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Experts grill health claims of activated charcoal supplements

Posted August 22
Updated August 23

You think of charcoal for your grill, but it's now turning up in face masks, smoothies and even cocktails.

The ingredient is touted as a way to detox your body. But the claims of what some people call a "magic health bullet" might not be backed up by science.

Activated charcoal comes in black pills, and it's also found in soaps, beauty face masks and supplements as a simple way to remove toxins from your body.

The product is similar to the stuff used to grill, but the activated kind has been superheated into an extremely porous substance. It's been used in medicine for decades.

"Activated charcoal is sometimes used as an antidote for overdoses of some medicines," said Consumer Reports' Julia Calderone. "The porous charcoal traps certain toxins, preventing the body from absorbing them."

Some activated charcoal supplements claim to remove toxins in a similar way, but Consumer Reports medical experts say they’re not necessary because the body detoxes itself.

"The body already has organs such as the kidneys and liver to filter out impurities," Calderone said.

In small doses, activated charcoal has no known significant risks, but supplements are regulated much more loosely than drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and they don’t necessarily contain what’s advertised on the label.

Other products have come on the market recently, too, such as face washes, soaps and masks, but there's little published scientific evidence to suggest that activated charcoal helps them work better than products without it.

Consumer Reports advice is to keep charcoal in the grill, not the medicine cabinet. Experts say there’s no reason to do a fad detox. Instead, just make sure your diet includes plenty of water and high-fiber foods.

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