Charcoal when heated in presence of a gas to become more porous becomes activated charcoal. Also, called activated carbon, it can trap chemicals because of its porous nature. It is used for various purposes including extraction of metal, purification of air and water, gold purification, medicinal purposes, decaffeination, treatment of sewage, air filters in respirators and gas masks etc. It is popularly used in hospital emergencies especially, to handle drug overdose and poisoning as it binds the toxins on its surface and then eliminates them. Capsules or tablets of activated charcoals are also available as over the counter medicine in many countries for the treatment of various gastric issues.
- How Does Activated Charcoal Work?
- Activated Charcoal Uses & Benefits
- How Do You Use Activated Charcoal To Detox?
- Is Activated Charcoal Good For You To Drink?
- Why Is Activated Carbon A Good Filter?
- What Is Activated Charcoal Made Out Of?
- How Much Activated Charcoal Should You Take?
- Activated Charcoal Side Effects
- Is Charcoal Cancer Causing?
- Is A Charcoal Grill Bad For You?
How Does Activated Charcoal Work?
Activated charcoal has very high levels of microporosity and a larger surface area. These pores adsorb chemicals and toxins i.e. they get bound to the surface of the activated charcoal and then are expelled easily. Activated charcoal is also negatively charged and therefore it easily attracts positively charged toxins toward itself. In cases of some drug or toxin poisoning activated charcoal works by hampering their enteroenteric and enterohepatic circulation. (1)
Activated Charcoal Uses & Benefits
The following are the uses and benefits of Activated Charcoal:
- Activated Charcoal Uses & Benefits
- Good For Gastrointestinal Health
- Beneficial For Acne And Insect Bites
- Anti-Aging Benefits
- Whitens Teeth
- Important For First Aid
- Managing Alcohol Poisoning And Hangovers
- Poison Antidote
- Treats Burns
- Removes Mold
- Filtration Of Water
- Good For Cholesterol Management
- Treats Cholestasis In Pregnant Women
- Beneficial In Mitigating Symptoms Of Lyme Disease
- Good For People Suffering From Fish Odor Syndrome
- Might Improve Functioning Of Kidney
- Supplements Treatment Of Candidiasis
- Reduces Wound Odor
- Natural Treatment Of Cellulitis
1. Good For Gastrointestinal Health:
Activated charcoal tablets or capsules are often used to treat flatulence, loose motions and indigestion. In some cancer patients taking the medicine irinotecan, activated charcoal has been found to be beneficial in preventing diarrhea. (1) A study done on two groups in the U.S. and India found out that activated charcoal was useful in reducing intestinal gas and its associated symptoms like cramps in abdomen and bloating. Though the dietary habits and intestinal flora levels of the two groups varied completely, activated charcoal was able to bring significant relief from gas to both. (2) To ease yourself from gas and bloating you need to take it in the dose of 500 milligrams with a glass full of water just an hour before your meal. Take another glass of water. This will ensure that the activated charcoal enters your gut and timely binds with the elements that produce gas. (3)
2. Beneficial For Acne And Insect Bites:
Activated charcoal when applied topically helps take care of acne, insect bites, snake bite and also bad odor emanating from our body. It works on poison ivy rashes as well. To ease discomfort and itching stemming from insect bite you need to mix half tablespoon of coconut oil with one capsule of activated charcoal and apply on the insect bitten area. Wrap it with a bandage to avoid staining of clothes. In case of snake or spider bite, the bitten area is larger so you can take the mix in a clean fabric and wrap it around the area. After two or three hours reapply the mix. For treatment of acne a capsule of activated charcoal needs to be dissolved in two teaspoons of aloe vera gel and applied on your face. Once dry, wash it off. By adsorbing dirt and toxins, it heals acne. (3)
3. Anti-Aging Benefits:
Pre mature aging often happens to us due to over exposure to toxins and chemicals in our environment. Activated charcoal is beneficial against damage caused by these toxins to our organs like kidneys, liver and adrenal glands. It works by adsorbing and flushing out the toxins from our body. Post exposure to toxins or consumption of heavy meals or food items that are not from organic sources, you can consume activated charcoal capsules. Two capsules daily can be taken. This is said to lower brain fog, enhance cognition, and improve renal, hepatic and gastrointestinal health. (3)
4. Whitens Teeth:
Activated charcoal is said to whiten teeth by removing plaque and other surface stains. It adsorbs the stains caused by tea, coffee and other coloured drinks. You need to take some powdered activated charcoal and dip a wet toothbrush in it. Now brush your teeth and then wash your mouth well with water. You can do it 2 to 3 times a week. In case you feel teeth sensitivity you can discontinue using it. Moreover, charcoal powder easily stains clothes and sinks. So be careful about that. Capped, porcelain veneered and crowned teeth may also get stained by activated charcoal. (3)
5. Important For First Aid:
