Activated charcoal is a potent natural treatment used to trap toxins and chemicals in the body, allowing them to be flushed out so the body doesn’t reabsorb them. It’s made from a variety of sources, but when used for natural healing, it’s important to select activated charcoal made from coconut shells or other natural sources.
Making activated charcoal involves heating carbon-rich materials, such as wood, peat, coconut shells, or sawdust, to very high temperatures. The high temperatures change its internal structure, reducing the size of its pores and increasing its surface area. This results in a charcoal that is more porous than regular charcoal. The manufacture of activated charcoal makes it extremely adsorbent, allowing it to bind to molecules, ions, or atoms. This 'activation' process strips the charcoal of previously absorbed molecules and frees up bonding sites again. This process also reduces the size of the pores in the charcoal and makes more holes in each molecule, therefore, increasing its overall surface area. As a result, one teaspoon full of activated charcoal has more surface area than a football field!
The charcoal's porous texture has a negative electrical charge, which causes it to attract positively charged molecules, such as toxins and gases. The black powder stops toxins and chemicals from being absorbed in the stomach by binding to them. The body is unable to absorb charcoal, and so the toxins that bind to the charcoal leave the body in the faeces.
Activated charcoal is not the same substance as that found in charcoal bricks or burnt pieces of food and it shouldn't be confused with charcoal briquettes that are used to light your barbecue. While both can be made from the same base materials, charcoal briquettes have not been "activated" at high temperatures. Moreover, they contain additional substances that are toxic to humans.
A Bit of History…
The first documented use of activated charcoal goes as far back as 3750 B.C., when it was first used by the Egyptians for smelting ores to create bronze. By 1500 B.C. the Egyptians were also using it for intestinal ailments, absorbing unpleasant odours, and for writing on papyrus. In 400 B.C. the Ancient Hindus and Phoenicians discovered the antiseptic properties of activated charcoal and began using it to purify their water. A well known practice for any long sea voyage was to store water in barrels that had been charred.
By 50 A.D., leading the way for the use of activated charcoal in medicine was Hippocrates and Pliny, who began using it to treat many different ailments such as epilepsy, and vertigo. After the suppression of the sciences through the Dark Ages, charcoal re-emerged in the 1700’s and 1800’s within the use of medical treatments - both for its absorbent properties of fluid and gases and for its disinfectant properties. Some popular uses during this time period included poultices made from charcoal and bread crumbs or yeast (favoured by army and navy surgeons) as well as charcoal powders to alleviate foul smelling ulcers, acidity in the stomach, and even nosebleeds. By the 1900’s charcoal was even starting to be sold as lozenges, biscuits, and tooth powders!
Today, activated charcoal is used in practical applications in hospitals and homes, for people and for pets. In medical facilities around the world, charcoal is used in filtering masks for lab technicians, in liver and kidney dialysis machines, and even as markers in breast cancer surgery (among many other applications). Just as charcoal has been used to help remove toxins ingested by humans, veterinarians also use this practice for pets that may have ingested something potentially harmful to them (such as when dogs eat chocolate!). Additionally, activated charcoal has found its place in day to day use, being used in air filters and water purification. Activated carbon is used in methane and hydrogen storage, decaffeination, gold purification, metal extraction, sewage treatment, air filters in gas masks and respirators, filters in compressed air, teeth whitening, and many other applications.
Activated Charcoal Benefits
One of the most popular activated charcoal uses is for the safe and effective treatment of poisoning and drug overdoses. It’s used in emergency trauma centres across the world. Research shows that activated charcoal works better than stomach pumping in some situations. In addition, it’s used to reduce bloating and gas, lower cholesterol and treat bile flow problems safely during pregnancy (intrahepatic cholestasis).
So, how does activated charcoal work? As mentioned before, activated charcoal works by trapping toxins and chemicals in its millions of tiny pores. Typically, however, it’s not used when petroleum, alcohol, lye, acids or other corrosive poisons are ingested.
It doesn’t absorb the toxins, however. Instead it works through the chemical process of Adsorption:
In the body, absorption is the reaction of elements, including nutrients, chemicals and toxins, soaked up and assimilated into the blood stream. Adsorption is the chemical reaction where elements bind to a surface.
In addition to being a safe and effective treatment for poisonings and the removal of toxins from the system, additional activated charcoal uses include deodorizing and disinfecting, and it’s an important step to treat Lyme disease.
Activated charcoal may be able to assist kidney function by filtering out undigested toxins and drugs. It seems to be especially effective at removing toxins derived from urea, the main by-product of protein digestion.
Aging is a natural part of life, but due to the toxic load we are exposed to through food, our homes and workplaces, and our environment, to prevent premature aging we must get rid of them. For this activated charcoal use, take two capsules per day after exposure to non-organic foods, heavy meals or after contact to other toxins. This supports better cognitive function, a reduction in brain fog, healthier kidney and liver function, and a healthier gastrointestinal tract.
