Activated charcoal is a black powder with a wide range of uses and health benefits since it can adsorb toxins, impurities, and gases.
From water filtration to skincare to digestive health, charcoal has been used for centuries to treat a variety of ailments and is now a common ingredient in many products.
In this article, we’ll explore the uses and benefits of activated charcoal (AC), as well as any potential risks or side effects to keep in mind.
What Is Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal, also known as activated carbon, is a black, odorless powder made from materials such as wood, coconut shells, or peat that have been heated at high temperatures in the presence of an activating agent, such as steam or air.
Some might say that it’s just a fancy way of saying “burnt wood“.
This process creates a highly porous material with a large surface area, which allows it to adsorb (not absorb) a variety of substances including toxins, impurities, and gases.
It has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for various ailments, and it is now commonly used in many products such as water filters, air purifiers, skincare products, and even toothpaste.
Overall, AC works by trapping and removing unwanted substances from a given environment, making it a versatile and effective tool for a variety of uses.
Activated Charcoal Uses And Benefits
Here are some of the most common uses and health benefits of activated charcoal:
1. Poisoning And Drug Overdose Treatment
Activated charcoal works by binding to certain toxins and chemicals in the digestive tract, preventing them from being absorbed into the bloodstream.
When ingested, AC travels through the digestive system and binds the toxins, which are then eliminated from the body through bowel movements.
To treat poisoning or overdose, a doctor may administer multiple doses of activated charcoal orally in the form of a liquid, powder, or tablet.
According to the latest NCBI publication, the first dose can be up to 100 grams, followed by 2-3 smaller doses of up to 25 grams every 3 hours or so.
It’s important to note that activated charcoal should only be used under medical supervision and as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.
In cases of severe poisoning or overdose, AC may be given through a tube inserted through the nose and into the stomach or intestine. This method is usually reserved for patients who are unable to swallow or have impaired consciousness.
2. Digestive Health
When activated charcoal is ingested, it travels through the digestive system and adsorbs excess gas, toxins, and other unwanted substances, which are then eliminated from the body through bowel movements.
Activated charcoal may also have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels. It can bind to cholesterol and bile acids in the intestine and prevent their absorption into the bloodstream, which may lead to a reduction in total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
It’s important to note that while activated charcoal can be helpful in certain cases of digestive discomfort, it should not be used as a long-term solution or as a substitute for proper medical treatment.
Activated charcoal works for skincare by adsorbing impurities, oil, and dirt from the skin, leaving it clean and refreshed.
When it is applied topically, it binds to these impurities and pulls them out of the pores, which can help unclog them and prevent acne breakouts.
It can also help absorb excess oil from the skin, which can be especially helpful for those with oily or combination skin.
Additionally, it may help reduce the appearance of pores and improve overall skin texture.
AC is commonly used in skincare products such as face masks, cleansers, and exfoliants.
4. Water Filtration
Most water filtration systems contain activated charcoal which helps adsorb impurities and contaminants in water.
When water passes through a filter containing this component, the charcoal attracts and binds to impurities such as chlorine, sediment, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other contaminants, leaving the water cleaner and better-tasting.
It can be used in granular form or as a powder and is often combined with other filtration media such as sand or gravel to enhance its effectiveness.
Activated charcoal is also used in aquariums to keep the water clean and clear. By adsorbing impurities and excess nutrients in the water, it can help prevent algae growth and maintain a healthy environment for fish and other aquatic creatures.
Remember that, while AC can be effective at removing certain impurities from water, it may not be effective against all types of contaminants.
5. Air Purification
Activated charcoal can be used to purify the air in your home or car by removing odors, pollutants, chemicals, allergens, and other impurities in the air.
When air passes through a filter containing this substance, the charcoal attracts and binds to these impurities, leaving the air cleaner and fresher.
Activated charcoal is commonly used in air purifiers and HVAC systems to improve indoor air quality. It can help remove odors, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other harmful substances from the air, which can be especially helpful for those with allergies or respiratory issues.
It can also be used in certain household items such as air fresheners and dehumidifiers to help reduce moisture and prevent the growth of mold and mildew.
6. Wound Healing
When activated charcoal is applied to a wound, it binds to bacteria, toxins, and other harmful substances, reducing the risk of infection and inflammation.
