Activated charcoal is one of the latest “wellness” trend and by wellness I mean things that charlatans want you to buy that have no hope of helping you. So yes my friends that leads us directly to GOOP and their latest installment in medical stupidity, activated charcoal chai. This concept is so medical inept I hardly know where to begin. It’s like someone used a random woo generator capable of alliteration. Perhaps next week we will be treated to Ringer’s lactate lattes or lipid emulsion espresso.

Like all GOOP posts this one starts with a tiny little bit of medical information and then contorts it until it is unrecognizeable. The little nugget of truth here is that activated charcoal is a thing with an actual medical use. It is a gastrointestinal decontaminant for the treatment of poisoning. It works because it has a very large surface area and can bind many, but not all, poisons in the stomach and sometimes small intestine. Activated charcoal doesn’t just bind to poisons it can bind to many things. Tuck this info away for just a wee bit.

As fear of unknown “toxins,” especially gut “toxins” (actual botulinum toxin for the face being just dandy) is a big thing at GOOP the activated charcoal chai is a perfect fit. Detoxification has never been so tasty or trendy or medical sounding! GOOP and Paltrow are also obsessed with Candida (I could write a book about what everyone gets wrong about yeast) so using charcoal chai to help “candida” to “GTFO” fits right in with their shilling for dollars. I am surprised they don’t suggest sipping it while steaming one’s vagina.

OK, let’s bring on the science!

I turned to Dr. David Juurlink, a Toxicology God and Professor at the University of Toronto. His initial response was brief and to the point. “It’s bullshit,” he wrote.

Dr. Juuralink points out that any possible medicinal benefits of the other ingredients of the chai would be inactivated by the charcoal because it will bind to almost anything within reach. So the chai is already deactivated of any potential health benefit before it hits your lips. And the drink itself may very well deactivate the charcoal. Oops!

And what exactly is this homeopathic charcoal supposed to rid one of? Why, the “not-so-great stuff” of course! I bet “not-so-great stuff” is an entire semester at Naturopath schools.

Le sigh.

What about the claim that charcoal “can be helpful when you’d really like the contents of your GI tract to GTFO (read: candida).” It hurt my brain trying to figure out what this means. For most people Candida albicans is a commensal (meaning a normal inhabitant of the bowel). You have it, I have it, my kids have it. Even Gwyneth has it, although maybe it makes her feel too pedestrian? It can definitely contribute to disease, but we don’t really know exactly how that happens. Regardless, if you are healthy the Candida in your bowel is not lurking trying to kill you, it’s doing its business helping you with your business. The idea that the balance between normal Candida and disease-causing Candida can be regulated by 1/4 tsp of charcoal (1.82 g) that miraculously escaped deactivation by the “chai” and stomach contents is infantile and insulting. Does GOOP really mean that homeopathic doses of charcoal binds yeast somehow decreasing the colony counts? There are no studies on charcoal and microbiological flora of the human intestinal tract, but lack of biologic plausibility or studies has never stopped GOOP before so why stop now?

It’s almost laughable that activated charcoal has found its way into the “natural” and “wellness” trends. According to GOOP one can even buy it in the vitamin aisle. Want to know how they make it? Carbon-containing materials such as wood pulp, coal, or lignite (brown coal and yes I had to look it up) are chemically converted into charcoal (i.e. pure carbon), ground into a fine powder and activated via treatment with steam, oxygen, carbon dioxide, acids and other chemicals. This is better living through chemistry not grind your medicine with a mortar and pestle. Offering activated charcoal as a natural remedy is just like saying gentian violet is natural (gentian violet is named for the color and it’s made from coal tar not a plant). Activated charcoal has way more in common with petroleum than any vitamin.

Large and repeated doses of charcoal have been associated with bezoars (think a big lump of coal obstructing your bowel) so this is definitely a case of a little is of no help and a lot could be worse. Who knows what chronic ingestion could do?

And one more thing the recipe doesn’t actually call for any tea, so if we are going to be honest this is coal-treated-with-chemicals spiced ginger pea milk and no it will not get Candida or anything else the fuck out of your GI tract.

