Activated Charcoal Might Affect Your Birth Control

by Emily Lee

Everybody loves an interesting new food trend. From Cronuts to avocado toast, there's always something exciting popping up in your Instagram feed. Most of the time, the social-media-treat-du-jour is something fun, colorful, and usually named after a unicorn. Recently, though, the internet has been obsessing over something a little bit darker: Drinks and foods made with activated charcoal, which gives the various treats a super dark coloring, have been appearing all over the place. It turns out, though, that there could be a serious downside to this secret ingredient: activated charcoal might make your birth control less effective and that's so not worth the Instagram likes.

Activated charcoal, seemingly overnight, is everywhere. It's in ice cream cones, lattes, and detoxifying lemonade now, as well as face masks and teeth whitening products. While the activated charcoal foods certainly look cool, the potential side effects might make you want to rethink that black ice cream cone. Eater reported that activated charcoal can actually make prescription medicines ineffective, including birth control pills. In other words, if you eat a food containing activated charcoal in close proximity to taking a hormonal contraceptive, it could seriously reduce the pills efficiency.

If you're wondering why activated charcoal has such a strong effect on birth control, the answer is actually pretty simple. Activated charcoal is extremely absorbent, which is why it's used in hospitals to counteract overdoses. “Activated charcoal is given to people who take too much medication because charcoal is so absorbent and can counteract an overdose,” gastroenterologist Patricia Raymond, M.D. explained to Women’s Health. “But if you’re drinking it and you also are on any meds, even birth control pills, the charcoal is likely to absorb the drugs. So you risk having them become ineffective.”

According to Eater, it's recommended to wait at least two hours between consuming activated charcoal and taking your prescription medicine. If you want to remain extra careful, especially if you depend on hormonal contraceptives to prevent unplanned pregnancies, it might be best avoid eating activated charcoal altogether. Consuming activated charcoal while on the pill certainly doesn't mean you will become pregnant, however, it does increase the risk.

Activated charcoal can also affect other prescription drugs, from ibuprofen for headaches or swelling to albuterol that prevents asthma attacks. So while some people praise the ingredient for it's detoxifying power, it might be better for those who rely on prescription medication in their everyday lives to avoid the trendy, black-hued foods.