Charcoal can be used in various forms for wound healing, such as powder, poultice, or cream. It can be especially effective for treating wounds with foul-smelling discharge or signs of infection.
It may also have a beneficial effect on wound healing by promoting tissue regeneration and reducing oxidative stress.
Some studies have suggested that activated charcoal may help improve blood flow to the wound site, which can also promote healing.
7. Improve Kidney Function
By reducing the amount of toxins in the blood, activated charcoal may help reduce the workload on the kidneys and improve their function.
It also helps improve gut health, which can indirectly benefit kidney function. By reducing inflammation and improving digestive function, activated charcoal may help reduce the burden on the kidneys to eliminate waste products from the body.
However, while some studies have suggested that AC may have a beneficial effect on kidney function, more research is needed to confirm these findings and determine the optimal dose and duration of treatment.
8. Hangover Treatment
Hangovers are typically caused by the accumulation of toxins in the body, such as acetaldehyde, which is produced when the liver metabolizes alcohol.
By adsorbing these toxins in the gut, activated charcoal may help reduce the severity of hangover symptoms such as headache, nausea, and fatigue.
However, it’s important to note that while activated charcoal may provide some relief from hangover symptoms, it does not cure or prevent hangovers.
The best way to prevent a hangover is to drink alcohol in moderation, stay hydrated, and eat a balanced meal before drinking.
Use this hangover treatment with caution, as charcoal may interfere with the absorption of medications or other supplements.
9. Mold Cleaning
Activated charcoal can be an effective mold cleaner due to its ability to adsorb impurities and toxins, including mold spores.
Mold spores are tiny particles that can be inhaled, leading to respiratory problems and other health issues.
To use charcoal as a mold cleaner, you’ll need to:
- Get activated charcoal powder or granules and mix them with water to form a paste.
- Apply the paste to the affected areas and let it sit for several hours or overnight.
- As the paste dries, it will adsorb the mold spores and other impurities.
- Then, simply rinse the area with water to remove the paste and the adsorbed impurities.
AC can also be used as a preventative measure to help prevent mold growth.
Simply place charcoal bags or sachets in areas prone to moisture, such as bathrooms, basements, and closets. The charcoal will adsorb excess moisture and prevent mold growth.
While activated charcoal can be effective in cleaning mold, it should not be used as a substitute for professional mold remediation.
10. Bug Bites
Activated charcoal can be used as a natural remedy to alleviate the symptoms of bug bites (such as spider and mosquito bites), bee stings, and even snake bites.
When applied topically, this substance can help draw out toxins and reduce inflammation, itching, and pain associated with these types of bites.
To use activated charcoal for bug or snake bites, you’ll need to:
- Mix the black powder with water to form a paste.
- Apply the paste to the bite site and wrap it with a bandage.
- Leave the paste on for several hours or overnight to allow it to work its black magic.
As the paste dries, the activated charcoal will adsorb toxins and other impurities from the bite, reducing inflammation and soothing the skin. It can also help alleviate itching and pain associated with the bite.
Is It Safe?
Activated charcoal is generally safe to use, but like any good thing in life, it has its risks and side effects.
If you decide to use it, you may experience some unwanted side effects, such as vomiting, especially if sorbitol is used alongside it.
In rare cases, it has been linked to bowel blockages, particularly if you have gut motility disorders or are taking certain medications like opioids or antimuscarinics.
The American Academy of Clinical Toxicology (AACT) cautions against using activated charcoal if you have bleeding, blockage, or holes in your gut.
If you’re using it as an emergency poison antidote, there’s a risk that it may end up in your lungs instead of your stomach, especially if you’re vomiting or not fully alert.
Lastly, AC may reduce the effectiveness of some medications, so it’s always best to check with your doctor before using it if you’re taking any medications.
In summary, it’s best to use activated charcoal responsibly and with caution, to avoid any unwanted side effects.
In conclusion, activated charcoal is a versatile substance with many potential uses and benefits. From purifying water to improving digestive health, this highly porous material has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for various ailments.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that while activated charcoal is generally considered safe, it may cause side effects in some cases and should be used with caution.
As always, it’s best to consult with a healthcare provider before using AC or any other new treatment.
With that said, the many potential benefits of activated charcoal make it a fascinating substance that will likely continue to be used in a variety of applications for years to come.