Activated charcoal is often featured in detox juices and supplements. It works through a process called adsorption, where toxins and chemicals are soaked up by the charcoal.
It’s also used in emergency treatment for certain kinds of poisoning, such as iron, lithium, cyanide, and some pharmaceutical drugs and over-the-counter medications. It can also help reduce fishy odors and improve kidney function.
It’s Used for Poisoning
Activated charcoal is a common emergency treatment for drug or chemical poisoning. It works by binding toxins and drugs to prevent their absorption in the digestive tract. It has lots of tiny pores that soak up chemicals, which is why it’s used in water filters (although don’t go sprinkling this stuff in your morning latte).
Studies suggest that for activated charcoal to be effective in poisoning, it must come into contact with the drug or toxin and be administered promptly. It also needs to be given in adequate doses. It is not recommended for people with a gastrointestinal blockage or in cases of constipation. During treatment, it’s important to drink plenty of water as well to avoid dehydration.
The most common activated charcoal treatment involves the administration of a mixture of carbon powder or granulate and water. It’s usually delivered through a stomach tube, although if an individual is conscious it can be given orally. This combination is given until a person is symptom-free, typically within 2-4 hours of the poisoning incident. During this time, doctors monitor the patient’s condition and symptoms closely.
Some studies suggest that it may help reduce cholesterol levels, fight fishy odor syndrome, lower fevers and improve kidney function. It has also been found to relieve diarrhea and indigestion. However, most of these studies are older and limited in scope.
It’s Used for Teeth Whitening
A lot of people on social media have started to brush their teeth with a wet toothbrush dipped in activated charcoal powder. They claim that this detoxifies their mouth and makes their teeth whiter. Activated charcoal is super absorbent, so it might be able to remove some of the food particles and bacteria that cause stains. But it’s not clear if that really works, and long-term use can damage your enamel.
The reason is that charcoal is abrasive, and even though it may look soft, it is actually quite gritty. Brushing your teeth with it can scuff and scratch the enamel, which damages your tooth structure and causes more staining and other problems. It can also irritate gums, especially if they’re already prone to bleeding when you brush normally.
Moreover, although it may work on some surface stains, it’s not effective at whitening teeth that are deeply stained or yellowish naturally. Activated charcoal latches onto the grittiness of teeth, but it doesn’t clean intrinsic stains, so you still need more drastic whitening methods like professional bleaching.
In addition, long-term use of charcoal products can deplete your teeth and scalp of healthy oils. Moreover, it can interfere with some medications because it can bind to them. Lastly, it’s not recommended to use this product in children or pregnant women because of its toxic effects when ingested.
It’s Used for Digestive Cleanses
Activated charcoal is used to help detoxify the body, boost digestion and promote gut health. It can remove harmful bacteria, toxins and viruses from the digestive tract. It also helps reduce the amount of gas produced.
Charcoal can be taken as a supplement to reduce bloating, gas and stomach pain. It can also be used to treat indigestion.
Its porous surface binds to toxins, chemicals and drugs that are ingested and prevents them from being absorbed by the body. This is how it’s used in emergency rooms to treat poisonings. It can reduce the symptoms of certain types of poisoning, including acetaminophen, aspirin, barbiturates, tricyclic antidepressants, theophylline and phenytoin.
However, ingestion of activated charcoal isn’t recommended if you have a bowel obstruction, since it can block the digestive tract. It’s also not advised for people with a weakened immune system, pregnant women or those taking certain medications.
When taking charcoal, drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. It can bind to important electrolytes, such as potassium, calcium and sodium. It can also interfere with the results of some medical tests and cause black stools, which may look like gastrointestinal bleeding. It can also bind to some prescription medications, so it’s best to discuss any potential drug interactions with your doctor before you start taking it.
It’s Used for External Treatments
Activated charcoal’s pores and high surface area allow it to bind with chemicals, poisons, drugs and toxins, keeping them from being absorbed by the body. It has been used as an emergency anti-poison treatment since the early 1800s. It binds to drugs and toxins in the gastrointestinal tract, preventing their absorption, and can reduce the effects of certain drug overdoses. For example, it has been shown to bind to pesticides, mercury, bleach, acetaminophen, and some prescription and over-the-counter medications like opiates and sedatives.
Using activated charcoal externally can help reduce blackheads and other skin problems by removing toxins that can cause inflammation, oxidative damage, and poor immune system function. Many skin products, such as face masks and cleansers, contain activated charcoal to remove excess oil and dirt that can lead to breakouts and clogged pores. It is also believed to be able to help relieve itching, redness and swelling from insect bites, as well as snake bites.
When taking activated charcoal, it is important to drink a lot of water in order to prevent dehydration and constipation. It is also recommended to avoid supplements containing added ingredients that can detract from its effectiveness. Choose a high-quality charcoal powder that is made from sustainable sources such as coconut shells or identified wood species like binchotan from Japanese Ubame oak.