Source: Health Magazine
Some health interventions are framed as “detoxification” or the removal of harmful substances from one’s body. It seems plausible that if one overindulges in unhealthy foods or substances or if one is exposed to toxins in the environment that removal of unhealthy molecules from the body would be helpful. Rather than a return to healthy habits, detoxification often takes the form of a commercial product or treatment. Let’s turn a curious eye on one such product that seems to be gaining popularity: activated charcoal.
We should start with the understanding of how well the body is designed to handle toxins. For instance, your kidneys are designed to remove toxins and keep your physiology in balance. The kidneys filter about 120-150 quarts of blood a day to produce about 1-2 quarts of urine composed of waste and extra fluid. If your kidneys are working properly, they are doing the appropriate job of filtering your blood and removing an excess fluids or waste like urea from the body. Your liver converts ammonia to urea, a less toxic substance. It also is responsible for breaking down alcohol, for producing the bile needed to digest and to absorb fats, and for getting rid of the byproducts from the breakdown of medications. These are just a few things that our liver does as one of the largest organs in the body. We should all be skeptical of products or services that claim they can outperform these systems.
Activated charcoal is currently being marketed as a tool for detoxing your body that can be consumed in combination with lemonade, ice cream, and other food products. Activated charcoal is normally used to treat overdoses of medications like aspirin. It is very porous allowing it to trap molecules, both medications or toxins and helpful substances such as vitamins. It’s not clear that the addition of activated charcoal to your diet can improve upon the body’s physiology. And, it could block the absorption of important nutrients and medications and diminish your health.
Detoxing is an overly simplistic solution for a complex problem. We live in a world which is chemically complex and there are many chemicals in our environments and in our bodies. Yet, the presence of chemicals does not directly translate to a health risk. The idea that we live in a toxic environment to which our bodies are unsuited is largely inaccurate and creates an unhealthy relationship with the world.