A few years ago, activated charcoal became an instant health fad after being touted as a miracle supplement and appearing in products like teeth whiteners, face masks, and detox drinks. It also quickly caught on as a food trend—though the powder doesn’t add much in the way of flavor, it’s an effective dye that turns most things jet black, making for an Instagram-worthy shot or two. Here’s the kicker: Activated charcoal actually is the ultimate detox, but maybe not in the way some people think. Here’s everything you need to know about activated charcoal.
- What is activated charcoal?
- What are the benefits of activated charcoal?
- What types of overdoses can activated charcoal treat?
- Can activated charcoal help with stomach gas?
- That’s it? What about all the other health benefits I’ve been hearing about?
- The downsides: Food and drug interactions with activated charcoal
- What medications are affected by activated charcoal?
- Four reasons to avoid it
- Gas and bloating
- Skip It: Activated Charcoal Cocktails
- Skip It: Activated Charcoal Cleansing Detox Drinks
- Skip It: Activated Charcoal in Food
- Try It — Maybe: Activated Charcoal for Teeth Whitening
- Try It: Activated Charcoal Masks
- Try It: Activated Charcoal Shampoo
- Try It: Activated Charcoal Underwear
- Try It: Activated Charcoal Deodorant
- Try It: Activated Charcoal Water Purifier
- Try It: Activated Charcoal Air Purifier
- Try It — With Caution: Activated Charcoal Pills for Poisoning
- Keep In Mind
- 1. Detoxifying teas
- 2. Apple cider vinegar
- 3. Juices
- 3 superfoods to use in tropical fruit smoothies
- 4. Activated charcoal
- 5. Caffeine
- Ask the Diet Doctor: The Truth Behind Activated Charcoal
- Activated Charcoal: The Natural Way to Detox and Slow Down Aging
- Why use activated charcoal?
- Benefits of activated charcoal
- When to use activated charcoal
- How to take activated charcoal
- Join over 1 million fans
- Could Eating Charcoal Help You Detox?
- Why do people take activated charcoal?
What is activated charcoal?
Activated charcoal, also known as activated carbon, is carbon material (like wood or coconut shells) that has been processed to contain many tiny pores creating a very large surface area, making it great at something called adsorption (not absorption).
Adsorption is when molecules of a substance bind to the surface of another—in this case, activated charcoal. (Absorption, on the other hand, is when the molecules of a substance are dissolved or diffused into another substance completely.) This adsorption function is what gives activated charcoal its “healing” or detoxification powers, but also the reason why it shouldn’t be consumed at random.
What are the benefits of activated charcoal?
Activated charcoal has been used since the 1800s to, quite simply, remove ingested toxic substances from the body (which, by the way, is the very definition of detoxification). To this day, activated charcoal, in the form of powder mixed with a liquid (typically water, soda or syrup) is still used in emergency departments to counteract the effects of accidental poisoning or drug overdose, as long as the substance has not yet entered the bloodstream via the gut. So, the sooner activated charcoal is taken after swallowing the drug or poison, the better it works—generally within 30 to 60 minutes. The toxic molecules will bind to the activated charcoal as it works its way through your digestive tract, and then they will leave your body together in your stool.
What types of overdoses can activated charcoal treat?
According to GoodRx medical editor, Dr. Sophie, activated charcoal is a pretty low-risk, first step treatment, and is good for treating any drugs that may still be sitting in the person’s stomach. “Often, it’s not 100% clear what the person has taken, and we have to err on the side of caution. Many overdoses are ‘mixed’ and ‘staggered’, meaning that the person has taken more than one substance and that these have been spread out over time,” she says. “In these cases, it is difficult to know what we are treating, and our patients are not always able to reliably tell us what they have taken, so using activated charcoal can help cover all bases.” In hospitals, activated charcoal is commonly used to treat overdoses involving acetaminophen, antidepressants, and sedatives.
Dr. Sophie also warns of situations where activated charcoal is not recommended, such as “if the person is unconscious, has a gut issue that might require surgery, or has taken substances that are not absorbed well by activated charcoal.”
Here’s a list of substances activated charcoal is not recommended for:
- substances containing metal (e.g., iron, lithium)
- substances made of hydrogen and carbon (e.g., gases like methane or propane)
- caustic substances, or substances that cause burns when touched or swallowed (e.g., household cleaners, gasoline, paint thinner)
- alcohol (can adsorb to activated charcoal but not effectively enough)
- cyanide (can adsorb to activated charcoal but not effectively enough)
Important: Naloxone is the first-line treatment for opioid overdose, even when the opioid is taken orally. Activated charcoal may help with undissolved pills in the stomach, but you will always have a better chance of survival with naloxone.
That all being said, don’t try to treat an overdose or poisoning on your own. Always seek medical attention right away if you think you or someone else has ingested something that shouldn’t have been, and a healthcare provider will determine what the best treatment is. Activated charcoal will be used if they determine that the substance is still in the stomach (not yet absorbed into the bloodstream) and there is no better treatment at that point.
