What Is Activated Charcoal?

Activated Charcoal is a highly porous substance that has been proven to be an effective natural treatment for a variety of diverse ailments. Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine have used activated charcoal for thousands of years and its first recorded use dates back to 1550 BC. Activated charcoal is well established in medical literature as a powerful antidote that adsorbs most organic toxins, chemicals, and poisons before they can harm the body.

It’s important to note that activated charcoal is not charcoal used in your barbecue grill! Barbecue charcoal is loaded with toxins and chemicals, and should not be consumed. Activated charcoal, on the other hand, consists of a substance—usually bamboo, wood, coal, or coconut shell—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, what remains is a tasteless and odorless powder that is highly adsorbent, with millions of tiny pores that capture, bind, and remove poisons, heavy metals, chemicals, and gases up to 1000 times its own weight. This process of adsorption (not to be confused with absorption) is what makes charcoal so powerful.  The surface of activated charcoal has a negative electric charge that causes positively charged toxins and gas to bond with it, trapping these toxins and chemicals and assisting to remove them from the body.

Activated Charcoal Benefits

The benefits of activated charcoal are unique and varied. It is commonly used for a number of reasons, from digestive complaints, to whitening teeth, to purifying both air and water. The very fine black powder is becoming increasingly popular and is now commonly found in everything from superfood powders to beauty products, due to its natural antibacterial, anti-fungal and highly absorbent properties. Below are some of the most common uses of activated charcoal that you can try at home.

1. Whitening Teeth

Activated Charcoal works to whiten teeth, balance pH levels and prevent bad breath and cavities. It does this by absorbing the plaque that builds up on your teeth as well as removing common stains most associated with coffee, wine or cigarettes. Using a charcoal toothbrush can work to deodorize your mouth and also prevent bacterial buildup from growing on your brush. Using an activated charcoal toothpaste can help to remineralize teeth, strengthen gums, remove toxins in your mouth and prevent tooth decay and gingivitis. It is also anti-inflammatory, helping to calm down oral inflammation. When used in toothpastes, powders and oral health rinses, activated charcoal can bind to bacteria and other harmful substances and remove them from the mouth. On a more cosmetic level, it is the same action that allows the charcoal to bind to stain-causing plaque and microscopic compounds that discolor the teeth.

2. Filtering Water

Activated Charcoal is commonly found in water filters due to its ability to trap impurities and remove contaminates in water including solvents, pesticides, industrial waste and other chemicals, leaving behind cleaner, safer water.  Activated charcoal has also shown promise in eliminating fluoride in tap water, which is a toxic chemical that can cause severe health impacts if consumed excessively. While drinking water is essential to good health, typical tap water is commonly laden with chemicals, toxins and fluoride. Activated charcoal water filters are available for whole-home systems, as well as countertop models and even in regular, refillable water bottles that you can take anywhere you go.

3. Cleansing Skin

Activated charcoal is a fantastic skincare ingredient and is increasingly showing up in many beauty products on the market.  It helps to remove bacteria, exfoliate the skin, minimise pores and balance the skin’s pH levels. Its antibacterial properties can assist with acne, spot treatment and prevent further breakouts. Activated charcoal face masks are a wonderful way to achieve smooth skin and a clear complexion. According to dermatologist Dr. Sejal Shah, an activated charcoal mask can adsorb and act like a magnet for dirt, oil and other impurities that are commonly found in the skin. Furthermore, body odor and bad breath can both be assisted with the use of activated charcoal as the toxins that create these symptoms are trapped and eliminated.

4. Digestive Supplement

Studies have shown that when taken internally, activated charcoal can improve digestive function and immunity by helping to remove heavy metals and toxins that cause allergic reactions and oxidative damage, as well as viruses and parasites. Toxicity is a part of everyday life and activated charcoal can help to eliminate toxins the body receives from pesticides in foods, chemicals in body products and pollutants from the air. This helps increase energy levels, improve mental function and support the immune system to ward of illness and disease.

Activated charcoal can also help to alleviate uncomfortable gas and bloating by binding the gas-causing by-products in foods that cause discomfort. A study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that activated charcoal helps to prevent intestinal gas following a typical gas-producing meal. If taking internally, always read the label and use only as directed.

5. Insect Bite Treatment

Activated Charcoal can be applied externally to help relieve discomfort from insect bites, rashes from poison ivy or poison oak, and snake bites. It works to powerfully absorb bad bacteria and soothe the affected area. Try combining activated charcoal with coconut oil and placing over the affected area when dressing the wound. Of course, professional medical advice should also be sought when dealing with bites and poisonous subject matter.

6. Air Purifier

Charcoal is also a great air purifier and can work to remove unpleasant smells and odors from the fridge and the home. The negative ionic charge of charcoal attracts irritating positive ions in the air, such as dust and microfibers, as well as harmful chemicals and pollutants. These particles bind to the charcoal through the same process of adsorption that works internally in the body. This is why you will often find charcoal in air purifying products.

7. 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 adsorb 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.

8. Treating Mold

Toxic mold can infiltrate the body and cause depression, kidney and liver failure, decreased brain function, heart disease, eye irritation, headaches, vomiting, impaired immune system function, and severe respiratory distress.  Homes that have flooded, or even those with small leaks under a sub-floor or in the walls, can create an environment where mold can thrive. Poor ventilation contributes to the problem, and bathrooms, basements and laundry rooms are particularly prone to mold growth. If there is visible mold in your home, it must be mitigated properly. Yet activated charcoal can assist to eliminate the toxic buildup in the body caused by mold. Seek medical advice to determine the proper dosage suitable for your condition.

9. Anti-Aging

Aging is a natural part of life, but exposure to toxins in our food, homes and environment can lead to premature aging.  Studies show that activated charcoal can help to prevent cellular damage to the kidneys and liver, as well as support healthy adrenal glands. It also benefits major organs by helping the body flush out any stored toxins and chemicals that may lead to illness or dis-ease in the body. Activated charcoal has also been shown to slow the rate at which the brain becomes increasingly sensitive to toxins as you age, which makes for better cognitive functioning.

10. Reduces High Cholesterol

Studies around the world show that activated charcoal has the ability to reduce bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol as much as some prescription medications. In a recent study, patients with high cholesterol who took activated charcoal three times a day showed a 25% reduction in total cholesterol. They also doubled their HDL/LDL cholesterol ratio. Studies examining microscopic tissues show a daily dose of activated charcoal may prevent abnormal hardening in heart and coronary blood vessels.

Where Can I Find Activated Charcoal?

You can find activated charcoal powder and supplements at drugstores, grocery stores, health and vitamin shops and online. In general, when buying activated charcoal products, consider its source. Activated charcoal made from organically grown coconuts or wood is the best. Organic raw materials will yield products that are purer and more effective.

To Keep in Mind…

*Prior to ingesting activated charcoal, consult a physician or health expert to determine whether it is appropriate for your condition, and to ascertain the appropriate dosage.

*Anyone who experiences poisoning or exposure to toxic substances should immediately contact a poison control center or hospital and follow their exact instructions.

* Activated charcoal is not known to be toxic, though it should not be taken within two hours of vitamins or medications because it may prevent the body from absorbing them. Similarly, charcoal can bind to the nutrients present in food or drinks, making these less nourishing rather than enhancing them.

 Have you tried activated charcoal? We'd love to hear how and if you would do it again in the comments below!