Activated charcoal is sometimes promoted as a natural hangover cure. Is there any truth to this rumor? Is activated charcoal safe? Nutrition DIva explains.
Q, You've written about cancer-causing compounds in grilled foods. But I also see people touting activated charcoal as a health supplement. What's the difference between the two? Does activated charcoal have any benefits?
A. The harmful compounds that are formed when meat is grilled over charcoal do not come from the charcoal itself. Rather, they are formed when proteins and fats in the meat interact with high temperatures and direct heat. (The same risks apply to meats grilled on gas grills.) So, activated charcoal does not pose a risk from that perspective.
See also: Does Grilled Meat Cause Cancer?
Benefits of Activated Charcoal
Activated charcoal can act as a sort of "sponge" in your digestive tract, absorbing and trapping chemicals and escorting them out of the body. It can be an effective treatment for certain types of chemical poisoning. But if you or someone in your household may have ingested a poisonous substance, do not self-treat with activated charcoal or anything else! Immediately call the Poison Control Center (in the U.S. 1-800-222-1222) and do whatever they tell you to do. Different poisons require different responses, and the wrong treatment is sometimes worse than no treatment at all!
Can Activated Charcoal Prevent Hangovers?
Activated charcoal is also promoted as a way to fight flatulence, lower cholesterol, or prevent hangovers. However, research on the effectiveness of activated charcoal for these conditions is inconclusive. Some people also claim that charcoal is a good way to "cleanse" or "detox" but I think there are much better ways to cleanse and detoxify your body.
Can Charcoal Interfere with Medicines?
Activated charcoal may also interfere with the effectiveness of certain oral medications or even reduce the absorption of nutrients from food or dietary supplements. If you're taking any prescription medications, check with your doctor before you start taking activated charcoal.