Can activated charcoal help with stomach gas?
The only other thing that activated charcoal might help with are symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), like diarrhea, gas and bloating. We say might because there isn’t a lot of research to support this, other than this one clinical trial from 1986. To add to the mystery, the exact cause of IBS is unknown, which makes it hard to know what can help prevent and treat it.
That’s it? What about all the other health benefits I’ve been hearing about?
According to research, yes. That’s it.
At the root of the activated charcoal health fad is the misuse, or misunderstanding, of the word “toxin”. In a detox-crazy world, toxins are used to refer to impurities or anything undesirable in your body: stains on your teeth, dirt or dust on your skin, naturally present sugars in your juice, a hangover after a night out.
Personal care products (like teeth whiteners, face masks, soaps, shampoos, and deodorants) containing activated charcoal bank on the idea that impurities can be drawn out during use. Since these products are meant for external use only, they are relatively harmless. But there is little to no research to prove that the trace amounts of activated charcoal, combined with other ingredients, in these products are effective and much more than just marketing.
Activated charcoal products meant to be taken by mouth or eaten, however, are a different story.
The downsides: Food and drug interactions with activated charcoal
And here’s the rub. The same detox effects of activated charcoal can disrupt your regular diet and medication regimen. Whatever’s still sitting in your stomach can potentially adsorb to the activated charcoal in your detox lemonade, waffles, or ice cream.
Though the recommended starting dose of activated charcoal for adults (25–100 grams) may not seem like a lot, a teaspoonful of the powder has the same surface area as a football field. Since supplements and retail restaurants are not regulated by the FDA, it’s hard to know the exact amount of activated charcoal used, so it’s possible that there’s enough to cause some harm. Regular intake of activated charcoal may even cause nutrition deficiency or malnutrition.
Here are the risks of consuming activated charcoal:
- It can prevent your body from digesting food and absorbing nutrients.
- It can make medications and supplements less effective.
- Side effects can include diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, and blockage of the digestive tract.
Last summer, New York City, under orders from the FDA, had to ban activated charcoal in restaurants—presumably because the city had become a mecca of activated charcoal treats.
What medications are affected by activated charcoal?
As we mentioned above, almost anything taken by mouth can adsorb to activated charcoal given the right circumstances. To make sure any activated charcoal you’ve consumed will not interfere with your health, you should take it at least 1 hour before and 2 hours after meals, medications, or supplements.
People taking ongoing or chronic medications (like statins, antidepressants, the birth control pill, and blood pressure drugs) can be affected the most by activated charcoal, since staying on schedule is important for managing the condition.
– – –
While activated charcoal definitely has a place in the medical world, consumer products and foods containing activated charcoal are not proven to have any medical benefit. Always discuss with your physician or nutritionist if you’re thinking about changing your diet, starting a new supplement, or going on a detox cleanse.
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On her Goop website, Gwyneth Paltrow claimed that charcoal lemonade was one of the “best juice cleansers”. That was in 2014. Today, charcoal products – from croissants to capsules – are everywhere. Even high street coffee chains have taken to selling charcoal “shots”.
Some vendors of these products claim that activated charcoal can boost your energy, brighten your skin and reduce wind and bloating. The main claim, though, is that these products can detoxify your body.
It’s easy to see where the claim that activated charcoal can detoxify the body comes from: it is used in emergency medicine to reduce the toxic load when someone has consumed poison or overdosed on medication. Charcoal binds to poison in the gastrointestinal tract and stops it from being absorbed into the bloodstream. The toxins are then passed out of the body in the stool.
However, this detoxifying action is another case of the non-scientific nutritionists seeing the medical use for something and misinterpreting its application.
Don’t trust health advice given by celebrities. Tinseltown/.com
Four reasons to avoid it
Although consuming activated charcoal may seem like a harmless health trend, there are several reasons you should avoid these products.
Activated charcoal will bind with all kinds of things including some of the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in your food. Charcoal is sometimes added to fruit or vegetable juice and sold as a “shot”. Unfortunately, the vitamins in the fruit and veg probably won’t be absorbed because of the charcoal. You’d be better off just having the juice.
Activated charcoal can bind with some medications, including some antidepressants and anti-inflammatory medications, causing them to be less effective. This could have serious health consequences for some people, but it’s not explained on bottles or packaging where activated charcoal is being sold.
Activated charcoal will only bind with whatever particles are in your stomach or intestines at the time that you take it. It works by coming into physical contact with your intestinal contents. If you’re trying to use it to detox from the alcohol and kebab you had the night before, it won’t do anything at all because they have been absorbed into your bloodstream already.
Activated charcoal slows down your bowel and is known to cause nausea and constipation (and black stools).
Gas and bloating
In the 1980s some research suggested that activated charcoal can bind with gases produced during digestion and reduce wind and bloating. They showed that if you eat a meal that typically causes gas and then take charcoal, it reduces the amount of gas that is produced. However, there were later studies showing that this was not of benefit when taken as a supplement alongside the participants’ normal diets.
