Are there any actual benefits to consuming Activated Charcoal?

By: Isabella Figliano            

Image courtesy of Unsplash.com

Image courtesy of Unsplash.com

Activated charcoal has become a new trend for many influencers and social media users.  Many people like the aesthetic of posting a photo of their “black” ice cream or lemonade.  In addition, activated charcoal supplements are also increasingly popular, but is there really any positive impact on our bodies?  Like any other food trend, there are various studies that try to convince society of the benefits or negatives of said trend. 

What is this trend?

So why is activated charcoal so popular amongst the social media generation?  "The charcoal came right after the unicorn rainbow trend and people were like, we're done with the whole rainbow thing. We want black," said Laura Athuil of Choux Bakery.  There are so many different types of “black” charcoal foods such as breads, burgers, ice creams, waffles, juices, and even teeth whitening solutions and supplements exist.  Bibi Chia, a dietitian at Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre states that "Apart from aesthetics, food manufacturers and cafes claim that it has some health benefits such as ‘detox’ effects.  These statements are not supported by research and very much likely to be a fad."

Are there any health benefits?

It has been claimed that activated charcoal helps to remove everyday toxins from our bodies (like alcohol), it should help to relieve someone from gas and bloating, improve heart health and has anti-aging properties.  However, contrary to popular belief, studies show that  activated charcoal actually provides none of those benefits.  In short, activated charcoal is a way for medical professionals to rid our bodies from toxins caused by a medication overdose, for example.  There is not enough concrete research that provides proof that activated charcoal provides any positive benefits to our bodies. 

Negative side effects?

Although you are not going to be eating activated charcoal treats on an everyday basis, it is recommended that you do not take it as a supplement either.  According to an article on Channel News Asia, activated charcoal can interfere with your body’s absorption of nutrients, “especially when you consume it together with food, or close to meal times. This also means that whatever Vitamin C you think you may be getting from the charcoal lemonade may not be absorbed by your body.”  Your body also may react negatively to the activated charcoal that can be found in these trendy foods, some side effects include vomiting, constipation, abdominal pain and bowel obstruction if not taken sparsely.

In short, activated charcoal is a fun way to enjoy foods, and sharing the experience of eating these unusual foods on social media is increasingly popular.  Although there are no true life-threatening symptoms to eating activated charcoal, too much of anything is bad for our bodies so try not to make eating these trendy foods an everyday habit.