health

Surely this new health fad is a joke. Surely.

It was November 2012. Celebrity chef and General Hottie McHotHot, Pete Evans, told a newspaper what he eats on a daily basis. His answer? Alkalised water, spirulina, sauteed kale, goji mufins, coconut chips and… activated almonds.

Social media promptly went mental. People were tweeting about their inferior, unactivated almonds, bemoaning their uselessness. They shared their outrage about the fact that a single packet of activated almonds will cost you more than a month’s supply of Skittles.

They questioned why the shit you should activate your almonds anyway. The hashtag #activatedalmonds was number one on Twitter for over a day.

Australians have a seriously good radar for bullshit. And they’re not afraid to call it when something seems super wanky. Especially when that wanky thing is a $25 packet of supposed super-nuts.

Fast-forward to January 2014, and everyone’s become a bit more health-conscious. Green smoothies are now everywhere. So are kale chips and coconut oil. Even activated almonds are starting to be more accepted into the mainstream.

But here’s one health trend that I’m having serious trouble comprehending.

It’s activated charcoal. I know, I know. Let me say it again so you can take it in completely: activated charcoal.

Because regular charcoal just isn’t good enough for you to ingest anymore, obviously. (All of you nibbling on those coals from your fireplaces? STOP IT.)

In all seriousness: activated charcoal is a powder that has been treated – or ‘activated’ – with gas and other chemicals in order to increase its capability of absorbing things. It’s largely used for absorbing poison, so that the stomach and intestines don’t absorb the poison instead.

Interestingly, activated charcoal was originally discovered by the ancient Egyptians and has continued to be used throughout history. But it’s recently made a resurgence, and is now used to treat everything from yellow teeth to diarrhea and viruses.

Well-known health writer Wellness Mama even wrote about how she uses it on her blog:

I have  personally used charcoal to treat a spider bite on my son’s leg (we had confirmation that it was likely a brown recluse bite and a mix of charcoal and baking soda helped draw the toxin out and he healed with no long term scarring. I’ve also used it  when I got food poisoning (another good reason not to eat out!) and was able to get rid of it within a few hours with charcoal followed by apple cider vinegar and then epsom salt (to avoid the charcoal building up in my system).

Wellness Mama also uses the charcoal to brush her teeth, as it apparently has whitening properties, and also keeps it on hand in case her kids ingest anything toxic. Importantly, and responsibly, she does note that in case of emergency, she would call the poison control centre and follow their directions rather than, say, shoving a spoonful of charcoal powder down the throats of her children.

But other sites promoting activated charcoal aren’t making such balanced claims. They’re simply claiming that it will do wonders for your teeth and skin and maybe even save your life, should you ever get bitten by a spider or something.

They’re promoting benefits without actually acknowledging the fact that there’s very little evidence to support the benefits of activated charcoal beyond that of occasional medical treatment for poisoning – and that’s ONLY if recommended by doctors.

There are even risks involved with taking activated charcoal; side effects may include diarrhea, vomiting and constipation. Yeah. Fun.

So while this might sound like a brilliant bandwagon to some? It’s potentially incredibly harmful, as well as just plain misleading.

Sure, drink your green smoothies and enjoy your chia seeds sprinkled on top of your cereal. But before you start incorporating activated charcoal into your face wash and toothpaste, think about it and think about it carefully.

Does this REALLY have any benefit? Or is it just one more thing the super-health world has introduced, purely just to screw with us? And is it better or worse, or just as good, as activated almonds?

It’s not just us, this is plain crazy – right?