Activated Charcoal Benefits, Uses & Side Effects
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Activated charcoal is a manufactured product. You cannot find it naturally in foods. Also is important to know that activated charcoal is not the same thing as charcoal for your grill or charred wood from the fire. Please don’t try to substitute or make your own!
Activated charcoal consists of some substance—usually bamboo, wood, coal, or my preference, coconut shell charcoal—burned without oxygen to create char. The char is then heated to a high temperature and exposed to certain gases through a multi-step process to make it extremely porous. This is the “activation” part of the process.
Once activated, the increased surface area of the molecules can bind powerfully to any substance. This process of adsorption (not to be confused with absorption) is what makes charcoal so powerful. True activated charcoal is odorless, tasteless, and nontoxic.
Activated Charcoal Uses & Benefits
1. Whitens Your Teeth
If your teeth have become stained or yellow from coffee, tea, or wine, activated charcoal can help whiten them by adsorbing plaque and other microscopic tidbits that stain teeth. To use it, wet a toothbrush and dip into activated charcoal. Brush your teeth as you normally would with extra attention given to the stained areas. Swish mouth thoroughly after with water, and spit. Do this 2-3 times a week for best results.
Note: Undiluted activated charcoal can and will stain grout and fabrics so use carefully. It is also possible it will stain crowns, caps, or porcelain veneers. If your teeth become sensitive while using it, discontinue use.
2. Poison and Toxin Remedy
Charcoal is an age-old remedy for counteracting poison in the body. Studies show that activated charcoal may be the most effective GI tract decontaminant available. It can absorb up to 50-60% of unwanted substances in the stomach and intestines when taken quickly after ingestion. Emergency rooms all over the world routinely administer large doses of activated charcoal for certain types of poisoning. Activated charcoal is also used in the event of an overdose of many pharmaceutical drugs and over-the-counter medications.
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, even after it enters the bloodstream. In addition, activated charcoal can be used in cases of food poisoning when nausea and diarrhea are present. Proper dosage is imperative and always best left to expert medical staff to prescribe and administer.
3. Water Filtration
Activated charcoal traps impurities in water the same way it does in your body, so it’s a proactive way to decrease the number of toxins that your digestive system has to deal with.
Unfiltered water straight from the tap in most places has industrial waste, pesticides, and fluoride in it, so you probably don’t want to drink it straight or use it when cooking. The carbon traps many impurities, but not all, so it’s usually used in with other filtering methods. It won’t get rid of bacteria and viruses, though, so making your own filter is probably not a good idea.
Fortunately, there are many inexpensive filtration systems out there that use activated charcoal to clean your water for you. You can get both countertop and whole-home filtration units.
4. It Treats Burns and Bug Bites
There’s not much worse than annoying, itchy bug bites. They’re so distracting and I hate clawing at my skin like an animal. But, ever since I discovered activated charcoal, they haven’t been as much of a problem at all. It’s super easy! I just mix some of the powder with a little bit of coconut oil and rub it over the bites. Not only that, but activated charcoal also helps with burns and bee stings as well!
5. May Reduce Cholesterol Levels
Activated charcoal may also help reduce cholesterol levels. That’s because it can bind cholesterol and cholesterol-containing bile acids in the gut, preventing the body from absorbing them.
In one study, taking 24 grams of activated charcoal per day for four weeks lowered total cholesterol by 25% and “bad” LDL cholesterol by 25%. “Good” HDL cholesterol levels also increased by 8%. In another study, taking 4–32 grams of activated charcoal daily helped reduce total and “bad” LDL cholesterol by 29–41% in those with high cholesterol levels.
In this study, the larger dosages of activated charcoal seemed the most effective. Similar results were reported in most, but not all, studies. However, it’s interesting to note that all studies related to this topic were conducted in the 1980s. More recent studies would help confirm the link.
6. Relieve Digestive Issues, Gas, and Bloating
After digesting foods like beans, the decomposition process from bacteria in your body creates byproducts like gas or diarrhea. Activated charcoal enters the digestive tract and counteracts this process by binding to byproducts and alleviating these digestive issues.
Activated charcoal uses include helping prevent cellular damage to kidneys and liver, as well as supporting healthy adrenal glands. It’s imperative to cleanse toxins and chemicals routinely from the body. Activated charcoal benefits major organs by helping the body flush out the toxins and chemicals that cause the damage.
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 nonorganic 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 digestive tract.
8. Clean the Air
Charcoal’s porous structure makes it great for removing odors, harmful chemicals and allergens from the air. This is why you’ll often find charcoal in air purifying products. These charcoal bags are the easiest way to use charcoal to clean the air in a home. They last for years and can be recharged by putting them in the sun once a month or so.
What Are The Risks of Taking Activated Charcoal?
When used to treat a poisoning or overdose, activated charcoal is usually safe, but it needs to be administered only in a healthcare facility. Side effects are more likely when it is used on a long-term basis to treat conditions like excess gas.
Side effects. When you take it by mouth, activated charcoal can cause:
→ Black Stools
→ Black tongue
→ Vomiting or diarrhea
In more serious cases, it can cause gastrointestinal blockages.
Risks. Do not combine activated charcoal with drugs used for constipation (cathartics such as sorbitol or magnesium citrate). This can cause electrolyte imbalances and other problems.
Interactions. Activated charcoal may reduce or prevent the absorption of certain drugs. This may include drugs such as:
→ Tricyclic antidepressants
Do not use activated charcoal as a supplement if you take these medications. Activated charcoal may also reduce absorption of certain nutrients.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does regulate dietary supplements; however, it treats them like foods rather than medications. Unlike drug manufacturers, the makers of supplements don’t have to show their products are safe or effective before selling them on the market.
Be sure to tell your doctor about any supplement you’re taking, even if it’s natural. That way, your doctor can check on any potential side effects or interactions with medications, foods, or other herbs and supplements. He or she can let you know if the supplement might increase your risks.
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