You may have sighted them in your local coffee shop, or on your favorite Instagram account. The dark, mysterious charcoal latte has captivated many coffee enthusiasts. Featuring beautiful art atop a luscious dark background, it’s touted both for spectacular visual appeal and health benefits. Activated charcoal, first showing up as a food supplement 5-10 years ago, could soon be found as an ingredient in everything from ice cream to skin lotion. Taste-wise the charcoal is said to add some (very) subtle depth and earthiness to your coffee. As a New Yorker, I must admit to admiring this coffees visual appeal and ability to match my basic black. Understandably, I was surprised and disheartened to learn of some hidden health threats associated with this gothic beauty. If you are interested in learning more about the charcoal latte and it’s hidden threats, keep reading!
What exactly is activated charcoal?
Created by heating substances that are packed with carbon materials to a high temperature; the result is a charcoal free of previously bonded materials with a massively increased surface area. Essentially this reaction transforms the material into an enormous sponge ready to absorb whatever it next encounters. Eventually the super-soaked charcoal passes through your digestive system and is eliminated as waste.
Some possible health benefits
A myriad of health benefits are associated with both the topical and ingestible properties of activated charcoal. They include:
- Good digestion: Activated charcoal has been linked to the reduction of bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
- Detoxification: Through binding to the unwanted substances in your body, activated charcoal cleanses the system – helping with anything from hangover recovery to full detoxification.
- Ant-inflammatory properties: Aids in the soothing of skin irritations such as bug bites and stings.
- Beauty treatments: Such as anti-aging properties, teeth whitening, reduction of body odor, increased hair health, and skin exfoliation
Possible side effects
While activated charcoal gives this beautiful drink its visual appeal, it also contains elements that might be detrimental to ones health. It may interfere with your regular medication. The activated charcoal will bind to a substance in your body and eliminate it – hence, it is very effective when used in stomach pumping procedures. The charcoal, however, does not discriminate between needed substances and toxins. Thus, activated charcoal could bind to any ingested substances – from aspirin to anti-depressants to birth control, and inadvertently interfere with their intended use.
So, should you have that charcoal latte?
Scientifically, there is much debate over both the health benefits and side effects of using activated charcoal. Most research states that the binding properties are less likely to occur when ingesting the activated charcoal as a food supplement. Additionally, the efficacy of the charcoal as a binding agent directly relates to many factors such as when you imbibe the charcoal, how much you consume, and how long it stays in your system. Studies indicate the amount of charcoal should be approximately 10 times greater than the amount of the drug it is intending to absorb for elimination. Studies also show uncertain results as to which drugs are affected, and to what degree.
My advice? While one charcoal latte will probably not effect you in a negative way, the key term is probably. Why take the risk? If the allure of a “Goth Latte” is too much to resist, try some black food coloring! You will get the same visual appeal without the possibility of unpredictable and potentially dangerous side effects.