It seems like activated charcoal is the latest craze in the health world. Even though it’s reportedly been used for medicinal purposes since around 1550 BC, many people are just starting to learn about its impressive benefits for both health and beauty.
Before we delve into the many benefits, it’s important to note that activated charcoal isn’t the same as the charcoal you use to barbecue with. Although it is similar, grilling charcoal should never be ingested since it’s loaded with toxins and chemicals.
In general, charcoal is made from wood, coconut shells, or other substances. It becomes “activated charcoal” when high temperatures combine with gas or another similar “activating agent” to expand its surface area. This makes the charcoal’s surface very porous and gives it a negative electric charge. If you remember back to science class, opposites attract! That negative charge attracts positively-charged toxins, chemicals, gas, and poisons.
So, how exactly does activated charcoal work?
Activated charcoal is a powerful detoxifying agent. Whether it’s used topically or internally, the activated charcoal will adsorb nearby toxins, chemicals, and poisons before they can harm the body. Yes, you read that right — adsorb. Adsorption is not the same as absorption. During absorption, a substance will soak up another substance. During adsorption, a substance will simply bind to another substance. So, think of activated charcoal as a magnet for all the bad things in/on your body.
1) Treats Poisoning
Whether it be food poisoning, alcohol poisoning, a drug overdose, spider bite, or venomous snake bite, activated charcoal could be a life saver. In fact, it’s stocked in many emergency trauma centers across the globe because of its powerful effects.
Activated charcoal has been used to treat poisoning for centuries. Back in 1831, chemist Professor Touery drank a lethal dose of strychnine in front of a group of colleagues at the French Academy of Medicine. Touery lived to tell the tale because he ingested the deadly poison along with activated charcoal. While you should never do a test like that at home, his story is quite impressive.
If someone ingests toxins, chemicals, or drugs, activated charcoal can be taken internally in drink form to help flush them out of the body. Once consumed, activated charcoal will stay inside the GI tract until the person passes a bowel movement. At that time, all of the harmful substances will be eliminated from the body.
Typically, if someone is suffering from a form of poisoning, a doctor will be the person to administer activated charcoal. However, it’s always a good idea to have some on hand in case of emergency. When you’re on the phone with either 911 dispatchers, a doctor, or poison control center officials, you should let them know that you have activated charcoal on hand. They may tell you to use it.
In case of an emergency, the direct line to the U.S. poison control center is 1-800-222-1222.
2) Helps Prevent Hangovers
Some studies show that if a person consumes activated charcoal at the same time as alcohol, it can significantly reduce a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and help prevent those painful hangovers we all dread. Activated charcoal is considered safe to consume and can either be taken in pill or liquid form.
It’s important to note that while many people and researchers swear by this hangover hack, not all studies are conclusive. Next time you go celebrate a big event with some drinks, though, it’s worth a try!
3) Alleviates gas and bloating
Have you ever been out to dinner with friends or family and then suddenly been hit with a horrible stomach pain? Sharp stomach pains after a meal are typically a sign of gas bubbles trapped in your intestines. Next time gas strikes, rather than reaching for a pack of Tums, try taking an all-natural activated charcoal supplement.
In one study published by The American Journal of Gastroenterology, researchers fed people in both the United States and India a typically gas-causing meal. They wanted to test activated charcoal’s effects on people who are used to different diets. In comparison to a placebo, activated charcoal significantly reduced bloating and abdominal cramps in both groups.
If you are preparing to eat a typical gas-causing meal, doctors recommend taking 500 milligrams of activated charcoal 90 minutes before. Make sure to take the activated charcoal with a full glass of water. It’s recommended to drink an additional glass of water to help the charcoal reach your intestines quickly. By the time any gas-producing elements hit your intestines, the activated charcoal will bind to them and eventually flush them out of the body.
4) Cleanse the Digestive Tract
Unfortunately, a lot of the foods and drinks we consume are loaded with toxins and chemicals that have a negative effect on our digestive health and overall well-being. One of the best things you can do for health is to cleanse your digestive tract from time-to-time. I would like to clarify that by the word “cleanse” I’m not recommending that you avoid all food for a week and just live on juices. In fact, juice cleanses can do more harm than good. Instead, I recommend cleansing with organic fruits, vegetables, and easily-digested protein-packed foods. Additionally, while on your next colon cleanse, try taking 10 grams of activated charcoal about 90 minutes before each meal. Again, make sure to drink a lot of water when taking activated charcoal or you may experience constipation.
