Why the charcoal trend needs caution

By Judy Buttriss

- Last updated on GMT

Professor Buttriss: ‘Is this just a harmless fashion or might there be a downside?’
Professor Buttriss: ‘Is this just a harmless fashion or might there be a downside?’

Related tags: Nutrition

The medicinal properties of activated charcoal have been known for centuries.

It’s still used in hospitals and by vets to treat poisoning and there is an authorised health claim for its use in the treatment of flatulence.

This is linked to its highly porous structure that increases its surface area considerably and its selective ability to bind some substances and gases.

Whitening teeth to beating hangovers

However, the internet reveals numerous purported benefits, from whitening teeth to beating hangovers and ‘detoxing’ the body. It’s also being used to create black foods and juice drinks.

Is this just a harmless fashion or might there be a downside?

First, no food or supplement is going to transform health on its own. Secondly, we have specialised organs that are designed to neutralise and remove toxins from the body, such as the liver and kidneys.

Shown to bind prescription drugs

Third, activated charcoal has been shown to bind many prescription drugs, which may mean that medication is less effective.

Its ability to bind to some essential nutrients and affect their bioavailability has not been thoroughly researched but seems plausible, and there is some supportive research.

So while the jury is out, perhaps treat the activated charcoal trend with caution.

  • Judy Buttriss is director general of the British Nutrition Foundation

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