Ask EN

June 2017 Issue




Charcoal Risks; Food as Sunscreen

Q: What are the pros and cons for consuming charcoal?

A: Activated charcoal, also known as activated carbon, is a medicine used to treat oral poisonings. It is mixed with water and consumed as an effective treatment for a number of poisonous substances, when taken within an hour of the poison ingestion. Activated charcoal is charcoal that has been treated at high temperatures to greatly expand its surface area. It binds with poisons rendering them non-absorbable in the small intestine. Activated charcoal is also commonly used in water purifiers to remove chlorine and odors from drinking water.

Activated Charcoal

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Consuming activated charcoal may be dangerous

Because of this usefulness in emergency scenarios, some people wrongly presume that activated charcoal will ‘bind with toxins’ and work as a day-to-day cleansing supplement. Unfortunately, activated charcoal is not recommended for regular use and side effects may include vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and intestinal blockages. It may also interfere with the absorption of some medications. Therefore activated charcoal is not recommended for supplemental use. There is no quick-fix for an unhealthy diet and the best cleansing one can do is to eat more high-fiber fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains.

—Matt Ruscigno, MPH, RD

Q: Is it true that food can act as sunscreen?

A: Too much of a good thing isn’t always a good thing, and so it is with the sun. We need to expose our skin to some sunshine every day in order to make vitamin D,

sometimes called the sunshine vitamin. We also know, however, that too much sun exposure can cause skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the U.S. If we slather on sunscreen to reduce exposure to damaging rays, we limit the ability of the body to make vitamin D. The solution? Eat better and get a little sun exposure every day. There is good evidence that a diet high in fruits and vegetables, especially dark green and orange colored ones, can help to reduce the risk of developing skin cancer. Other foods that may increase your body’s ability to fight off skin cancer include fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, green and black teas, and even caffeinated coffee. Eating well should not be the primary line of defense against skin cancer. Most clinicians agree that using sunscreen appropriately, along with a healthy plant-based diet, is best.

—Sharon Salomon, MS, RD