Activated charcoal is recommended as an essential item in clinic, hospital and home first aid kit. The dose to be given depends on the amount and type of poison or toxin ingested by a person. It is better to consult a medical professional before using it as a first aid. (3)
6. Managing Alcohol Poisoning And Hangovers:
Artificial sweeteners and other chemicals are often mixed with alcohol for consumption. Activated charcoal though cannot adsorb alcohol but by drawing out the other chemical toxins often consumed with alcohol helps to reduce the effect of alcohol poisoning. If given at the same time of alcohol consumption, activated charcoal has been found to be effective in reducing the levels of alcohol in our blood. (3)
7. Poison Antidote:
Activated charcoal serves as a very effective treatment for decontamination of gastrointestinal tract especially in case of drug overdose, poisoning and emergency removal of toxins. Activated charcoal works well for elimination of pesticides, fertilizers, mercury, morphine, opium, cocaine etc. However, it does not work if you have ingested lye, petroleum, acids etc. In certain poisoning cases, it has worked better than pumping of stomach. (3) It prevents harmful drugs and poison that has been swallowed from getting absorbed from the intestine to our blood. It works by its property of adsorption. Its efficacy is maximum when given sooner after poisoning or drug overdose. (4)
8. Treats Burns:
Activated charcoal has been used for long to treat burns. You need to mix it with a gelling agent and boiling water and apply it on the burnt area. It reduces burnt related pain, decrease infection risks and promotes healing by adsorbing infectious microbes. (5)
9. Removes Mold:
Exposure to mold results in variety of health issues including cough, wheezing, swollen eyes, depression, rashes, liver and kidney problems etc. Molds easily grow and flourish in places that are damp and don’t have good ventilation. Activated charcoal is effective in removing molds from our houses. (5)
10. Filtration Of Water:
Clean and safe drinking water is the basis of healthy living. But, usually tap water is contaminated with impurities, toxins and chemicals like fluoride. Activated charcoal by virtue of its adsorption property cleanses and filters the water. Pesticides, toxins, solvents and other impurities present in drinking water is adsorbed by activated charcoal thereby purifying it. (5)
11. Good For Cholesterol Management:
In a study seven people suffering from hypercholesterolaemia were given activated charcoal for a month. The dose was fixed at 8 grams thrice a day. There was decrease in bad cholesterol i.e. LDL-cholesterol and plasma total cholesterol by 25%. At the same the good cholesterol or HDL cholesterol level increased by 8%. No substantial side effects were seen in them. (6)
12. Treats Cholestasis In Pregnant Women:
In cholestasis, normal flow of bile from liver to duodenum is hampered. In pregnancy, this happens because of increase in levels of hormones. This may cause severe itching, jaundice, dark colored urine and other unwanted problems. In a study, it was seen that activated charcoal given three times a day in a dose of 50 grams for 8 days, helped reduce serum bile acid levels in pregnant women. So, it was concluded that oral administration of activated charcoal to pregnant women can serve as an alternative therapy for intrahepatic cholestasis in them. (7)
13. Beneficial In Mitigating Symptoms Of Lyme Disease:
Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia type bacteria that is transmitted to human beings through bite of infected ticks. Symptoms include fatigue, fever, rashes, swelling or stiffness in joints etc. Lyme disease die off symptoms include brain fog, skin sores, digestive issues, respiratory problems, easy bruising etc. Taking activated charcoal is said to ease the die off symptoms of Lyme disease. It adsorbs the released toxins from the gut. You should ideally take it before bed time as symptoms are worst during night. Dosage should be carefully worked out as constipation is associated with activated charcoal. (8)
14. Good For People Suffering From Fish Odor Syndrome:
Trimethylaminuria (TMAU) or fish odor syndrome is a disorder wherein fish like smelling trimethylamine gets accumulated in the body. In this genetic disorder, people don’t have the enzyme needed to convert the compound to a non smelling compound before excretion. So, it makes your urine, sweat and breath smelly. A fishy odor emanates from all these. In a study, it was seen that when TMAU patients were given 1.5 grams of activated charcoal daily for 10 days there was substantial improvement in their condition. The urinary levels of TMA was found to be equivalent to that of normal healthy people. (9)
15. Might Improve Functioning Of Kidney:
By adsorbing waste and toxins, activated charcoal helps our kidney. It reduces the bulk of waste the kidneys may have to remove. This is especially beneficial for people suffering from chronic kidney disease wherein the normal waste filtering capacity of kidneys is hampered. Activated charcoal binds to urea and other waste products that reach the gut through diffusion and then gets excreted with feces. In a study done on end stage renal disease patients it was seen that activated charcoal supplements were useful in reducing levels of urea and other toxins in their blood.