There is zero science behind the claim that activated charcoal “chai” will do anything except make you sound like a pretentious idiot.



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  1. I am wondering whether you have an opinion on this particular treatment for pelvic floor incontinence, and on how to deal with the problem of peeing (let’s say) way too easily/often for multiparous women reaching middle age.

  2. Thanks again, Dr. Jen. As always, you provide the reality check with your blend of sass and smarts and commitment to best-evidence info for all.

  3. One can approach this from any number of ‘whats wrong with this picture’ points. I am a bit of a reductionist. I believe the embracing of pseudoscience has to do with a lack of critical thinking. Varying agendas would not operate as efficiently in the face of science literacy. Trial and error with your health? The trial part should be an investment in ones health- exercise, eating well, finding legitimate health professionals you trust and if you feel compelled to self diagnose, that you at least exercise some basic logic as to what could constitute a ‘cure.’ Any lingering error as a result could then be revisited.

  4. Oh dear Gwynnie, she just keeps that woo coming.

    Great piece, but I’ve got a minor niggle – can one describe a quarter of a teaspoon as a homeopathic dose? I thought most homeopathic remedies contained zero quantities of the active ingredient. And even at homeopathic doses below 12c we’d be talking molecules rather than teaspoons.

  5. Well , if Gwyneth endorses it , it must be good . /s
    On ANY Gloop ( yes , I added a letter ) product , remember to read the small print ( which contradicts the ‘medicine’ they are grifting ) .

  6. I get were you are comming from, but unfortunately many of these so called wellness remedies lack medical evidence. The general public is lead to believe that the money hungry pharmaceutic industry wont invest any research in something that won’t make them ritch.
    Hence we are often left with a trial and error method to try and resolve some medical problems, especially when your doctor is not much help, or the help is only a band aid.

      1. Of cause they are. But, unfortunately someone who does not have a degree in medicine will often not be able to tell the difference between a genuine or a bogus product, regardless of were it is sold.
        Also, if you have ever watched any of these hyped up infomercials which circulate the web these days, they tell people that the big wealthy pharmacy industry does not want people to use ANY product from which the pharmacy industry will not be able to reap the benefits. I.e. the pharmacy industry wants people to stay sick. A lot of misinformation out there, which many are using to sell horrible products in an effort to make a quick buck.

    1. What medical problem is being solved here that doctors aren’t giving proper attention to exactly? What band-aid is being applied to what disease? This is a non-solution looking for a problem.

      1. Well, Candida is a good example of a problem, which is not treated properly. A scenario would typically play out as follows: You go to you doctor (usually GP) and tell him/her about the problem – i.e. describing the symptoms. Doc diagnoses as Vaginal Candida and gives you a cream. Problem solved for about three or four weeks when the Candida usually returns and you are yet again prescribed a cream.
        If the Candida causes you to have an itchy scalp for example, the doctor may prescribe a shampoo.
        And so on it goes. Conventional medicine will often treat symptoms, but the underlying problem is never resolved.

        This is why people will look for other remedies to help cure a problem such as Candida. And since these people usually aren’t in any medical profession, they may very well end up buying some product, such as the tea mentioned in this blog post and still continue to have the problem.

      2. Exactly! It’s just a load of bollocks that’s designed to part the gullible from their money.

        @Sarina – vaginal scalp thrush, eh? Go to Dr Jen’s front page, and click on the article about yeast infections.

        Educate yourself. A little critical thinking can alert you to what is a scam, and what isn’t.

        Oh, and most of the so-called ~natural products~ labels are actually owned by pharmaceutical companies. Not to mention that anyone peddling the line “Big pHARMa just wants to keep you sick man, they’re just treating the symptoms!” should be aware that, in many cases, the result of not using medicines is death.

        They’re usually operating under the privilege of good health and a functional body, unlike those of us who’d be long dead without our medication. They’re nothing but carnival barkers, preying on the easily duped.

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