Looking for the next detox elixir?
Food-grade carbon known as activated charcoal is finding its way into green juices and lemonades with the promise of boosting energy, brightening skin --even curing hangovers. The black, odor-less additive is being combined with hemp seeds, lemon zest or spinach and sold to the health conscious in labels by Juice Served Here, Juice Generation, and LuliTonix.
Let's be clear. It's not the stuff found in your outdoor barbecue. Derived from peat, coal, wood and coconut shell, the material is heated to very high temperatures. For years, activated charcoal has been used in the emergency treatment of certain kinds of poisoning. Its alkaline properties allow it to bind to poisons and prevent them from being absorbed from the stomach into the intestines.
But now, cold-pressed juice companies are rebranding activated charcoal as a health supplement, and it's a hot new trend getting a boost from the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow’s magazine Goop, which named charcoal lemonade one of the “best juice cleanses.”
So I decided to put it to the test myself. I am not a health professional, but I like to stay fit and like to try out different detox methods.
At first, I was a little apprehensive about drinking the stuff. After all it's black and the look of it is not very appetizing. However, I was pleasantly surprised once I tasted Lulitonix's Black Magic: Charcoal Elixir and enjoyed the lemonade-tasting beverage.
Lulitonix claims that the juice detox aids in "cleansing and assisting the healing process of the body, preventing/helping hangovers, helping with intestinal issues/food poisoning/gases, and makes you feel sharp and focused."
Unlike other cleanse routines that require several consecutive days, Lulitonix says you can drink the juice as you feel the need.
So for seven days I cut out alcohol, stuck with my regular diet (about 1,500 and 2,000 calories per day), exercised (3-4 days) --and cracked open the charcoal.
Here's what happened.
(Please note that my experience may not be typical, and that Lulitonix suggests drinking the beverage in the evening, but that was not always convenient for me.)
My first taste of the elixir was quite shocking since you can see that the beverage is black. I did not expect it to taste good, but I actually didn't mind the taste. I drank it around 2 PM after lunch, and noticed that I had a slight stomach ache for about an hour. After the stomach ache subsided, I drank the rest of the elixir and exercised. I had more energy than I usually do in an evening workout, especially after my typical work day.
I experienced no weight loss after day 1, but I woke up feeling less tired than usual. I decided to drink the elixir at 9 AM instead of my morning tea and felt like it woke me up and energized me through the afternoon. I realized that my stomach ache from the previous day might have been from drinking it too quickly, or from not shaking the bottle. I made sure to shake the bottle before use, and I took my time drinking it. I experienced no discomfort.
I slept well on day 2 and woke up feeling less bloated than when I started the cleanse. I drank 50 ounces of water on day 3, and drank the elixir at 6 PM before dinner. I felt a bit full, and did not eat a normal sized dinner but snacked instead. I had slight trouble falling asleep, but once I was asleep I did not wake during the night like I typically do.
Now the good stuff. I got on the scale and noticed a 1 lb. loss in weight since day 1. I drank the juice at 4 PM and it held my hunger until dinner at 8 PM. I noticed on day 4 that I started to crave the elixir and not just tolerate it. I began to like the taste and it was tasting like traditional lemonade. I exercised for 45 minutes on day 4 and went to sleep later than usual.
I forgot to shake the bottle before drinking, but realized half way through the bottle and shook the rest before finishing. I had a headache before drinking the elixir and noticed that it had subsided about 15 minutes after. I drank 56 ounces of water on day 5, and drank the juice at 2 PM.
I lost an additional .5 lb. for a total of 1.5 lb. weight loss in 6 days. By this point, I liked drinking the juice and drank it quickly at 8 PM. I also began noticing that my skin started looking clearer and that I had increased energy. I even wound up exercising for an additional 30 minutes, for a total of 2 hours.
I drank the elixir at 2 PM, and experienced no additional weight loss from the previous day. I drank the bottle quickly and noticed a definite boost in energy.
So, in all, the drink wasn't exactly a magic bullet of health. After the 7 days of cleansing, I lost a total of 1.5 lbs.--(which could be water weight or from my workouts) and noticed an improvement in my energy levels. I also saw a change in the appearance of my skin. I have dry but clear skin normally. After the cleanse, it was softer, and my typical break out around my chin cleared up completely by day 7. Minus the few stomach issues towards the beginning of the week, the drink seemed to have a positive affect on me.
But health experts warn that this may not be for everyone.
If you are considering trying activated charcoal as a part of your health regimen, you should consult a medical professional first.
Experts like Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD warn that the activated charcoal may bind to nutrients from fruit and vegetables and prevent their absorption by your body or even block certain medications from working.
But if you're looking for something different in your cleanse, black is the new black.