These studies are very old, and while activated charcoal may help to reduce wind under certain circumstances, for some people, because of the effects it also has on binding nutrients and drugs, it is not recommended for managing wind and bloating.
There are great treatments for wind and bloating that are really effective, such as reducing the fermentable carbohydrates in your diet (the low FODMAP diet) and the use of certain probiotics for irritable bowel syndrome.
Everyone is looking for a quick fix to wellness, and while we are all struggling with maintaining our energy levels, eating well and exercising while living busy lives, it is easy to be sucked in by clever marketing and celebrity endorsements.
The detox market is huge and highly misleading. While the common perception is that our daily lives and dietary habits (including alcohol intake) cause a build up of “toxins” in our system, there are no products or diets that will impact on this, regardless of their marketing budget or how many “influencers” tell you otherwise. We are often sold the idea that our diets are somehow “toxic” when the reality is that, aside from ingesting poison, even fast food doesn’t contain anything toxic.
You already have the means to detoxify your body (your liver and your kidneys do a fine job of this), so don’t waste your money. The last thing you want to do is make your food less nutritious by adding an unnecessary, indigestible compound.
More on evidence-based articles about diets:
Do you get diabetes from eating too much sugar?
Does eating at night make you fat?
Why frequent dieting makes you put on weight – and what to do about it
From purifying charcoal masks to hangover-free cocktails and tooth-whitening toothpastes, activated charcoal is leaving its carbon “footprint” just about everywhere. But does activated charcoal work — and is it safe?
Unlike regular charcoal, which is a known carcinogen, activated charcoal is medicinal. It’s the byproduct of slowly burnt wood, peat, or coconut shells that is treated with oxygen, a process which renders it highly porous and nonpolar, allowing it to absorb (that is, bind to, as opposed to absorb) hydrophobic toxins and odors from gases or liquids up to 1,000 times its weight.
Activated charcoal comes in many forms: powder and pills for ingesting, granules and cubes for purifying the environment, and sponges and fabrics for cleansing and wearing. This “it” ingredient – used for millennia in Ayurveda and Chinese medicine – has recently even shot to superfood status thanks to activated charcoal’s potent alkalizing detoxification properties and purported health benefits.
But the jury is still out on many of the supposed health benefits of activated charcoal. Very few studies have been done on its effects, particularly when it comes to your skin, teeth, and stomach. Here are eight safe ways to use it — and three to skip.
Skip It: Activated Charcoal Cocktails
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Enjoy a charcoal detox cocktail tonight – guilt free 😉 #palindromestudio #cocktails #activatedcharcoal #detox
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The intense pigmentation and subtle smoky flavor of activated charcoal have inspired bartenders to create a slew of highly instagrammable cocktails. While these activated charcoal cocktails are delicious, the claims that they are “hangover-free” is probably too good to be true. Though activated charcoal is detoxifying, there is little evidence that it makes you less drunk — and there’s at least one study that found activated charcoal wasn’t effective at absorbing alcohol.
Instead, try this: While activated charcoal might not help prevent hangovers, plenty of other foods may help: eating asparagus, in particular, can help the body break down down alcohol.
Skip It: Activated Charcoal Cleansing Detox Drinks
Without a doubt, the detox ingredient of the moment is charcoal, You’ll find it sold as activated charcoal lemonade, in fresh concoctions at juice bars, and for order online.
Our advice? Give them a pass: activated charcoal can bind to vitamins and nutrients — meaning you’ll rob your beverage of some of its nutritional value. More alarmingly, activated charcoal binds to medications, including birth control pills, so you risk rendering them ineffective.
Skip It: Activated Charcoal in Food
Many restaurants are incorporating activated charcoal in their foods. Burger King in Japan even released a Kuro Burger (kuro means “black”) featuring a squid-ink patty on a bamboo-charcoal bun. In the U.S., I’ve seen restaurants serving charcoal waffles for brunch, and scoop shops hawking charcoal ice cream for dessert. Again, because of its potential to irritate the stomach and bind to medications, we’d take a pass on this particular flavor fad.
Try It — Maybe: Activated Charcoal for Teeth Whitening
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A post shared by Brava Essentials (@bravaessentials) on Aug 31, 2018 at 7:17pm PDT
There’s nothing new about charcoal being used to clean teeth. In fact, charcoal powder is an indigenous tooth cleaning method in rural Tanzania, among other parts of Africa and South Asia.
What is new, however, is the influx of activated charcoal toothpastes claiming to whiten teeth naturally when there’s actually little research to back it up. According to Victoria Veytsman, DDS, “While there is some anecdotal evidence that it may help brighten teeth, there is no scientific evidence. I don’t recommend it as a primary way to whiten teeth and would use it cautiously and in moderation due to its abrasive quality and potential to damage enamel and gums.”
