based Medicine. Archived from the original on 3 February 2017. Retrieved 27 November 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Medlin, Sophie (12 June 2018). "Activated charcoal doesn't detox the body – four reasons you should avoid it". The Conversation. Archived from the original on 13 June 2018. Retrieved 26 November 2019.
  9. ^ Waters, Jamie (9 April 2015). "Charcoal has become the hot new flavouring in everything from cocktails to meat and mash". The Independent. Archived from the original on 12 April 2015. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
  10. ^ a b Nicholson, Rebecca (28 June 2017). "It's in smoothies, toothpaste and pizza – is charcoal the new black?". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 21 July 2017. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
  11. ^ a b c Kalaichandran, Amitha (16 October 2019). "What Is Activated Charcoal Used For, and Does it Really Work?". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 16 October 2019. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
  12. ^ a b Dennett, Carrie (25 November 2019). "Do yourself a detox favor: Skip the activated-charcoal latte with an alkaline water chaser". The Seattle Times. Archived from the original on 30 November 2019. Retrieved 27 November 2019.
  13. ^ Rayner, Jay (29 January 2017). "Dishing the dirt on detox". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 29 January 2017. Retrieved 26 November 2019.