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The benefits of activated charcoal and how to use it safely
Wellness

The benefits of activated charcoal and how to use it safely

It seems like activated charcoal is everywhere now. You’ll find it in everything from toothpaste and beauty products to beverages and supplements. It’s even in ice cream. People are using activated charcoal in their daily lives more frequently with the hope that they’ll benefit from its powerful detoxifying qualities, but should you really be eating it? This guide will shed light on the risks and health benefits of activated charcoal, and you’ll learn how to use it safely.

What is activated charcoal?

Activated charcoal (Activated charcoal coupons | Activated charcoal details) is a byproduct of burning materials such as wood, coconut shells, or peat at high temperatures. When carbon sources, like wood, burn, it creates small particles that have a large surface area. The superfine activated charcoal that results from this process can bind to and adsorb heavy metals, chemicals, and other toxins because of its large surface area. You can use activated charcoal topically on a porous surface—such as the skin—or internally through the digestive system.

What is activated charcoal used for?

Humans have been using activated charcoal for hundreds of years because of its ability to detoxify the body. In addition to general detoxification, doctors have used activated charcoal to treat conditions, like drug overdose and poisoning, and alleviate symptoms, like diarrhea. It’s no surprise that activated charcoal is making a powerful comeback as people—and companies—find new ways to use and market it. Some “new” activated charcoal benefits include anti-aging through detoxification of adrenal glands, acne, water filtration, and teeth whitening. It’s also a remedy for bug bites and hangovers.

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Does activated charcoal really work?

Many people question whether activated charcoal really works. Has it become so popular because of good marketing or because of its efficacy? There’s no doubting the power of a good marketing campaign, but many studies have shown that activated charcoal helps treat certain health conditions. Here are some medically tested activated charcoal benefits.

General detoxification

Activated charcoal works through the digestive tract by trapping toxins in the gut and preventing them from being absorbed. Activated charcoal stays in the body until it’s passed in stools along with the toxins—including bacteria and drugs—it latched on to.

Hospital and emergency room staff sometimes use activated charcoal to counteract drug overdoses and poisonings. If they’re able to treat the patient before the toxic substance enters the bloodstream, activated charcoal can be effective. However, many people who are hospitalized from ingesting a toxin will absorb enough of the substance before being admitted.

Antidiarrheal

Activated charcoal can also treat diarrhea by preventing the absorption of bacteria in the body. Some people even claim that activated charcoal can help with weight loss, though it isn’t and shouldn’t be used as a weight-loss pill.

Activated charcoal has even proven effective at reducing intestinal gas, bloating, and abdominal cramps. In one particular study, activated charcoal won against a placebo and effectively reduced symptoms of abdominal cramping and flatulence. 

“You have a few options to relieve bloating and gas,” says Carrie Lam, MD, a fellow of Anti-Aging, Metabolic, and Functional medicine and co-founder of Lam Clinic. “Activated charcoal can be taken in capsule, liquid, or powder form, and since it is tasteless, [it] can be mixed into a non-acidic juice of your preference. Tablet and capsule forms are the least expensive and often the best investment.”

Cholesterol management

Consuming activated charcoal has also been shown to help some people with high cholesterol by lowering LDL cholesterol levels. “Studies around the world have demonstrated that the benefits of activated charcoal are equal to those of prescription cholesterol medications,” Dr. Lam says. “Moreover, the use of activated charcoal has been shown to increase good cholesterol in the body while decreasing bad cholesterol by 25% in just four weeks.”

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Chronic kidney disease

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) published a study that shows how combining activated charcoal with a low protein diet can help treat renal disease. After almost a year of using activated charcoal, many patients had a decrease in blood urea and creatinine levels. 

There’s no doubt that activated charcoal has health benefits. However, the degree to which it’s effective will likely vary from person-to-person on a case-by-case basis. Speaking with a doctor is always the best way to learn whether a drug or supplement will benefit you personally.

Is activated charcoal safe?

Just like with any other medication or supplement, there is always the potential for side effects. Consuming activated charcoal can cause side effects that you should be aware of. Here’s a list of some of the most common side effects that could happen from taking activated charcoal orally: 

Consuming activated charcoal may also cause more serious side effects. Activated charcoal can cause a serious condition called aspiration, where a person breathes foreign materials, like mucus and liquid, into the lungs. This can be a serious medical condition and requires immediate medical attention.  

Activated charcoal can also cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Drinking a full glass of water when you take an activated charcoal pill, capsule, or tablet can help you avoid dehydration.

Interactions

Furthermore, activated charcoal can stop the body from absorbing prescription medications that it needs. Certain medications may react negatively with activated charcoal, including: 

This list of medications is not comprehensive. A healthcare professional can tell you whether taking activated charcoal is a good idea based on the current medications that you’re on. 

How to use activated charcoal

Activated charcoal has become so popular that it’s available in many different forms such as activated charcoal pills, powders, liquids, and personal care products. 

Activated charcoal may be beneficial when applied topically. The charcoal works by binding to dead skin cells, bacteria, and dirt that may be on the surface of the skin. Skincare products with activated charcoal are popular because of this reason and can come in the form of face washes, face masks, moisturizers, and body wash. Today, you can find activated charcoal in deodorant and toothpaste too. Charcoal deodorant can draw out bacteria and odors while charcoal toothpaste can help clear plaque. Because of the activated charcoal trend, activated charcoal products are easy to find and use.

However, consuming activated charcoal is riskier than using it topically. Not all supplements are made equally or have the same quality. Buying and consuming high-quality activated charcoal powder, pills, capsules, or tablets is important. Some products have additives that contain unhealthy chemicals. Try to find activated charcoal made from coconut shells or bamboo.

Activated charcoal dosage

Doses vary based on a person’s condition or symptoms. For gastrointestinal decontamination in hospitals, doctors might prescribe anywhere from 50 to 100 grams. For intestinal gas, the dosage could range from 500 to 1,000 mg per day. A lower daily dose of 4 to 32 grams is recommended for lowering cholesterol levels.  

Some doctors or naturopathic doctors might prescribe activated charcoal to be taken once or twice a day for detox purposes. Take activated charcoal apart from all foods, medicine, and supplements. Taking it one or two hours apart from everything else ensures that the charcoal binds to toxins instead of food or medication.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no regulation on activated charcoal, so many of the dosages on supplement bottles are only suggestions. Your healthcare provider can give you a better idea of what an appropriate dosage might be, and they may provide you a prescription for activated charcoal. Do not take activated charcoal without discussing it with your doctor.

Note: It is possible to overdose from taking too much activated charcoal, but it’s unlikely to be fatal. However, you should seek immediate medical attention if you believe you’ve overdosed on activated charcoal. Overdosing could present as an allergic reaction, vomiting, or severe stomach pain.   

Doctors, naturopathic doctors, and nutritionists will provide medical advice on how to take activated charcoal safely. If your healthcare provider prescribes activated charcoal, you’ll likely be able to purchase it at their office, through a pharmacy, or online. Some companies like SingleCare offer consumers discounts on their activated charcoal prescriptions.