Try this instead: It does appear that when applied to your teeth, activated charcoal teeth can lift surface stains, binding with coffee and wine. However, because its abrasiveness can damage enamel, dentists warn that you shouldn’t use activated charcoal every day, and you shouldn’t brush with it.
Try It: Activated Charcoal Masks
Activated charcoal is also popping up in all kinds of skincare products, from beauty bars to activated charcoal Konjac sponges for cleansing the skin.
For the best results, try a mask, says dermatologic surgeon Dr. Sejal Shah. “Adsorption basically acts like a magnet for dirt, oil, and other impurities — but it depends on physical contact so it needs to sit on the skin to be effective.”
Just don’t imagine that your facial is also detoxing anything beneath the surface: Dermatologist Dr. Janet Prystowsky, MD, says “While it won’t harm your skin, it’s not terribly effective at removing toxins because charcoal isn’t fat-soluble. In the stomach, toxins have a water-soluble environment for binding to the charcoal.” On the skin, on the other hand, the bacteria are in a slick of oil. “You’re better off using a beauty bar or Pond’s cream,” she says.
Try It: Activated Charcoal Shampoo
Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal Shampoo sephora.com $11.00
Plagued by an itchy, oily, and or flaky scalp? Activated charcoal can help, says Briogeo founder Nancy Twine. Inspired to break the stigma surrounding scalp issues, Nancy worked with a chemist to develop a soothing solution. The entire three-part collection — a gentle exfoliating shampoo, scalp treatment, and dry shampoo — is infused with binchotan, a hyper-porous activated charcoal from Japan.
You can check it out at Sephora.
Try It: Activated Charcoal Underwear
Adept at adsorbing foul and toxic smells from gases and liquids, activated charcoal has some applications for reducing body odor.
A surprising amount of research demonstrates that it effectively reduces the stink of flatulence: Underwear made from activated carbon fiber has been proven to remove odor from smelly farts. (One Danish study even recommended embedding activated charcoal in airplane seat cushions, so passengers could pass gas without “social complications.”)
Try it: If you’d like to get your hands on a pair of activated charcoal underwear, check out Shreddies’ flatulence-filtering underwear. One study found carbon fiber briefs much more effective than a pad or a cushion for removing the odor from farts. (Just remember, it won’t mute the noise).
Try It: Activated Charcoal Deodorant
PiperWai Natural Deodorant amazon.com $16.00 $11.99 (25% off)
Much less research has been done regarding its efficacy as a deodorant, but if you want to give it a try, there’s no harm — charcoal is inert and likely won’t irritate your skin. A number of new natural deodorants and underarm care systems featuring activated charcoal have come onto the market, and they sound promising — or at least, worth trying.
PiperWai (as seen on Shark Tank!) makes an aluminum-free, natural cream deodorant using activated charcoal and essential oils to absorb sweat and odor. And natural deodorant company Rustic MAKA has developed a three-part underarm care system (soap and konjac sponge, exfoliating mask, and antioxidant serum).
Try It: Activated Charcoal Water Purifier
Kishu Activated Charcoal Water Filter amazon.com $18.99
You probably already own one, but if you don’t, you should: carbon filters such as those in Brita filters — possibly the most ubiquitous form of activated charcoal out there — remove most contaminants and odors in water, such as pesticides and chlorine, and reduce heavy metals like lead.
But activated charcoal can also be used in its unprocessed form to purify water: just drop an entire stick into a pitcher or your water bottle. Each stick purifies water for four months — and after that, you can put it in your refrigerator to deodorize the air. Try Kishu activated charcoal sticks, which can be slipped into a water bottle or pitcher — no plastic necessary.
Try It: Activated Charcoal Air Purifier
Activated charcoal is proven to clear out odors and toxins from the air. Consider getting an activated charcoal air filter for neutralizing the stinkiest parts of your home, be it your garbage, fridge, or bathroom, or for when you’re repainting a room or polishing silverware.
Try It — With Caution: Activated Charcoal Pills for Poisoning
Thanks to its super-powerful ability to adsorb toxins, activated charcoal is proven to be an effective remedy in many (though not all) types of poisonings and is even administered in emergency rooms.
Activated charcoal pills can also be used to treat stomach pain caused by excess gas, diarrhea, or indigestion. Cheap and available over the counter, the pills are great if you’re traveling and happen to get food poisoning (as I learned on a trip to Uzbekistan several years ago, which is where I was first introduced to activated charcoal).
Nature’s Way Activated Charcoal amazon.com $10.99 $8.99 (18% off)
Be sure to look for activated charcoal pills free of sorbitol, which is a laxative. It’s included in some activated charcoal pills, like those used in hospitals, to help swiftly remove poisons from the body. Nature’s Way Activated Charcoal Capsules contain no sorbitol.
It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before consuming activated charcoal pills, especially if you are on any medications or expecting. Remember that activated charcoal can bind to vitamins, nutrients, and medications, so take it on an empty stomach and allow two to three hours before eating. And if believe you’ve been poisoned or are seriously ill, go to the ER immediately, or call your doctor.
