Last Updated on September 13, 2020
Called the ultimate detoxifier, activated charcoal has continued to increase in popularity the past few years. It is used in dehumidifiers and cleaning products. It is used as an ingredient in toothpastes and shampoos and infused in skin care products.
It is added to drinks, in cocktails, and even in ice cream. You’d see it used in practically everything nowadays. But why has it become so popular? Is it really effective? Is it safe to use and ingest?
Well, don’t just jump on the bandwagon. Differentiate between fad and facts by learning more about what activated charcoal is and how it actually works.
What Is Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal is an odorless black powder containing carbon-based compounds activated at high temperatures. It is made from compounds such as peat, sawdust, coconut shells, coal, and petroleum.
What makes it different from the ordinary charcoal we use for cooking and heating is that the compounds have been heated with gas at very high temperatures. It is “activated” to chemically bind certain substances to its porous surface. When activated, one molecule of charcoal can adsorb thousands of times its own weight.
When ingested, activated charcoal traps toxins in the gut and prevents them from being absorbed into the body. The activated charcoal along with the trapped toxins are eliminated through bowel movement.
Uses of Activated Charcoal
The use of activated charcoal dates centuries ago. It has long been used in the treatment of poisoning and in water filtration systems. It has also been used in gas masks to protect wearers from being poisoned by chemical exposure. Today, it is widely used in various industries and even in homes.
Here are among the common uses of activated charcoal today:
- whitens teeth and promotes good oral health
- alleviates gas and bloating
- treats dandruff and keeps scalp healthy
- controls body odor and reduces itching
- treats and prevents acne and blackheads
- cleanses the digestive tract and aids in good digestion
- prevents premature ageing
- helps manage cholesterol and maintain proper weight
- absorbs odors in refrigerators and closets
- absorbs toxins in the air
- prevents mold growth in homes
These are just a few of the many uses of activated charcoal. Its detoxification properties are so widely believed that it’s used almost everywhere and in everything. It’s added to drinks, food, ice cream, and in a slew of skin-care products. However, the effectiveness of charcoal in these uses is yet to be proven by research.
Potential Health Benefits of Activated Charcoal
1. Reduces Absorption of Ingested Poison and Drug Overdose
Poison treatment is the most popular use of activated charcoal. It was first reportedly used for the treatment of poisoning in 1811. It’s also still commonly used in emergency rooms today.
A study by the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology shows the viability of a single dose of activated charcoal as a therapeutic option for patients with acute overdose.
It is most effective when administered immediately after ingestion of the poison but has reduced efficacy if given several hours after. It can only adsorb toxins in the gut, not those that have already been absorbed into the bloodstream.
While it does have an excellent ability to trap poison and other drugs in the gut, recent studies show that it isn’t effective in all cases of poisoning and overdose. It is ineffective on alcohols and alkalis including metals such as iron and lithium. It also has no effect on caustic substances that damage internal tissues, including paint thinner, household cleaners, and gasoline.
Having activated charcoal at home can save lives. But before using this as an emergency remedy for poison and drug overdose, call 911 or the local poison control to seek advice on the correct administration and dosage.
2. Aids Faster Wound Healing
Activated charcoal is traditionally used as a poultice for minor wounds. Combined with just a bit of water to create a paste, it is spread on top of the wound then washed off after a few minutes. It is believed to draw out infections, reduce swelling, and calm inflammation.
Today, there are activated charcoal dressings or carbon cloths available in the market. These carbon cloths control antimicrobial activity and eliminate offensive odors coming from infected wounds.
A few case studies on the use of activated carbon cloth dressing on chronic venous leg ulcers showed good patient outcomes. The results showed that wounds treated with carbon cloths healed better than those treated with regular antimicrobial dressings.
3. Helps Manage Diarrhea
A study of the role of charcoal in palliative diarrhea management indicates that its use is potentially effective. It alleviates discomfort associated with the symptoms of diarrhea and has even fewer side effects than most other anti-diarrheal medications.
The same properties that make it effective for managing diarrhea also makes it beneficial in reducing gas and bloating. Intestinal gases can easily pass through the tiny holes in activated charcoals and are neutralized in the process.
4. Relieves Itchiness and Reduces Inflammation
Experts suggest that activated charcoal may adsorb a compound that causes itching. When an insect bites, it injects chemicals into your skin, causing itching and inflammation. Applying activated charcoal on the insect bite helps absorb allergenic proteins. This relieves the itch and reduces the inflammation.
One study also concludes that activated charcoal is a safe and effective therapy for uremic pruritus. Although the mechanism of action was unknown, chronic itching was relieved with the administration of daily oral activated charcoal in patients on hemodialysis.
Risks and Cautions
Toxins aren’t the only substances adsorbed by activated charcoal. It also removes essential nutrients from the digestive tract and may cause nutrient deficiency or malnutrition. This is why it is recommended to take activated charcoal 3 to 4 hours after eating meals.
Activated charcoal can also reduce the absorption of medications. It can interfere with the effectivity of medicines as it can also trap those substances. It is best to consult your physician before using it as a health supplement.
Other side effects of consuming activated charcoal are nausea, constipation, and vomiting. Remember, activated charcoal is indigestible. It can accumulate in your small intestines and cause more digestive problems.
Should You Try Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal does have many potential health benefits, but there is not enough scientific data from research to support all the health claims. While it has been an effective detoxifier in some cases, it is still best to consult with a health provider before using it. Avoid trying it without your doctor’s advice, especially when you have other health concerns.
If you do want to try and see the benefits for yourself, buy activated charcoal only from reputable shops. It’s quite easy to buy them in pill form and powder form online, but products of substandard quality proliferate the web.
Don’t put your health at risk by getting the cheapest one available. Just like other health supplements, buy activated charcoal only from trusted shops.