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Blog & Recipes

  • by Diala Shaheen, Alexandra Inman

Activated Charcoal Detox 101

If you’re trying to find a way to detoxify your body, you have probably come across activated charcoal. Activated charcoal is popular among social media users, fad dieters, local juice bars, and other health stores. This highlights two important questions:

  1. Do you need to detoxify your body?

  2. Does activated charcoal work to detoxify your body?

Let’s find out!

Does your body need to be detoxified?

The short answer is no. It is important to remember that our body has its own detoxification system. Our skin, liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, and cardiovascular system are continuously working to process what goes into our body and get rid of toxins/wastes. No juice cleanse or fancy detox is going to help your body's natural detoxification process; if these important organs weren’t working to detoxify your body, you would likely end up in hospital!

There are a few things that you can do to help aid your body’s natural detoxification processes:

  • Stay hydrated, by drinking mostly plain water

  • Enjoy a varied, balanced diet that incorporates lots of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and plant-based proteins (e.g. legumes, nuts/seeds, tofu/tempeh, etc.)

  • This includes incorporating pre- and probiotics. You can read our blog post about pre- and probiotics by clicking here!

  • Make sure you wash all produce with water before consuming

  • Get adequate sleep

  • Enjoy regular physical activity

  • Manage your stress

What is activated charcoal?

Activated charcoal is made from various carbon-containing sources such as wood pulp, coal, coconut shells, and rye starch. It is then activated through chemical means to remove impurities and form small, fine granules. Activated charcoal works by trapping elements in its millions of tiny pores by a chemical process known as adsorption. Unlike absorption (which is the process by which fluids are dissolved by other liquids or solids), adsorption is the binding of molecules to the surface of the adsorbent (in this case, activated charcoal). Through this process of adsorption, activated charcoal binds to substances in the upper gastrointestinal tract (stomach and small intestines) and prevents them from being absorbed into the bloodstream. This results in these substances, as well as the activated charcoal, being excreted in stool.

Activated charcoal was first used clinically in the 1800s. Nowadays, it is used by many people for a wide variety of things, including: teeth whitening, water filtration, treating alcohol poisoning, curing hangovers, emergency poisoning treatment in hospital, and for skin care. It is also commonly used as a ‘digestive cleanser’ to alleviate gas and bloating.

Is activated charcoal beneficial?

  • Activated charcoal is used in hospital emergency rooms to treat ingested poisonings, such as medication overdoses. This means that activated charcoal has the potential to save someone’s life! It is important to note that activated charcoal should only be used under the direction of a physician and must be taken closely following ingestion of a poison to prevent its’ absorption (otherwise the ingested poison may make it into the intestines and be absorbed into the bloodstream).

  • Activated charcoal is not specific to which molecules it adsorbs. This means that, while it can adsorb toxins, it can also adsorb important medications and nutrients. As a result, using activated charcoal regularly can actually reduce the nutritional value of your diet and may even prevent absorption of important medications!

  • Consuming activated charcoal can also have side effects such as: dehydration, nausea, and constipation (and even bowel obstructions!).

  • If there is any risk that activated charcoal could make it into your respiratory system (i.e. accidentally breathing in the granules), it can have potentially life-threatening consequences!

Final Thoughts

Activated charcoal is useful in certain situations, especially in the emergency setting when it can potentially save a person’s life. However, there is absolutely no reason why activated charcoal needs to be included as a part of your daily lifestyle - except, of course, for campfires and BBQs! Your body is able to detoxify itself, and activated charcoal may lead to nutrition deficiencies, decreased effectiveness of medications, or unpleasant side effects! Instead, focus on enjoying a balanced lifestyle that includes a healthy diet, regular physical activity, adequate sleep, and positive mental health. You can book an appointment online today to have Alex or Stephanie work with you to ensure your diet is promoting a healthy body!

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