Keep In Mind
- Seek activated charcoal made from a sustainable source like coconut shells or identified wood species. Binchotan, made purely from Japanese Ubame oak, is the crème de la crème. And remember, activated charcoal powder is dangerous to inhale — it can result in a condition like black lung — so be careful if you decide to take on any DIY projects with it.
- Keep it in a sealed container as activated charcoal can easily absorb the impurities in the air.
- Beware of fillers: try and make sure that products made with activated charcoal has no fillers or artificial sweeteners added.
Sick of scrolling through Instagram to see yet another celebrity shilling “flat-tummy” or “detox” tea? When it comes to losing weight or getting a flat stomach, there are products that will promise you everything — but do any of these products actually work? The short answer: Nope. And they could even lead to some unpleasant side effects.
“They are not really going to promote long-term weight loss,” Krista Schreiber, a dietitian at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told TODAY. “There hasn’t been any evidence-based research for most things that are supposed to detox.”
Schreiber and other experts outlined which drinks you may want to be wary of:
1. Detoxifying teas
Detoxifying teas claim to rid the body of toxins, helping people lose weight and flatten their tummies.
Is this too good to be true? Absolutely.
“There is no magic drink that is going to result in weight loss,” said Schreiber.
Vanderwall often hears people say they need to detoxify, but wonders why they worry about toxins.
“Our pancreases, kidney and liver, that is their job to detoxify our bodies,” she said. “What toxins are people trying to remove? If it is dietary toxin, just stop eating it.”
Some detoxifying products have high amounts of senna, a byproduct of the senna plant, which is used to treat constipation. When people consume too much of it they experience abdominal cramping, nausea and diarrhea.
“If you are dehydrated and having diarrhea, you might feel lighter,” Leslie Bonci, a dietician in Pittsburgh, told TODAY. “The impact on the gut is not a pleasant thing and it is not leading to a body fat loss.”
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2. Apple cider vinegar
People often drink a shot of apple cider vinegar as part of dietary changes meant to encourage weight loss. Many believe the tart liquid changes gut health and leads to weight loss. While vinegar certainly can be a healthy addition to a diet, the experts recommend holding off on taking shots of it for weight loss.
“There is evidence to suggest that vinegars can inhibit enzymes that break down food and change up how we digest carbohydrates,” Cassie Vanderwall, a nutritionist at University of Wisconsin Health, told TODAY. “But I don’t think the evidence is strong enough to recommend it (for weight loss.)”
Vinegar causes the body to slowly digest carbohydrates, meaning blood sugar doesn’t spike as intensely. But that doesn’t translate to weight loss. There’s also little data showing that vinegar impacts gut health.
But when it comes to choosing a salad dressing, a vinaigrette is a healthier choice than a cream-based dressing.
For many, a juice seems like a smarter choice and some people even swap out juices for meals. While juices provide some vitamins, enjoying them doesn’t always mean a smaller number on the scale.
“They are putting produce in their body, which we don’t get enough of,” Bonci said. “But, juices alone are not necessarily helping with weight loss.”
3 superfoods to use in tropical fruit smoothies
June 28, 201904:35
Though, if people are consistently substituting juices for meals, they may notice a loss, due to the calorie deficit. While that may be a positive for people, it’s important to note that fruit juices contain a lot of fructose. Some believe a natural sugar like fructose is healthier than added sugar, but it still increases blood sugar levels.
“It’s what we call a health halo,” Vanderwall said. “It is a different type of sugar but it still has the same effect.”
Plus, drinking a juice won’t make people feel as full as they would if they were eating fruits and vegetables.
4. Activated charcoal
In hospitals, doctors use activated charcoal after someone ingests something poisonous. It works like a sponge, soaking up everything in the stomach. Some people think that drinking it at home will help to detoxify their bodies and lead to weight loss.
“That is another myth. I don’t know of any evidence-based research that has shown its effectiveness for weight loss,” Schreiber said.
Activated charcoal is indiscriminate: It absorbs everything in the stomach — both good and bad. This means people are losing micronutrients when they drink it.
“We don’t know if it is harmless,” Bonci said. “There is nothing about it that would promote weight loss, short of being nauseous, which is just fluid loss.”
While loads of studies show that coffee improves heart health, for example, caffeine in coffee or added to other drinks does not help with weight loss. It can boost metabolism initially, but that quickly wears off and people have to drink more and more to see even a slight difference.
“Caffeine is commonly included in weight-loss products, but its long-term impact is minimal to none,” Vanderwall said.
Ask the Diet Doctor: The Truth Behind Activated Charcoal
Q: Can activated charcoal actually help rid my body of toxins?
A: If you Google “activated charcoal,” you’ll find pages and pages of search results exalting its amazing detoxifying properties. You’ll read that it can whiten teeth, prevent hangovers, reduce the effect of environmental toxins, and even detoxify your body from radiation poisoning after undergoing a CT scan. With a résumé like this, why aren’t more people using activated charcoal?
