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Charcoal supplements - does it aid weight-loss?

Recently, there has been a new diet trend circulating social media - the use of charcoal to lose weight. Here we shall explore the science behind charcoal and the its claims to be a weight-loss support supplement.

Charcoal is used by the health service, but this a specialised charcoal which goes through a process to 'activate'. Activated charcoal has pores that can trap chemicals. It is typically taken orally as a treatment for some swallowed poisons or drug overdoses.

The charcoal is made from peat, coal, wood, coconut shell or even petroleum. The activated charcoal is created by heating charcoal in the presence of a gas. This process causes the charcoal to develop lots of internal spaces or pores. These pores help the activated charcoal trap and absorb chemicals.

As well as being used to treat poisoning (which does work), some claim that charcoal can also used for treating high cholesterol, hangovers and upset stomachs, but there is no strong scientific evidence to support these claims. In fact, alcohol does not bind with the charcoal so it will not help the hangover, rather it helps to support you body in flushing it, usually by vomiting.

The charcoal supplement:

Charcoal supplements claim an impressive array of health benefits such as: reducing bloating, brightening of skin, increasing energy, cleansing the body of toxins and weight-loss by absorbing the fat in food. Anything that boasts such a wide range of benefits should be looked at with suspicion.

Unfortunately, in my research, I have found no scientific evidence to back up these claims. In fact, there are no randomised controlled trials that assess the effectiveness of commercial charcoal supplements in humans. The 'trials' that have been conducted have been done on mice only and there has been other ingredients added to the charcoal such as mild acids.

Looking at the evidence for charcoal supplements, it is clear that it doesn't activity cause weight-loss. The decrease in weight can be credited to the reduction of calories, with consumption of the charcoal, and it is likely to return once the individual stops using the supplements.

The most effective way to lose and maintain weight is through regularly exercise and a healthy balanced diet.

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