PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Activated charcoal is an ingredient that claims to cleanse and purify.
It was first in beauty products, but it can now be found in some food and drinks and it’s even touted as a remedy for indigestion and hangovers.
One ice cream shop serves up one of the hottest food fads, as people are lining up for these sweet charcoal treats, activated charcoal claims to detoxify the body.
And Renee Villa-Senor is a believer.
She drinks the carbon-rich ingredient in pressed juice at least once a week.
“It keeps my skin fresher,” Villa-Senor said. “It purges some of things that are in there and I see my skin glows a bit more when I do drink it regularly.”
Activated charcoal is used medically to treat alcohol and drug poisoning. It’s made by heating wood or coconut shells at a high temperature.
The result is a dark flavorless powder that’s turning everything from pizza crust to smoothies black.
But skeptics say there’s no science proving it works.
“The detoxifying agent in activated charcoal doesn’t necessarily just take out the bad stuff, it takes out the good stuff, some hydration, water and electrolytes,” Dr. Jamie Lipeles, an OB/GYN, said.
Doctors also warn activated charcoal can make some oral medications, like blood pressure and birth control pills, ineffective.
“It’s a porous product that grabs hold of the medication, so it doesn’t make it available for the intestine to bring into the body for its use,” Dr. Lipeles said.
Villa-Senor says she sees health benefits and that it’s even whitening her teeth.
“The charcoal powder works really well for my teeth because I drink coffee all the time,” she said.
For others, it’s a novelty worth trying.
Consumer Reports has this advice about items that contain activated charcoal: Keep charcoal in the grill, not the medicine cabinet.
It also suggests “that for detoxing specifically, the best thing to do is make sure your diet includes plenty of water and high-fiber foods.”