Unfortunately, these stories are all wellness fairytales. The purported benefit of activated charcoal as a detoxifier is a shining example of how knowing just a little bit of information-and not the whole story-can be dangerous. (Find out the Truth About Detox Teas, too.)
Activated charcoal is usually derived from coconut shells, wood, or peat. What makes it “activated” is the additional process it undergoes after the charcoal is formed when it’s exposed to certain gases at very high temperatures. This causes the formation of a large number of very small pores on the charcoal’s surface, which work as microscopic traps to take up compounds and particles.
In the ER, the medical community uses activated charcoal to treat oral poisoning. (This is where that “detoxifying” claim comes from.) All the pores found on the surface of activated charcoal make it very effective at taking up and binding things like drugs or poisons that were accidentally ingested and are still present in the stomach or portions of the small intestines. Activated charcoal is often seen as a more effective alternative to stomach pumping in the emergency treatment of poisoning, but they can be used in concert.
Activated charcoal is not absorbed by your body; it stays in your digestive tract. So in order for it to work in poison control, ideally you need to take it while the poison in still in your stomach so it can bind the poison or drug before it gets too far into your small intestine (where it would be absorbed by your body). Thus the idea that activated charcoal ingestion will cleanse your body from the toxins inside doesn’t make physiological sense, as it only will bind things in your stomach and small intestine. It doesn’t discriminate between “good” and “bad” either. (Try one of these 8 Simple Ways to Detox Your Body.)
Recently, a juice company started putting activated charcoal into green juices. However, this could actually make their product less effective and healthful. The activated charcoal may bind nutrients and phytochemicals from fruit and vegetables and prevent their absorption by your body.
Another common misperception about activated charcoal is that it can prevent the absorption of alcohol, and thus reduce hangovers and the extent to which you get drunk. But this isn’t the case-activated charcoal doesn’t bind to alcohol very well. Plus, a study published in Human Toxicology found that after having a couple drinks, blood alcohol levels in study subjects were the same whether they took activated charcoal or not. (Instead, try a few Hangover Cures that actually work.)
- By Dr. Mike Roussell @mikeroussell
Activated Charcoal: The Natural Way to Detox and Slow Down Aging
- Activated charcoal is trending, but its use as a detox and healing remedy goes way back.
- Charcoal binds to certain poisons, heavy metals, and other toxins and flush them from your body, making it a wonder substance for acute and general detoxification.
- Activated charcoal is the byproduct of burning a carbon source like wood or (better yet) coconut shells. The substance is “activated” by high temperatures, resulting in a highly adsorbent material with millions of tiny pores that capture, bind, and remove poisons, heavy metals, chemicals, and intestinal gases.
- The benefits of activated charcoal include general detoxification, digestive health, gas, bloating, heart health, and anti-aging.
- Take activated charcoal powder or capsules when you eat out at restaurants, drink bad quality coffee, when you travel, when you feel moody or tired, and when you drink alcohol.
Activated charcoal is having a moment. You’ve likely seen activated charcoal “wellness” shots at your local hipster coffee shop, or perhaps you’ve swigged it as a juice. But its use as a detox and healing remedy goes way back — traditional healers have used it for thousands of years, because of its numerous benefits.
Activated charcoal is known for its ability to bind to certain poisons, heavy metals, and other toxins and flush them from your body, making it a wonder substance for acute and general detoxification. It also carries a host of anti-aging and cardiovascular benefits.
One of the main tenets of a Bulletproof lifestyle is avoiding the things that make you weak. This includes energy-sapping processed snacks, sugar, and overexposure to toxic chemicals. But sometimes avoiding crappy food and environmental toxins is easier said than done. Whether you’re forced to eat at a less-than-ideal restaurant or you want to try a deeper detox, activated charcoal is your ally.
Activated charcoal is the byproduct of burning a carbon source like wood or (better yet) coconut shells. The substance is “activated” by high temperatures, removing all the oxygen and changing its chemical structure to create much smaller particles with more surface area. The result is ultra-fine charcoal with millions of tiny pores that capture, bind, and remove poisons, heavy metals, chemicals, and intestinal gases.
Just two grams of activated charcoal powder (4 Upgraded Coconut Charcoal capsules) has about the same surface area as a football field. The porous surface has a negative electric charge that attracts positively charged unwanted toxins and gas.
Why use activated charcoal?
Western medicine primarily uses activated charcoal to soak up poisons or other toxins in a hospital setting. It works through a process called “adsorption” (that’s ad, and not ab), which means “to bind to” rather than “to absorb.”
But activated charcoal is so much more than an antidote for drugs and poisons. It’s a global remedy for general detoxification, digestive health, gas, bloating, heart health, and anti-aging. It is a part of my mold toxin detox protocols. In fact, unscrupulous industrial cattle mills intentionally alter spoiled feed with activated charcoal, knowing it will allow them to increase profits without killing the animals.
