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Newest health craze: activated charcoal

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Samantha Gregory downs a bit of activated charcoal with water when she's feeling a little off.

"The impact that charcoal has had on my health has been better digestive system, so I don't have the gassiness after I eat," she said.

Gregory isn't crazy about the taste and recently tried a juice with it.

"It was lemon lime flavor, has agave in it, so that was pretty good," she said.

The juices with activated charcoal are a super seller, and the creator of Juice Generation, Eric Helms, believes they come with all kinds of benefits.

"We put small amounts in different flavors of juice.  Helps to detoxify for people looking to be a little healthier, get a boost, activated charcoal is a great way to achieve that," said Helms.

Traditionally, the medical community uses activated charcoal to prevent damage from an accidental overdose because it keeps the body from absorbing the drugs.   But now, you can buy it in supplements over the counter, or in other products popping up on shelves and online - from chocolate squares to biscuits for your dog. 

It's also popping up in beauty supplies from shampoo to facial soap, and others are using it to whiten teeth. Helms says the users vary.

"From active people exercising, people who want to lose a few pounds, actually a lot of people who have a hangover come in and want to have a juice with activated charcoal to sort of get their groove back after drinking too much," he said.

Registered dietitian and nutrionist Angela Lemond is a spokesperson with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She says it may help with digestion, but she has yet to see evidence that activated charcoal can deliver on claims to help with weight loss, extra energy or hangovers.

"Activated charcoal is not part of a normal diet.  It is not something that is supposed to be consumed on a daily basis and I don't recommend it as a supplement," said Lemond.

She points out the activated charcoal can't discriminate between the good and the bad you ingest.

"The problem is, is that activated charcoal can bind a lot of things you don't want to have bound, like vitamins and minerals.  It can keep your body from absorbing those important nutrients.  If somebody is on a medication that is helping stabilize their health, it can keep those things from being absorbed, so you need to be careful about it," warned Lemond.

But Helms says his customers swear by the results. 

"It is by far our most successful launch.  We've been in business about 15 years and have never had this kind of demand for a product," he said.

If you are thinking about trying activated charcoal, be sure to speak with your physician first, especially if you are taking prescription medication.

Examples of products with activated charcoal: