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Activated Charcoal Is Just Another Dumb Detox Thing You Don't Need

Refinery29 logo Refinery29 13/02/2017 Sarah Jacoby
Refinery29 © Illustrated by Sydney Hass. Refinery29

The latest step in our endless quest to be totally cleansed and pure is apparently adding activated charcoal — charcoal that's been reheated and oxidised to create a bunch of tiny pores — to water, lemonade, and those supposedly-detoxing green juices. But do we really need to be drinking these expensive bottles of weird, gray, cloudy water?

"There is absolutely no health benefit to consuming activated charcoal in green juices or in any other food," Kim Larson, RDN and spokesperson for The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, tells R29 via email.

Well, that's pretty definitive. So how the heck did this ridiculous thing become a trend? "The interest stems from activated charcoal being used to treat overdoses of drugs or chemicals in emergency medical settings," Larson explains. Charcoal does have an amazing ability to bind with many toxic substances that may find their way into your gastrointestinal tract, preventing your stomach from absorbing them. For instance, if someone has taken way too much Aspirin, an emergency room physician may give that person a drink made of powdered charcoal mixed with water.

But that doesn't mean you should be ingesting it at home on a regular basis — for any reason. Somehow, that emergency use has morphed into various claims about treating hangovers, easing gas, lowering cholesterol, and otherwise "detoxing" your body with charcoal water or juices.

However, Larson says there are simply no proven benefits to adding charcoal to your diet, and there actually may be some real dangers. "It can cause black stools, black tongue, diarrhea, vomiting, even constipation," she says. On top of that, activated charcoal may interfere with your regular medications and supplements by making it harder for your body to absorb them. It can even prevent your body from absorbing nutrients in your food. (Not to mention that it kind of turns your teeth gray.) So if you're drinking that special charcoal-enhanced green juice for a nutritional kick, the charcoal in it may actually make the whole thing totally useless.

Plus, of course, there's no need to "detox" your body anyways. Unless you're dealing with an actual emergency poisoning situation, your liver and kidneys have got you totally covered in that department — and they really don't need you messing around with charcoal.

Chrissy Teigen swears by the charcoal detox method. © Getty Images Chrissy Teigen swears by the charcoal detox method.

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