Benefits of activated charcoal
Ancient physicians used inactivated charcoal for a variety of medical purposes, including treating epilepsy and anthrax. In the early 20th century, medical journals began publishing research revealing activated charcoal as an antidote for poisons and a way to improve intestinal disorders. Current research supports these earlier practices of activated charcoal, and also introduces additional benefits to using it. Here are just a few ways that activated charcoal works.
Toxins from low-quality, processed food, and environmental pollution sap your energy and contribute to brain fog and digestive issues. Chronic exposure to toxins causes cellular damage, allergic reactions, compromised immunity, and rapid aging. Regular use of activated charcoal can remove unwanted toxins from your body, leaving you feeling renewed and more vibrant, often in minutes.
Relieves 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 easing these digestive issues.
Binds drugs, chemicals, and poisons
Activated charcoal adsorbs most organic chemicals, many inorganic chemicals, drugs, pesticides, mercury, and even lead before they harm your body. If you’re poisoned, go to the emergency room. But there’s no reason you shouldn’t start binding a poison right away. A Bulletproof reader inadvertently took a huge dose of Tylenol (the capsules were in the wrong bottle), which is highly toxic to the liver. He realized his mistake, took a handful of activated charcoal capsules, and went to the emergency room. His liver was undamaged, and he credits biohacking.
Activated charcoal has powerful anti-aging properties, and studies show it prevents numerous cellular changes associated with aging. In one study, activated charcoal increased the average lifespan of older test animals by roughly 34 percent. Activated charcoal slows the rate at which the brain becomes sensitive to toxins as you age, which makes for better cognitive functioning. It also builds a better defense mechanism by improving the adaptive functioning of essential organs like the liver, kidneys, and adrenals.
Better heart health
Activated charcoal may also lower cholesterol levels.
In one study, patients with high cholesterol who took 8 grams of activated charcoal three times a day showed a 25% reduction in total cholesterol. They also lowered their LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by 41 percent, and increased their HDL (“good”) cholesterol by 8%. Studies examining microscopic tissues show a daily dose of activated charcoal may prevent abnormal hardening (sclerosis) in heart and coronary blood vessels.
When to use activated charcoal
As a biohacker and general health nerd, I quickly realized that it doesn’t matter how clean I eat — our environment is saturated with high levels of toxicity. This is even more of a problem when you have to eat out or are traveling. A commercial flight exposes you to high levels of toxic jet fuel and other airborne contaminants. And that’s not even counting the additives from the crappy airplane food.
Activated charcoal always saves the day when I overindulge on food or when I’m on long trips. And it does wonders when my kids suddenly drop into uncharacteristic fits of whining or tantrums, especially after snacks at a friend’s house. Activated charcoal always brings them back to normal within about 10 minutes. It’s amazing to watch.
Take activated charcoal when:
- You eat out at restaurants or eat processed junk foods
- You drink bad quality coffee
- You’re drinking any alcohol
- You feel moody or tired
- You’re traveling, especially air travel (activated charcoal is part of my no-jetlag protocol)
Activated charcoal isn’t just for isolated situations. Taking activated coconut charcoal on a daily basis is a great way to help you thrive in an overly toxin-filled environment. It’s best to take it between meals and a few hours after using any vitamin or mineral supplements, as it may interfere with their absorption. Be sure to take charcoal capsules at a different time to your prescription meds, which won’t enter your body when they bind to charcoal (more on dosing below).
How to take activated charcoal
Everyone responds differently to different doses, so always consult a doctor before using any supplement or binding agent like charcoal.
Charcoal dosage: Take two capsules (1,000mg) when consuming food of unknown quality or when drinking alcohol. Or try it in a recipe. Check out these 10 activated charcoal recipes to get started (including my favorite — waffles with white chocolate frosting).
When to avoid taking charcoal: Never take activated charcoal with prescription medications or with other supplements. Charcoal binds a lot of substances — even the good stuff like prescription medications, vitamins, and minerals. Wait 2-3 hours after taking charcoal to take other supplements or meds and talk to your doctor about the details.
Drink plenty of water: Excessive charcoal consumption, especially without magnesium, can result in constipation. Take 300-400 mg magnesium glycate about 3 hours after taking charcoal and drink plenty of water to avoid constipation.
And speaking of poop…
If you use activated charcoal, it will turn your poop black. This is great because it tells you how long food takes to go through your bowel (called transit time), but it can be surprising. Our kids’ preschool called once, concerned over dark stools. I had to explain the difference between bloody stools (which are black) and charcoal.
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Could Eating Charcoal Help You Detox?
By Christine Yu for Life by DailyBurn
Meet Amber Williford. Because of her food allergies to soy and dairy, Williford frequently experiences bloating and gas, especially after eating in restaurants. In search of relief, the holistic health coach read numerous online accounts of the benefits of taking activated charcoal supplements—and decided to try it.
Most commonly used in emergency settings to treat people who have been poisoned, activated charcoal is a superfine black powder that promises to entrap toxins in the body and help you excrete them during bowel movements.
Now, the substance is gaining popularity outside the ER, appearing as an ingredient in cold pressed juices, in supplements sold in stores like GNC and for use in powder form. Claiming to help treat everything from diarrhea, bloating and gas to improving skin care and whitening teeth, charcoal is being touted as the new key to a cleaner, healthier you.
But is activated charcoal a cure-all or just full of smoke? Read on to find out.
Activated Charcoal Benefits in Medicine
Declared an “essential medicine” by the World Health Organization, activated charcoal is commonly used in medical settings to treat accidental poisonings or drug overdoses. The substance is created when carbon is treated with an oxidizing agent, resulting in superfine dust with millions of pores and an immense surface area.
It is this surface area that makes activated charcoal special, reducing the body’s absorption of toxic substances by an estimated 47 percent. How? Toxins are carried out of the body through a process called adsorption. Anything in your gut sticks to the surface of charcoal like a magnet and gets carried out through a bowel movement.
But the jury’s still out concerning whether or not this ingredient is safe for everyday use.
According to Dr. Linda Fan, attending physician in the Department of Emergency Medicine at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, “It’s not a very specific absorber of substances. It will absorb anything in your gut, good and bad.” That includes any medication that you may be taking. “I wouldn’t use it without a medical professional’s advice,” she says.
Wellness Secret or Black Magic?
Williford, who ingested her charcoal in capsule form, claims the pills helped rid her system of an overgrowth of candida—yeast that lives in the digestive tract. “It has helped with the bloating,” Williford says, which had gotten so bad she says she sometimes looked several months pregnant.
Some natural health practitioners also say activated charcoal can be useful to treat minor digestive issues. For patients who experience an extended bout of diarrhea, Judy Fulop, N.D., M.S., a Naturopathic Practitioner at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University, says “Instead of taking something like Imodium to stop it, which doesn’t get to the cause of the problem, you can take something to bind to the toxins and move them out of the body.”
However, since the “runs” are the body’s natural reaction to digestive distress, it’s important to give your body at least 12 hours to purge the bad stuff by itself before turning to treatments such as charcoal, Fulop says.
But not all health care providers agree that charcoal should be used outside of a medical setting. While Dr. Gina Sam, Director of the Mount Sinai Gastrointestinal Motility Center at The Mount Sinai Hospital, has heard similar stories from her patients who reported decreased gas and bloating after taking activated charcoal, she does not use it in her practice. “There needs to be more scientific evidence to support its use,” she says.
The Black Line
This black, sandy substance may have a proven track record in urgent care settings, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe to self-administer. If you decide to use it anyway, “Take it under the guidance of a doctor so they can track your liver and enzyme levels,” says Dr. Sam, to ensure your body is not becoming depleted of essential nutrients.
It’s also important to note that the powder, which will turn your stools black when ingested, can mask upper GI bleeding that may be a side effect of serious digestive distress.
“The biggest thing to keep in mind is to figure out the cause of your digestive problem before running to take activated charcoal. There might be something else going on in your system that is causing your symptoms,” says Fulop. “If you continue to have diarrhea or explosive gas, you do need to see your practitioner.”
As for the claims that activated charcoal will help purify your body from toxins? “We don’t really need to take anything special to detox,” says Melissa Burton, RD, CDE. “Our liver and our spleen do a good job cleansing the body on their own. Instead, people should eat a balanced diet with adequate micronutrients, exercise and maintain other healthy habits in order to keep the liver functioning well and to have a healthy body.”
MORE FROM DAILYBURN:
- 5 Healthier Ways to Detox (That Aren’t Juice Cleanses)
- Is Intermittent Fasting Right for You?
- Egg Whites or Whole Eggs: Which Are Healthier?
Why do people take activated charcoal?
People take activated charcoal to manage a poisoning or overdose.
When used along with other treatments, activated charcoal may be effective for an acute poisoning. But it is NOT useful in some cases, including poisoning from:
- Iron tablets
It also is not used to treat poisons such as strong acids or bases.
With a poisoning, don’t guess about the right thing to do. Call your local poison control center immediately. And get to an emergency room. You need to use activated charcoal as soon as possible if it is recommended.
Other less studied uses of activated charcoal include:
- Treat a condition of pregnancy in which the normal flow of bile is affected (cholestasis)
- Prevent gas
- Reduce high cholesterol
- Prevent a hangover
Early research about using activated charcoal to treat cholestasis of pregnancy is very limited. More studies are needed to prove its safety and effectiveness.
It’s not clear whether activated charcoal helps improve gas and cholesterol. That’s because the research results so far have been inconsistent.
As for hangover remedies with activated charcoal, there isn’t really any evidence that it works.
The activated charcoal that is used to treat a poisoning is a powder that is mixed with a liquid. Once mixed, it can be given as a drink or through a tube that has been placed through the mouth and into the stomach.
Activated charcoal is also available in tablet or capsule forms to treat gas. This form is not used to treat a poisoning.Charcoal for weight loss