16. Supplements Treatment Of Candidiasis:
By virtue of its adsorption capacity activated charcoal can serve as a good supplement to any treatment for Candida albicans yeast infections. The toxins produced by the yeast enter the blood stream to cause allergy, urinary tract infections, fatigue and other problems. During the normal course of treatment, the Candida symptoms heighten and become severe for a short while because of yeast cell die off. Due to the severity of the die off often patients want to abandon the treatment. In such situations activated charcoal is especially beneficial as it adsorbs the toxins. 20 to 35 grams of activated charcoal is advised daily till the symptoms persists. But it should be taken only after two hours of Candida medications. (10)
17. Reduces Wound Odor:
A wound has dead or devitalized tissues wherein both aerobic and anaerobic grow. These anaerobic bacteria primarily emit bad smell. Some aerobic bacteria also cause wound odor. The odor emanating from a wound can become quite an unpleasant experience for the patients, their caregivers and family members. It can even make the sufferer feel depressed and embarrassed and result in loss of appetite, nausea etc. Activated charcoal can help in such cases when added to wound dressings. It works by adsorbing bacterial and wound toxins and malodor emanating substances from the wound. Activated charcoal is often combined with antimicrobial agent like silver to manage wound odor. (11)
18. Natural Treatment Of Cellulitis:
A bacterial infection caused by Streptococcus and Staphylococcus and affecting the subcutaneous and dermis layer of the skin is cellulitis. Pain, inflammation, tenderness at the affected area is seen commonly and if not treated promptly can spread and cause various complications. Common sites of the infection include cuts, surgical openings and spots of insect bites. Activated charcoal may help in such cases by adsorbing toxins from the site of the infection. You can make a paste by mixing one tablespoon each of powdered activated charcoal and ground flaxseed. Place it on a clean paper towel and cover with another and then place it on the infected site. You need to leave it as is for few hours after securing it well. When done daily results can be seen in few days. (12)
How Do You Use Activated Charcoal To Detox?
Our body is often overloaded with toxins from various sources like air, water, food, etc. Exposure to toxins over a long period of time results in damage to our cells and tissues and subsequent diseases, low immunity and faster ageing. Timely detoxification is required to prevent these damages caused by various toxins. Activated charcoal is very useful in doing so. To get the detoxification benefits of activated charcoal you need to take 20 to 35 grams of it daily for two consecutive days. It can be divided into two or three doses. Alternatively, 20 grams of activated charcoal can be taken daily for few months. It can be resumed after discontinuing for one month. Ample water should be consumed along with. (13)
Is Activated Charcoal Good For You To Drink?
Activated charcoal has many health benefits. So, it is good for you to drink but the timing of consuming it has to be appropriate. Preferably, it should be taken at the beginning of the day and you should not eat anything after it for several hours. You can also drink it before bedtime, provided there is a gap of several hours between your dinner and your activated charcoal. Its adsorption properties help to remove various toxins, unwanted gas etc. from the body, but at the same time it also binds to medicines and nutrients in our food. So, proper timing of drinking is important. (14)
Why Is Activated Carbon A Good Filter?
Activated carbon has porous structure and its surface area is quite large. This works as a good filter as it allows larger number of contaminants to get trapped in its pores. Four fifty four grams of activated charcoal has around 100 acres of surface area. Activated carbon serves as a good filter by its property of chemical adsorption. It is popularly used in filtering of water and air, removal of hydrogen sulphide and siloxanes from biogas etc. It is more effective in filtering out volatile organic compounds, sediment, chlorine, odor and taste than inorganic compounds that are dissolved in water. Slower the water flows through activated charcoal filter better is the filtration due to longer exposure of contaminants to the charcoal. (15)
What Is Activated Charcoal Made Out Of?
