Activated charcoal is all the rage now, with naturopaths claiming it works as a powerful detox ingredient and an effective teeth whitener.
Depending on where you live, you may have seen activated charcoal smoothies, charcoal ice cream and charcoal toothpaste in stores. But is activated charcoal really safe to ingest? And will it give you a movie-star smile?
First, let's break down what it is: Activated charcoal is not the same as what you would use to grill your steak. So the next time you're tempted to ingest a lump from your barbecue, don't. Unlike its meat grilling cousin, activated charcoal is made from materials containing carbon like bamboo and coconut husks. The material is oxidized with hot gases, forming several small holes across its surface.
Why is this important? Well, the holes make the charcoal porous and allow it to soak up various molecules. Because of this, it's sometimes used in water filters.
But where does human ingestion come in? When introduced into the stomach, activated charcoal absorbs chemicals. As a result, it's been used to treat poisoning and overdoses in hospitals for many years. And that's probably where it earned its reputation as a detox agent.
But doctors say you should hold off on guzzling charcoal smoothies for now. Although it does have poison-sucking properties, it might be too powerful for its - or your - own good. Once activated charcoal is ingested, not only does it suck up the bad chemicals, it sucks up the good ones as well.
This means it may make prescription medication less effective and, in extreme cases, it may even lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Doctors advise people to avoid activated charcoal if they're on medication for anything from allergies to birth control. In fact, there's even a cocktail called "See Ya in Nine Months" which mocks the material's powerful ability to render birth control useless.