THE HEALTH AND FITNESS BLOG
June 04, 2022 – By Dr. Haider Khalid
Activated charcoal is a black powder used for treating drug overdoses in a medical setting. Health care providers also use it as an emergency anti-poison therapy. Furthermore, several other health benefits of activated charcoal are supported by scientific evidence.
Surprisingly, the use of activated charcoal for achieving its health benefits is not a novel phenomenon. On the contrary, humans have been using this substance for treating different diseases since ancient times.
In this article, you will get a comprehensive idea of the proven health benefits, dosages, and side effects of activated charcoal. So sit tight and read this article carefully if you want to understand everything.
What is Activated Charcoal?
When you burn charcoal at a very high temperature in the presence of sufficient air, you will get a highly porous blackish substance known as activated charcoal (1). The pores of activated charcoal are tiny, which helps trap even the smallest particles of the poison.
Activated charcoal is also added to several other substances, such as toothpaste. In toothpaste, it provides whitening effects to the teeth by absorbing the impurities or food particles entrapped on the tooth surface.
Additionally, you should not confuse activated charcoal with charcoal briquettes. Both of these have the same base materials and also contain burnt products. But charcoal briquettes contain toxic substances that may damage your health.
How Activated Charcoal Traps the Toxins?
On subjecting to high temperature, microscopic pores form inside the charcoal, which increases its overall surface area of absorption. Moreover, its pores also contain negative charges that help in its disinfecting effect.
Negatively charged pores attract the positively charged gases and toxins, which get entrapped. Its gas absorbing ability also helps to reduce flatulence. As far as liquid and solids are concerned, toxic substances in these forms get adsorbed in the microscopic pores on the surface of the activated charcoal (2).
The good thing about activated charcoal is that your intestines cannot absorb it (3). Therefore, once you swallow it, it passes through your gut, soaking all the toxins and eliminating the toxins in stools.
What are the Common Uses of Activated Charcoal?
The use of activated charcoal for its disinfecting properties dates back to 400 B.C when ancient Hindus and Phoenicians used it for cleaning water. However, now its use is much more versatile than it was before. Here I will guide you through some of the important uses and benefits of activated charcoal.
Activated charcoal has been used as an anti-poison treatment since the 1800s. It is because of the ability of charcoal to absorb drugs that are ingested in toxic amounts (4).
Suppose you encounter someone who has accidentally ingested several tablets of aspirin. What would you do in that case? You simply make him swallow a recommended dose of activated charcoal, after which the chances of his survival would increase significantly.
But the activated charcoal only provides benefits in case of poisoning when ingested within the first hour of toxin ingestion. According to research, treatment with charcoal hardly has any effect after the first hour (3).
However, according to some recent research, treatment after an hour can also prove beneficial (5). It is because activated charcoal also helps remove the absorbed toxins and the non-absorbed toxins.
Promote Kidney Functioning
Just imagine the function of the kidney! It filters the toxins in the blood and removes them from your body through urine. A good part of those toxins enters your body through your food. What if you caught those toxins before they get absorbed? I hope you understand what I am about to tell you.
By absorbing the toxins from the intestines, activated charcoal helps to reduce the concentration of toxins in the blood. As the load on the kidney is now decreased, it will show better performance, ultimately manifesting as enhanced kidney function (6).
Whether activated charcoal can be a mode of management in chronic kidney failure or not is still a question of debate. More solid research is required to develop a credible statement.
Helps to Reduce Cholesterol Levels
Activated charcoal binds with the cholesterol salts in the intestine and blocks their absorption (7). Thus, it helps to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood.
According to research, people who took 24 grams of activated charcoal for four weeks showed a marked reduction in their bad (LDL) cholesterol levels. But, surprisingly, an 8% increase in the good (HDL) cholesterol (8). Both of these findings are concurrent with better cholesterol status in the blood.
Detoxify Your Skin
You must be wondering what does activated charcoal has to do with skin? Through recent advances, the use of activated charcoal has been extended to detoxify and purify the skin from any toxins and make it fresh and healthy.
When used as a face mask, activated charcoal helps clear the skin pores of dust. It also removes excessive oil from the skin and treats acne. Moreover, when you get stung by a bee or anything, you can apply activated charcoal at the bite site. It will help you in removing toxins and reducing pain and inflammation.
Charcoal Drinks to Detoxify your Body
Have you heard about the charcoal lemonade? If not, you should try it as you would feel reinvigorated after drinking it. Charcoal lemonade helps to remove any toxins in your gut and make your blood free of such wastes.
The most novel and revolutionary use of activated charcoal is its use in cancer chemotherapy. A small ball of activated charcoal containing anti-cancer medications is inserted into the lymphatic vessels draining the cancer tissue. It helps prevent the lymphatic spread of cancerous tissue, thus preventing its metastasis (9).
Are There Any Side Effects of Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal is a safe compound and usually doesn’t present any side effects. However, there are a few which you should know about.
- Gastrointestinal side effects include vomiting if activated charcoal contains sugar as an active ingredient.
- Those with gut motility disorders can present with blockage
- If taken in an unconscious state, charcoal can enter in patient’s lung leading to severe health effects
- Activated charcoal also reduces the absorption of the medications.
These side effects are infrequent, and you probably should not be worried about them.
What Dose Should You Take?
You can buy tablets for cosmetic and household purposes from a local medical store. However, in case of a medical emergency, always call a health care professional. He would immediately administer 50-100 grams of activated charcoal to reverse the poisoning (3). Doses for other purposes are not well-defined. Therefore, you should probably ask your doctor before using activated charcoal as a treatment modality for your health problems.
- Juurlink DN. Activated charcoal for acute overdose: a reappraisal. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology [Internet]. 2015 Nov 9 [cited 2022 Jun 4];81(3):482–7. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26409027/
- Villarreal J, Kahn CA, Dunford JV, Patel E, Clark RF. A retrospective review of the prehospital use of activated charcoal. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine [Internet]. 2015 Jan [cited 2022 Jun 4];33(1):56–9. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25455049/
- Silberman J, Taylor A. Activated Charcoal [Internet]. Nih.gov. StatPearls Publishing; 2019 [cited 2022 Jun 4]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482294/
- Chyka PA. Activated Charcoal in Medical Applications. Annals of Pharmacotherapy. 1995 Nov;29(11):1176–7.
- Hoegberg LCG, Shepherd G, Wood DM, Johnson J, Hoffman RS, Caravati EM, et al. Systematic review on the use of activated charcoal for gastrointestinal decontamination following acute oral overdose. Clinical Toxicology [Internet]. 2021 Aug 23 [cited 2022 Jun 4];59(12):1196–227. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34424785/
- Ali BH, Alza’abi M, Ramkumar A, Al-Lawati I, Waly MI, Beegam S, et al. The effect of activated charcoal on adenine-induced chronic renal failure in rats. Food and Chemical Toxicology [Internet]. 2014 Mar [cited 2022 Jun 4];65:321–8. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24412558/
- Krasopoulos JC, De Bari VA, Needle MA. The adsorption of bile salts on activated carbon. Lipids [Internet]. 1980 May [cited 2022 Jun 5];15(5):365–70. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7392829/
- Kuusisto P, Vapaatalo H, Manninen V, Huttunen JK, Neuvonen PJ. Effect of activated charcoal on hypercholesterolaemia. Lancet (London, England) [Internet]. 1986 Aug 16 [cited 2022 Jun 5];2(8503):366–7. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2874369/
- Takahashi T. Emulsion and activated carbon in cancer chemotherapy. Crit Rev Ther Drug Carrier Syst. 1986;2(3):245-74. PMID: 2424623.