Activated charcoal is made out of carbonaceous materials like, coconut husk, wood, coal, coir, petroleum pitch, lignite, willow peat and bamboo. Either physical activation or chemical activation of the source material is done to make activated charcoal. (16)
How Much Activated Charcoal Should You Take?
The amount of activated charcoal one needs to take depends on various factors including the medical issue, the person’s age, number of doses to be taken, time gap between two doses and for how long you need to take it. The recommended dosages are: (17)
For Treating Poisoning By Oral Administration Of Charcoal Powder Or Oral Suspension:
- In case of single dose, you need to give 25 to 100 grams of powdered charcoal mixed with water to teenagers and adults. For children in the age group of one to twelve years 25 to 50 grams need to be given or 0.5 to 1 gram per kilogram of body weight can be given. Children under one year of age need 10 to 25 grams of activated charcoal mixed in water. It could also be given in the dose of 0.5 to 1 gram per kilogram of their body weight.
- When more than one dose is given then it becomes 50 to 100 grams at first dose for adults and teenagers. This is followed by 12.5 grams hourly, 25 grams in two hours or 50 grams in four hours’ duration. For children below 13 years of age needing multiple doses, it begins with 10 to 25 grams and then adjusted to one to grams per kg of body weight. The next doses are given every two to four hours.
In case of administration of oral suspension of activated charcoal and sorbitol for treating poisoning the following dosage is recommended:
- For teenagers and adults 50 to 100 grams need to be given at one go. 25 to 50 grams is recommended for 1 to 12 years of age. Children below one year should not be given this.
Activated Charcoal Side Effects
The following are the side effects of activated charcoal (18):
1. Metabolic Side Effects:
When multiple doses of activated charcoal are administered, there are chances of developing hypernatremia i.e. excessive sodium in blood and hypermagnesemia i.e. excessive magnesium in blood. Both these conditions are life threatening. Dehydration, shock and electrolyte imbalance are some other metabolic side effects of charcoal specially when given with sorbitol.
2. Respiratory Problems:
If the activated charcoal gets administered to the lungs directly then it may result in Adult respiratory distress syndrome. Aspiration of activated charcoal following emesis may lead to pleural empyema and bronchiolitis obliterans.
3. Gastrointestinal Side Effects:
Constipation, nausea, vomiting, black colored stools, intestinal obstruction, gastrointestinal tract perforation etc. have been seen in people following activated charcoal administration. When 30 to 60 grams of activated charcoal was administered for five days through nasogastric tube after every 4 to 6 hours, obstruction in the small intestine and charcoal bezoar was seen in a case. In a woman undergoing poison decontamination using activated charcoal and orogastric lavage, charcoal peritoneum was seen. It led to various problems like formation of abscess, constant inflammation of the peritoneum, adhesions etc. Drainage of abscess, oophorectomy and resection of small intestine had to be done. In addition to all these activated charcoal leaves an unpleasant chalky taste in our mouth.
4. Harmful For Eyes:
Abrasion of cornea can take place if powdered charcoal gets into your eyes.
5. Interferes With Absorption Of Medicines:
As activated charcoal adsorbs chemicals from our gut it tends to affect the effectiveness of our medications. So, to cut down on this interference activated charcoal should not be taken within an hour of taking our oral pills.
6. Interacts With Syrup Of ipecac:
To induce vomiting for emergency treatment of poisoning, syrup of ipecac is used. But activated charcoal tends to bind with the syrup and reduce its effectivity.
Activated charcoal also should not be used in case you have decreased peristalsis. (19)
Is Charcoal Cancer Causing?
As activated charcoal is used popularly in hospitals by doctors to decontaminate the gut following poisoning, toxin or drug overdose, it is not said to cause cancer. On the other hand, when charcoal is used in a barbeque then it may become carcinogenic. (20)
Is A Charcoal Grill Bad For You?
Charcoal grilling exposes the food item to very high temperatures. Human carcinogens like heterocyclic amines tend to form in meat during grilling. These tend to be linked to cancer of various organs including colon, breast, stomach, lung, prostate, liver and skin. However, this ill effect of charcoal grilling can be reduced by using right kind of marinades less in sugar and higher in turmeric and garlic, buying organic meat for grilling, not wrapping food to be grilled in aluminum foil, not using nonstick accessories during the process and precooking to reduce drippings. (20)