Activated Charcoal

activated charcoal capsules
Activated charcoal is a food poisoning antidote that has long been used by Chinese, Ayurvedic and even Western medicine. North American Indians have used it for treating infections, skin inflammation and bruises. Moreover, it is still being used to purify water, air and various solutions. I have discussed how you could purify indoor air with activated charcoal here. There have been experiments where subjects were made to take in 5 to 10 times the lethal doses of known poisons such as strychnine but miraculously survived simply because they mixed the poison with activated charcoal.

What is activated charcoal?
Activated charcoal is simply common charcoal that is heated up in a process which creates millions of minute spaces on the surface of the charcoal, thus enabling activated charcoal to trap chemicals in its pores.
Activated charcoal can be made from wood charcoal, bamboo charcoal and coconut shell charcoal.


Medical uses of activated charcoal:
  • to treat poisoning
  • to treat flatulence or abdominal gas
  • to lower cholesterol level
  • to prevent hangover
  • to treat cholestasis during pregnancy (cholestasis refers to bile flow problems)
  • to disinfect wounds
  • to filter toxins from the blood of a person with kidney or liver disease
  • to purify blood after blood transfusions
  • to treat drug overdosage
  • to treat jaundice of the newborn
  • to whiten teeth and improve dental health (use it as toothpaste once a week)
  • to treat insect bites, bee stings, spider bites and even snake bites
  • to help eliminate the toxins produced by bacteria and viruses during an infection or illness


How does activated charcoal work?
The millions of minute internal spaces within activated charcoal trap chemicals in a process called adsorption. Toxins and chemicals become adsorbed — not absorbed — by the activated charcoal and then eliminated rather than allowed to circulate in the bloodstream.

Activated charcoal is not absorbed by the body and is just eliminated with the bowel movement, bringing out the adsorbed chemicals along with them. And it does so without irritating the walls of the intestinal tract.

To illustrate, a 50-gram dose of activated charcoal has a surface area that is equivalent to 10 football fields! A single teaspoon of activated charcoal powder has a surface area of one hectare! This amazingly ginormic surface area is what enables activated charcoal to bind, trap and reduce the harmful effects of ingested poisons by up to 60%.

What’s more, activated charcoal has a negative charge on its porous surface and thus attracts harmful toxins or gases which are positively-charged.

Activated charcoal is thus considered as the “single most effective agent” for decontaminating the gastro-intestinal tract.


What are the precautions you need to observe with activated charcoal?
1. Activated charcoal should not be used in poisoning involving corrosive agents such as harsh acids and alkalis, as well as petroleum products and alcohols as it does not prevent the absorption of such chemicals into the blood.

2. Activated charcoal is likely effective for treating simple food poisoning cases but is not backed with sufficient evidence for all the other uses such as for the treatment of flatulence, lowering of cholesterol, prevention of hangover and treatment of pregnancy cholestasis.

3. Activated charcoal show major interaction with syrup of ipecac. The two should not be taken together.

4. Activated charcoal also adsorbs, unfortunately, nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. As such, it should be used only after food has been fully digested and absorbed, or about 2 hours after a meal.

5. Oral prescription drugs are adsorbed by activated charcoal and therefore cannot work their desired effects on the body. Wait for an hour after taking your medication before taking in activated charcoal.

6. WebMD says activated charcoal should only be used for short-term as long-term usage could lead to the following side effects:
  • dehydration
  • constipation and black stools
  • blockage of the intestinal tract
  • regurgitation into the lungs

7. Activated charcoal must be stored in a tightly-lidded container to prevent it from absorbing toxins from the air.


Conclusions
I keep a bottle of activated charcoal on hand for the following cases:

  • To help manage diarrhea in the family. However, consult your doctor if symptoms persist. Many pediatricians recommend keeping a bottle of activated charcoal for emergency treatment of food poisoning of children. 
  • To help eliminate food toxins that I ingest after an unhealthy meal. Examples of unhealthy foods would be extensively processed foods such as restaurant or fastfood meals, canned goods and packaged/convenience foods which contain lots of preservatives, artificial food dyes and flavoring agents.  I personally take activated a capsule of activated charcoal powder after eating a fastfood meal or anything that I feel has high levels of unhealthy additives in them (like a bag of chips or an instant coffee mix, for instance).
  • I also feel that activated charcoal poultice would be a good first aid treatment in cases of bee stings, insect bites, etc.
  • I am also trying to establish a dental routine of brushing with activated charcoal once a week to deep-clean and whiten my teeth. I have yet to see the results, though.

To be clear though, I personally do not feel comfortable with taking activated charcoal daily or in large doses as I feel it just might adsorb important nutrients.

One last thought:
I am not fanatical about activated charcoal. I think that if you’re seriously eating clean — eating organic fruits and vegetables, and drinking clean water all the time — it would not be necessary to take activated charcoal as you may just run the risk of adsorbing and eliminating those precious nutrients. However, for the rest of us who cannot avoid toxins in our food and water, a hectare of toxin-adsorbing material packaged in the form of a capsule sure is a nifty help every now and then.

I am no expert in this, obviously, and I would like to know your thoughts. Read the references below for your own study. You will see that these sources range from those who are merely clinical and a little cynical about it to those who are kinda fanatical. Find your own stance on it.

I would love to hear from activated charcoal users. Please leave a comment below. I also would love to know of Filipino manufacturers or makers of activated charcoal.


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