In humans, activated charcoal has been shown to help improve kidney function in those suffering from chronic kidney disease. Activated charcoal may help promote kidney function by reducing the number of waste products that the kidneys have to filter. Those with chronic kidney disease suffer from a condition in which the kidneys can no longer properly filter waste products.
Activated charcoal uses include helping prevent cellular damage to kidneys and liver, as well as supporting healthy adrenal glands. Activated charcoal benefits major organs by helping the body flush out the toxins and chemicals that cause the damage.
Activated charcoal powder is thought to be able to disrupt intestinal gas, although researchers still do not understand how. It could work by binding the gas-causing by-products in foods that cause discomfort. Liquids and gases trapped in the intestine can easily pass through the millions of tiny holes in activated charcoal, and this process may neutralise them.
In a 2012 study, a small sample of people with a history of excessive gas in their intestines took 448 milligrams (mg) of activated charcoal three times a day for 2 days before having intestinal ultrasound examinations. They also took another 672 mg on the morning of the exam. The study showed that medical examiners were better able to see certain parts of some of the organs they intended to identify with the ultrasound whereas intestinal gas would have obscured these before the treatment. Also, some 34 percent of the participants who were given the activated charcoal to reduce their gas had improved symptoms.
In a 2017 study, people who took 45 mg of simethicone and 140 mg of activated charcoal three times daily for 10 days, all reported a significant reduction in abdominal pain with no side effects.
Dosing recommendations to alleviate gas and bloating: Take 500 milligrams one hour prior to a typical gas-producing meal, with a full glass of water. Follow with an additional glass of water immediately thereafter to help get the charcoal into your system, where it can bind with gas-producing elements.
People have long used activated charcoal as a natural water filter. Just as it does in the intestines and stomach, activated charcoal can interact with and absorb a range of toxins, drugs, viruses, bacteria, fungus, and chemicals found in water.
In commercial settings, such as waste-management centres, operators often use activated carbon granules for one part of the filtration process. Dozens of water filtration products are also designed for at-home use, using carbon cartridges to purify water of toxins and impurities.
A 2015 study found that water filtration systems that used carbon removed as much as 100 percent of the fluoride in 32 unfiltered water samples after 6 months of installation. However, according to a study published in the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association, activated carbon filters (activated charcoal), removes some fluoride.
Activated charcoal traps impurities in water including solvents, pesticides, industrial waste and other chemicals. This is why activated charcoal uses include being used in water filtration systems throughout the world. However, it doesn’t trap viruses, bacteria and hard-water minerals.
Given its use as a gastrointestinal absorbent in overdoses and poisonings, it follows that some people might propose activated charcoal as a treatment for diarrhoea.
In a 2017 review of recent studies on the use of activated charcoal for diarrhoea, researchers concluded that it might be able to prevent bacteria and drugs that can cause diarrhoea from being absorbed into the body by trapping them on its porous, textured surface.
While noting it as a suitable treatment for diarrhoea, the researchers also pointed out that activated charcoal had few side effects, especially in comparison with common anti-diarrhoeal medications.
Teeth Whitening and Oral Health
Have your teeth become stained from coffee, tea, wine or berries? Activated charcoal helps whiten teeth while promoting good oral health by changing the pH balance in the mouth, helping prevent cavities, bad breath and gum disease.
It works to whiten teeth by adsorbing plaque and microscopic dirt that stain teeth. This activated charcoal use is cost-effective and an all-natural solution for a bright smile.
Although activated charcoal has amazing toxin-absorbing properties, there still is no significant research to support its use for teeth whitening or oral health.
Activated charcoal uses extend beyond internal applications. For external treatments, it’s effective at treating body odour and acne and relieving discomfort from insect bites, rashes from poison ivy or poison oak, and snake bites.
Around the world, many different traditional medicine practitioners use activated charcoal powder made from coconut shells to treat soft tissue conditions, such as skin infections.
Researchers have reported that activated charcoal can help draw micro-particles, such as dirt, dust, chemicals, toxins, and bacteria, to the surface of the skin, to make removing them easier.
Emergency Toxin Removal
Activated charcoal uses also include as an antidote in the event of an accidental, or purposeful, overdose of many pharmaceutical drugs and over-the-counter medications. It’s effective for aspirin, opium, cocaine, morphine, sedative and acetaminophen. It’s important that the proper amount is administered as quickly as possible — definitely within an hour of ingestion. That's because it can bind a wide variety of drugs, reducing their effects.
In humans, activated charcoal has been used as a poison antidote since the early 1800s. For instance, studies show that when a single dose of 50–100 grams of activated charcoal is taken within five minutes of drug ingestion, it may reduce drug absorption in adults by up to 74%. This effect decreases to around 50% when the charcoal is taken 30 minutes after drug ingestion and 20% if it's taken three hours after the drug overdose.
The initial dose of 50–100 grams is sometimes followed by two to six doses of 30–50 grams every two to six hours. However, this multiple dosage protocol is used less often and may only be effective in a limited number of poisoning cases.
