Activated charcoal has been a popular remedy for general detoxification, digestion issues, gas, bloating, heart health, and anti-aging. For over 10,000 years, healers from Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic Medicine, and Western Medicine have used activated charcoal to soak up poisons and improve intestinal health (1). Activated charcoal has proven effective in reducing the bad cholesterol from our body, and also has a widespread cosmetic application. It is now an essential ingredient in face masks and scrubs and is also used for teeth whitening.

Let us see how this substance gains its properties, its manufacture process, how it can be used for detoxification and side effects.

What is activated charcoal?

It is a highly adsorbent material with millions of tiny pores that capture, bind, and remove poisons, heavy metals, chemicals, and intestinal gases.

Irrespective of their weight, a small particle of activated charcoal can remove pollutants which have thousands of times more weight than the charcoal itself.

The porous surface of charcoal possesses a negative electric charge which attracts the positively charged unwanted toxins. Different carbon sources like coal, coconuts, wood are used to produce activated charcoal.

Hence the material is also known as activated carbon. After burning wood, coal at high temperature all the harsh compounds disappear. On further treatment, the surface area expands of tiny pores that are perfect for adsorption (2).

Activated charcoal is a very fine granulated powder which is processed in the absence of oxygen. It is tasteless and has no fragrance. It is available in the market in the form of powder, capsules, pills or tablets.

How is activated charcoal made?

The production process of activated charcoal exists in two forms. A source of carbon like coal, peat, or any organic carbonaceous material is carbonized. A heating method known as pyrolysis extracts the pure carbon from the source.

Once this process is complete, it is treated with oxygen, either by exposure to CO2 or steam or by an acid-based chemical treatment. The process is the chemical activation process.

Physical activation

The carbon source is heated at extremely high temperatures in the range of 600 to 900 degrees Celsius. Hot gases in an inert atmosphere like nitrogen or argon. It is again heated in an oxidizing atmosphere.

Chemical activation

An acid, or strong base, or salt is introduced to the carbon source before heating it. This method decreases the temperature at which carbonization and activation occur.

Activated charcoal uses and health benefits

Benefits of Activated Charcoal infographic

1. Emergency toxin removal and poison control

Activated charcoal is usually the first line of treatment in conjunction with gastric lavage in the event of toxins, chemicals, pesticides, mercury, fertilizer, poison, an overdose of pharmaceutical drugs or bleach ingestion.

Over 4,000 toxic substances can be effectively neutralized by activated charcoal when administered promptly and in sufficient quantities (3).

Activated charcoal’s surface adsorbs the toxins from the intestine and prevents the absorption of toxins in the body. This allows quick elimination of the toxins from the body before it can do any permanent damage.

Activated charcoal should be administered in the golden hour of consumption or accidental ingestion of the poison for quicker and effective results. In the cases of food poisoning with severe nausea and diarrhea,  after making the diagnosis, the patient can start treatment with this substance.

The average dose for adults with food poisoning is 25 grams at the onset of symptoms, and for children, it should be 10 grams. Stay hydrated and if the symptoms are persistent consult a healthcare practitioner.

2. Skin cleanser

Activated charcoal has potent adsorbing properties which is why it such a favorite facial cleanser. It binds the toxins and dirt which can clog your pores and cause acne.

For effective removal of deep-seated blackheads, whiteheads activated charcoal mask. For treating acne, mix one capsule of activated charcoal with two to three tablespoons of aloe vera gel, and apply over the face concentrating on the affected area.

The impurities that are deeply rooted will be pulled out and For spot treatments, combine one teaspoon of activated charcoal powder with four drops of organic coconut oil. Let dry and rinse off thoroughly.

Alternatively, you can add a pinch of baking soda to the above mixture. It will help lessen the appearance of blemishes and spots.

3. Teeth whitening

The tooth can get discolored in people who are chronic smokers, who have a dependency on caffeine. Wine drinkers also tend to develop staining on the tooth surface.

Off late, activated charcoal is commercially in use for teeth whitening, and It is a growing fad amongst the younger population. It is indicated that activated charcoal helps whiten teeth, promote good oral health, prevent cavities, gum disease, and bad breath.

Activated charcoal works to whiten teeth by adsorbing plaque and absorb the stains adhering to the enamel of the tooth surface. Wet a toothbrush and dip into powdered activated charcoal and brush your teeth covering all the surfaces.

Leave it for one minute and then swish water thoroughly and spit. Repeat rinsing till all the charcoal particles are out. The results are instantaneous. Repeat the procedure few times a week in case of severe staining, till desired results are achieved (4).

4. Alleviates Bloating

Activated charcoal has been long in use for treating intestinal ailments. Studies have proven that activated charcoal helps relieve bloating. Raffinose, a gas-producing byproduct found in certain food can cause discomfort Activated charcoal separates the raffinose component from the food and thus reduces the incidence of bloating (5).

Activated charcoal also prevents intestinal gas following a typical gas-producing meal. To alleviate bloating and prevent intestinal gas, take 500 milligrams one hour before a meal, with a full glass of water.