5) Lowers Bad Cholesterol
The buildup of LDL (bad) cholesterol can cause arteries to narrow, making it harder for blood to flow through them. This could lead to blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes. This is why, if you have high-blood pressure, it’s important to lower it. One powerful cholesterol-fighter is activated charcoal.
In one study, researchers gave patients with high cholesterol activated charcoal at a dose of 8 grams three times a day for four weeks. After the month was over, patients experienced a total cholesterol decrease by 25 percent, a 41 percent decrease in LDL (bad) cholesterol, and an 8 percent increase HDL (good) cholesterol.
6) Treats Cholestasis During Pregnancy
Cholestasis is when the bile excretion from the liver isn’t functioning properly. In this case, the liver produces less bile. This is a problem because the body needs bile to help the body process fat. A few signs of Cholestasis are:
- Burning and itching sensations in the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
- Light-colored feces
- Dark-colored urine
Studies have found ingesting activated charcoal can help treat Cholestasis.
While activated charcoal has not been reported to cause birth defects or other problems in soon-to-be-moms, make sure to consult with your doctor first. They can also help you with proper dosing.
7) Improve Oral Health
Picture this scenario: Your alarm clock goes off early in the a.m., you crawl out of bed, stumble over to the kitchen, and then begin brewing yourself a steaming hot cup of coffee or tea. Does that sound like your daily routine? While both coffee and tea provide a number of amazing health benefits, they are horrible for your teeth. Regular coffee and tea consumption can leave your teeth with undesirable stains. To help fight stains and plaque, try brushing with activated charcoal.
Activated charcoal will adsorb plaque and other substances that create stains. It will also improve the pH balance in your mouth. Overall, these benefits can help whiten teeth, prevent cavities, prevent gum disease, and fight bad breath.
What To Do: First, wet your toothbrush and then dip into powdered activated charcoal. Then, brush teeth as normal. Since activated charcoal is jet black, this will look a bit strange. Don’t get too freaked out, though! After you are done brushing, sip some water (don’t swallow), swish it around your mouth, and then spit out. Repeat the rinsing process until all of the black in your mouth is gone.
Warning: If you have veneers or caps, consult with your dentist before using activated charcoal. It’s possible the activated charcoal could leave stains.
8) Improves Skin
Along with taking activated charcoal internally, there are also benefits to using it topically.
Spider Bites and Bee Stings: Cover the bite with moistened activated charcoal (you can even mix it with coconut oil) and then cover the area with a cloth wrap. Reapply every few hours.
Acne, Blackheads, and Other Skin Impurities: Watch this short video for a wonderful face mask recipe and how to use activated charcoal to improve skin impurities:
9) Filters Water
While drinking water and hydrating your body is crucial for life, if you’re drinking tap water then you should definitely consider switching to bottled water or investing in a good filter.
Tap water is known to kill good gut bacteria because it contains harmful fluoride, toxins, and chemicals. In one study, researchers looking at how activated charcoal affected fluoride-filled tap water. The results? A major reduction in fluoride.
If you plan to continue drinking tap water then always use a filter. When shopping for water filters, look for the words “activated charcoal” or “activated carbon.”
Along with acting as a magnet and drawing out harmful toxins, activated charcoal can also reduce nutrient absorption. For this reason, don’t take activated charcoal within 90 minutes of eating. If you can wait two hours before eating then that’s even better! Also, don’t take activated charcoal at the same time as your daily supplements.
There are certain prescription medications that could be majorly affected by activated charcoal. While you should always talk to your doctor before beginning a new supplement, it’s important that you don’t use activated charcoal while on the following medications unless approved by your physician:
- Morphine Sulfate Liposome
- Mycophenolate Mofetil
- Mycophenolic Acid
This list was taken from the Mayo Clinic.
Choosing The Right Activated Charcoal
Activated charcoal comes in several different forms — powder, liquid, and capsule. They each have their benefits and choosing between the three really depends on what you are using it for. Whichever form you choose, though, make sure to check out the label carefully. As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, charcoal derives from several different sources. If you plan on taking activated charcoal internally, make sure to choose a product that originates from coconut shells, wood, or another natural source.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you should also watch out for activated charcoal products that contain the sweetener sorbitol because they could cause severe diarrhea and vomiting.