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Activated charcoal has long been used to eliminate toxic or harmful substances from the body after a drug overdose or ingestion of a toxic substance. Activated charcoal has certain chemical and physical properties that allow substances to bind with it. The adsorbent is produced by burning carbon-rich substances at high temperatures. Then a gas or an activating agent is used to increase the surface area of charcoal to activate it.
Activated charcoal has been used to treat a plethora of medical conditions. Ranging from treating acute poisoning to preventing a hangover, curing bloating, and treating cholestasis, activated charcoal has been used by doctors and healthcare professionals for a multitude of medical conditions. Recently, the use of activated charcoal in face masks and toothpastes has also soared because of its efficacy in enhancing physical beauty.
However, recent studies have revealed that activated charcoal might actually be harmful to your body. If activated charcoal is ingested, it can cause blackening of the stool, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. Furthermore, activated charcoal can also interfere with the absorption or functioning of certain drugs such as Digoxin, Acetaminophen, and Tricyclic antidepressants. Thus, the consumption of activated charcoal can be highly detrimental for the body if you are on medication. Activated charcoal also hinders the absorption of certain essential nutrients in the body. If you are on birth control pills, then immediately stop using activated charcoal because the medicine might actually not be having any effect on you. This is because charcoal being a good adsorbent reduces the efficiency of certain medicines by affecting the body's ability to absorb them into the bloodstream.
If you are wondering why charcoal intervenes with the natural absorption of nutrients in your body, here's the answer: charcoal is an excellent absorber and has an extensive surface area. Thus, the nutrients you consume or the medications that you take are adsorbed by charcoal. This can even lead to malnutrition in severe cases. Furthermore, since the medicines you are taking are not absorbed into your bloodstream in the presence of charcoal, your health condition might aggravate.
The increasing use of activated charcoal as a food additive or a coloring agent has become an alarming concern for food authorities all around the world. Health departments consider food with activated charcoal as adulterated and impure. Therefore, restaurants and food manufacturers are being warned to stop adding activated charcoal in food items for any purpose.
Research has revealed that activated charcoal results in the slowing down of the bowel movements. With slower peristalsis, there is a higher chance of suffering from constipation. Another serious health issue caused by charcoal is dehydration. If vast amounts of activated charcoal are consumed regularly, then it's easy to feel dehydrated and increasingly thirsty. Moreover, the ingestion of charcoal can also lead to regurgitation into the lungs.
Thus, if you are using activated charcoal to whiten your teeth or adding it to your food, this might be a habit you'd have to reconsider. Since activated charcoal has an extensive surface area, it effectively absorbs all molecules in your stomach, including essential nutrients and medicines. Some research has also revealed that activated charcoal can trigger gastrointestinal trouble by causing inflammation of the colon. Further, it decreases the rate of peristalsis and puts you at a higher risk of suffering from constipation. Moreover, if activated charcoal enters your lungs, then it can cause severe pulmonary diseases.
There are numerous healthier alternatives available that can be used instead of activated charcoal. If you've been suffering through a medical condition or are taking any medication, then you should especially be seeking your doctor's advice before ingesting activated charcoal in any form.
Sarwat Makkani, MD
Yanelquis Torres, MD
Raga Mohamed Ali Osman
Sipra Talvikki Autio