It can be used in cases of food poisoning when nausea and diarrhoea are present. Adults take 25 grams at onset of symptoms or when food poisoning is suspected, and children should be given 10 grams. Increase dosage as necessary. Remember, it’s essential that adequate water is consumed when activated charcoal is taken.
Most organic compounds, pesticides, mercury, fertilizer and bleach bind to activated charcoal’s surface, allowing for quicker elimination, while preventing the absorption in the body. However, it's important to note that activated charcoal is not effective in all cases of poisoning. For instance, it appears to have little effect on alcohol, heavy metal, iron, lithium, potassium, acid or alkali poisonings.
In the event of poisoning, call the emergency services immediately. No one should ever try to treat an overdose or poisoning at home. What's more, experts warn that activated charcoal shouldn't be routinely administered in all cases of poisoning. Rather, its use should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Recipes for Health
Cleansing Face Mask
Activated charcoal is an active ingredient in many commercial products for fighting acne. This is because activated charcoal can pull the dirt and toxins from your skin that cause you to break out.
1/2 teaspoon activated charcoal powder
1/2 teaspoon water
1/2 teaspoon aloe vera gel
A few drops of tea tree oil (optional)
Mix this together and apply to your face with a flat brush for a wonderful skin detox. Let the mask dry and wash off gently.
Wet a toothbrush and dip into powdered activated charcoal. Brush teeth as normal, paying special attention to areas showing the most staining. Sip a bit of water, swish through mouth thoroughly and spit. Rinse well, until spit is clear. For best results, brush your teeth with activated charcoal powder 2–3 times per week.
Note:Be careful, for it can (and will) stain grout and fabrics. Protect counters, floors and clothing before using. If you have crowns, caps or porcelain veneers, it’s possible that activated charcoal will stain them. In addition, if your teeth become sensitive, stop using it.
Charcoal may absorb smells and harmful gases, making it ideal as an underarm, shoe, and refrigerator deodorant. Activated charcoal is also reported to be able to absorb excess moisture and control humidity levels at a micro level.
Take about 4 tablespoons of your favourite coconut oil and mix in 2 teaspoons of activated charcoal powder. You will also need a third of a cup of both starch and baking soda.
After a mosquito bite or bee sting, mix one capsule of activated charcoal with ½ tablespoon of coconut oil, and dab on affected area. Reapply every 30 minutes until itching and discomfort are gone. As activated charcoal stains nearly everything it touches, wrap with a bandage.
To treat bites from snakes and spiders, including the brown recluse or black widow, you want to cover a larger area than just a small bandage, as the bacteria and viruses that lead to tissue damage need to be mitigated quickly.
Create a wrap out of fabric that’s big enough to go around the affected area twice. Dab the mixture of coconut oil and activated charcoal on the fabric, and wrap. Secure with bandages. Reapply every two to three hours, rinsing well between applications.
To treat acne, mix one capsule of activated charcoal with two teaspoons of aloe vera gel, and smooth over face. Let dry and rinse off completely. The activated charcoal binds with environmental toxins and dirt that contribute to acne. It’s also good for spot treatments.
There have been no major adverse reactions noted with activated charcoal in any of its various forms, except that it may cause nausea and vomiting in large amounts. In addition, constipation and black stools are two other commonly reported side effects. Whenever you take activated charcoal, it’s imperative to drink 12–16 glasses of water per day. Activated charcoal can cause dehydration if adequate amounts of water aren’t consumed in tandem. In addition, this helps to flush out the toxins quickly and prevents constipation experienced by some individuals.
It’s always good to be aware of any medical conditions such as intestinal bleeding or blockages, holes in the intestines, chronic dehydration, slow digestion, or a recent abdominal surgery, as they may affect how activated charcoal reacts in your body.
When activated charcoal is used as an emergency antidote for poison, there's a risk that it can travel into the lungs, rather than the stomach. This is especially true if the person receiving it vomits or is drowsy or semi-conscious. Because of this risk, activated charcoal should only be given to individuals who are fully conscious.
Additionally, activated charcoal can interfere with the absorption of nutrients, supplements and interfere with prescription medications. Take activated charcoal 90 minutes to two hours prior to meals, supplements and prescription medications.
People taking medications should talk with a doctor before taking oral activated charcoal products, as these may interfere with absorption of their medication.
To Sum Up…
Activated charcoal is a type of charcoal that's processed to make it more porous. This porous texture is what distinguishes it from other types of charcoals, including the type used for barbecuing. Its super absorbent nature helps it trap toxins and chemicals in the gut and as it can’t be absorbed by your body, it carries the toxins bound to its surface out of your body in faeces. The porous surface of activated charcoal has a negative electric charge that causes positive-charged toxins and gas to bond with it. This is why it is still touted as a universal antidote to treat drug overdoses, food poisoning and deadly snake and spider bites. Not only does it combat the life threatening conditions it has many other uses ranging from lowering cholesterol to whitening teeth.
Although its toxin-absorbing properties have a wide range of medicinal and cosmetic uses, more research is needed to scientifically prove its effectiveness.