PSA: Activated Charcoal Drinks & Food
Have you seen the hot new trend in food and drinks lately? You can now get drinks, like lemonade, and ice cream in solid black. While very striking, these foods can have some potentially serious side effects that you may want to know about.
First, a note: I am not a doctor or lawyer, and you should consult with experts before making decisions important to your health.
What Is Activated Charcoal?
Activated Charcoal (or Carbon) is literally just charcoal with a small amount of processing done to open up the pores. This allows it to adsorb (a slightly different process from absorption) chemicals, toxins, and other substances.
If you have ever used a water filter, gas mask, or certain air purifiers, you have used activated charcoal. It took most of the bad flavors/smells/chemicals out of the air/water and made it (probably) safer or more pleasant to use.
Why Put it in Food/Drinks?
Two reasons: It looks cool, and it is popular for removing "toxins" from the body.
Frankly, it does look very interesting. Drinking lemonade that is matte black is very striking, if a little strange. And solid black vanilla ice cream just looks neat. I can't find any pictures with open licenses, but feel free to search around on google.
What are the Dangers?
There are a variety of mundane potential side effects from consuming charcoal, including constipation, but none of these are likely (especially in the limited quantities present in these foods).
The real danger lies in the effects described above. Charcoal does remove chemicals from your body, as it passes through your digestive system. All of them, until it is saturated.
This means that consuming activated charcoal will remove the following from your digestive system (and make consuming these substances pointless for some time):
- Medication: Prescription, over the counter (Ibuprofen), etc.
- Vitamins: Multivitamins, or the vegetables you just ate
- Other supplements
In other words, if you are taking medication to keep you alive, or otherwise to keep you healthy, activated charcoal foods could harm you.
To mitigate these effects, some suggest waiting 30-120 minutes after taking medication before consuming these foods. However these warnings are not always on the bottle, or in the store. And the actual time required is not well studied (as suggested by the wide time range).
If you are fully aware of the dangers, and wait long enough after taking medication, these foods should be relatively safe. But your mileage may vary.
I recently saw a friend carrying one of these drinks. When I told them what their drink could do if consumed at the wrong time, they were justifiably shocked, and had no idea of the danger. This was my inspiration for this post.
Again, I am not a doctor. But if you take medications critical to your health or wellbeing, consider speaking to one before trying out this new food fad.