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Can Kids Eat Activated Charcoal?

I live in New York City, and the activated charcoal rage is strong. It's in everything from ice cream to pizza crust, and pops up all the time in health and beauty products. People are popping charcoal left and right for the alleged benefits, but what about children? Can kids take activated charcoal?

Everywhere you turn, you're hearing about the magic of charcoal. "It's a detox, it cleanses your system," and other sales pitches. The truth is that it has been used for decades to treat poisonings and overdoses, but that doesn't automatically make it a cure-all at home.

It's easy to get trapped in the thinking that because children have all the same parts that adults have, that their bodies work to process substances in the same way as an adult body does, and to a point, that's correct, according to The British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. However, children really aren't tiny adults, and there are many instances wherein the pharmacodynamics, that is, the way the drug acts in the body, varies widely between the pediatric and adult populations.

According to the journal, there are a few essential differences between a child's body and an adult's body, which make pharmaceutical use and dosing a particularly fraught and worrisome task. For one, the blood-brain barrier responds differently in children than it does in adults, and all drugs, including, and maybe especially, homeopathic remedies like the popular activated charcoal, currently need to be studied rigorously to note any possible detrimental side effects. Children also have an immature renal system and more water in their bodies than adults. Their kidneys simply need more water, so there is an increased risk of electrolyte imbalance and dehydration in children than adults.

Does this mean anything for charcoal? Can kids take activated charcoal? I reached out to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to get their official stance on the safety and efficacy of the use of activated charcoal with children. It is brief, and to the point. The AAP tells Romper, "Current research does not support the routine administration of activated charcoal in the home as efficacy and safety have not been demonstrated."

In short: don't give it to your kids. The risks are well-documented. As I noted before, children have more water in their bodies than adults, and charcoal has been linked to severe dehydration, according to the Journal of Pediatrics. It is a very specific form of severe dehydration called pediatric hypernatremia, which, according to Medscape, is an electrolyte imbalance in the body that shifts the ratio of water and sodium, depriving the body of much needed fluids. When it comes to children, no dose of a drug is considered safe unless administered by a physician. That includes all those fun black foods popping up faster than you think them up.

This fad may have to pass over your household, but if your doctor prescribes it for your child for a therapeutic reason, that's an entirely different matter.