5. Detoxing liver and kidney

Our stressful lifestyle, consumption of processed and junk food,  alcohol intake, toxic environment causes our skin and body to age prematurely. Activated charcoal helps prevent cellular damage to kidneys and liver.

Kidney and liver work round the clock to flush out waste and toxins from our body. Activated charcoal aids them in flushing out the toxins and chemicals which prevents overworking and relieves pressure on major organs (6). Take a capsule of activated charcoal once a week or month depending on your lifestyle and diet choices.

6. Water Filtration

Activated charcoal is commonly used for removing organic constituents and residual disinfectants in water supplies. This not only improves taste and minimizes health hazards; it protects other water treatment units such as reverse osmosis membranes and ion exchange resins from possible damage due to oxidation or organic fouling.

Activated charcoal also removes smells in water and makes cloudy water clear by removing color-causing compounds in the water (7).

7. Digestive Cleanse

Activated charcoal reduces the toxic burden on our intestine (8).  Detoxing your digestive system promotes improved mental function, alertness, and energy. Eliminating toxins from the gastrointestinal tract routinely supports overall health and also improves our immune system.

To detox GI tract, take 10 grams of activated charcoal 90 minutes before each meal for at least two days. Repeat the procedure once a month to achieve a healthy and functioning digestive system. In case of treating diarrhea, consult your doctor for the dosage as it will depend on the severity of the condition.

8. Reduces bad cholesterol

A study conducted on the action of activated charcoal over total cholesterol showed a decrease of 41 percent in LDL cholesterol and an increase of 8 percent in HDL cholesterol.

The study conducted over four weeks had the participants take three doses of eight grams of activated charcoal each for the period of the study (9). The study successfully proved the positive effect of activated charcoal in regulating the cholesterol levels in our body.

9. Mold Cleansing

Mold illness is a type of chronic inflammatory response syndrome, The most common cause is drinking polluted water. They occur in our household, and the most common types of household mold that are found indoors include Cladosporium, Penicillium, Alternaria, Aspergillus and  Stachybotrys chartarum.

This mold produces spores which can be inhaled (10). This mold when ingested or inhaled can produce a toxic reaction in our body and weaken our immune system.Long-term exposure can cause kidney and liver failure, decreased brain function, eye irritation, headaches, vomiting and severe respiratory distress.

Activated charcoal helps trap these molds and prevent the mycotoxins from getting absorbed in our body.

Activated Charcoal Warnings

You should not take activated charcoal if –

  • You have low levels of fluid in the body.
  • In case of severe dehydration.
  • In cases of hemorrhage.
  • Improper digestion like blockages or reduced movement of food.
  • Ulceration of the digestive tract.
  • History of recent surgery.
  • Talk to your doctor before taking activated charcoal if you have kidney or liver disease.
  • Also, if you have been taking activated charcoal for diarrhea for two days or more and your diarrhea has not gone away, consult your doctor.

What are the possible side-effects?

  • Diarrhea, constipation, or vomiting
  • Black stool
  • Blockage in the stomach or intestines
  • Fecal impaction
  • Obliterative bronchiolitis, a life-threatening condition in which the bronchial tubes of the lungs narrow, develop scar tissue, and have trouble taking up oxygen

If you are on any of the following medication, do not take activated charcoal as it can cause drug interactions.

  • Precose
  • Ipecac or Syrup of ipecac
  • Leflunomide
  • Teriflunomide
  • Digoxin
  • Acetylcysteine
  • Electrolytes and polyethene glycol (PEG)
  • Naltrexone
  • Acrivastine
  • Bupropion
  • Carbinoxamine
  • Fentanyl
  • Oxymorphone
  • Suvorexant
  • Tapentadol
  • Umeclidinium
  • Hydrocodone
  • Meclizine
  • Methadone
  • Morphine
  • Morphine Sulfate Liposome
  • Mycophenolate Mofetil
  • Mycophenolic Acid
  • Oxycodone
  • Acetaminophen
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Theophylline

FAQ

What to notice while buying this supplement?

Till now you must have understood that not all activated charcoal are made equally. So, whenever you are going to purchase any related supplements, do take care noticing how they are made.

You should preferably look for activated charcoal that is made up of known woods and coconut shells, which have fine grains. If the product is sugar-laden with artificial sweeteners, then avoid it. However, if the supplement has natural sweeteners in it then it is acceptable.

Can you get it naturally from foods?

It is a manufactured substance and not available naturally in foods?

Do I have to inform my doctor before going through any treatment?

Of course yes. You never know what kind of medication and treatment you may go through. Your doctor would be in the best position to tell you if you need to stop activated charcoal supplement or not.

Over to you

Activated charcoal is a versatile product. For a superficial or topical application, as in cases of skin masks or for tooth whitening, it will show an immediate effect.

For systemic cleanse, regular and judicious use will eliminate the toxins and decrease the toxic overload on our body, ensuring proper health and vitality.

Do tell your doctor if you are taking this in any form. Your doctor accesses its potential side effects if taken with any medications, treatments or even supplements.