Activated charcoal is an excellent detoxifier. It is one of the few substances that can absorb gas and so help uncomfortable bloating and wind… Learn more below.
Activated charcoal was first used medicinally by the ancient Egyptians in 1500BC on infected ulcers and wounds, and for unpleasant gases from the digestion. It was used by Hippocrates and Pliny (Ancient Greek physicians) for a huge range of diseases including epilepsy and anthrax. It was used to make water safe as far back as 450BC. Its ability to remove toxins from the air, water and the body, when ingested, continues to be its main use today (1).
Still used in hospital today to absorb poisons and drug overdoses
Activated charcoal is still one of the best treatments to help when given quickly for accidental poisoning (2) (consuming something toxic) and the first line of treatment in Emergency Departments but it is most effective when given within an hour of poisoning (3). This makes it a good choice for your home medicine cabinet (it has no taste so can be mixed with liquid and drunk) especially if you have young children.
Research shows activated charcoal is very safe
90 day high dose studies show no evidence of toxicity in bamboo source activated charcoal (4). It has been widely used for poisoning and toxicity for over 170 years and is generally considered safe for consumption (5). In the 1800’s it was popular to demonstrate the power of activated charcoal to medical students by taking it with the poison strychnine and showing it prevented any ill effects.
It can help relieve bloating and gas
Studies show that activated charcoal taken after a meal can effectively reduce wind (belching and flatus) (3) and may reduce feelings of bloating and stomach cramps (6). A study of 262 patients with IBS saw a significant improvement in symptoms when taking activated charcoal for 12 weeks (7).
May lower cholesterol (8)
Studies showed patients taking 4-32g/day of activated charcoal for 3 weeks saw a dose dependent improvement in their cholesterol levels with a reduction in LDL cholesterol (‘bad’ cholesterol) and an improvement in their ratio of HDL (good): to LDL (bad) cholesterol (8),(9).
May work as a natural teeth whitening agent
Although there are no large studies on Activated Charcoal use in dentistry there are many anecdotal and experiential reports of the benefit of activated charcoal on oral health and staining of the teeth, which is why it has become popular in toothpastes. Charcoal does not damage the enamel on the teeth, is very safe and its huge adsorption ability makes it a good choice for trying to remove staining on your teeth. Because it absorbs gas it is also great for bad breath. Although it is black it washes off easily and doesn’t stain.
Use it to help nausea and diarrhoea from food poisoning
Activated charcoal has been shown to be effective and safe to use for diarrhoea from any cause making it a great choice for the home medicine cabinet (10) in case of an issue. Its ability to absorb toxins makes it a good choice if you think something has upset your stomach. It has also been shown to be effective against chemotherapy induced diarrhoea helping significantly improve symptoms (11).
Activated Charcoal can remove toxins from the body by trapping them on its surface
Activated charcoal works because it has a huge surface area which is charged to attract and trap toxins on its surface, binding them and effectively removing them from you.
Make sure it is made from a natural source like coconut or bamboo
Coconut shell is a wonderful, natural and eco-friendly source of activated charcoal. Coconuts can be harvested regularly, produce much less ash and they are easily renewable without damaging the environment. They make a superior activated charcoal to wood with better adsorption due to their smaller pores. It is important that you source your activated charcoal from a high quality source where it is pure with no toxins, heavy metals, fillers, genetic modifications or contaminants more commonly found in unregulated, cheap products.
Dr Jess says: Activated charcoal is a staple for your home medicine cabinet and a great, safe go-to remedy in our house for ‘upset stomachs’ or over-indulging! It is the only product I have seen significantly improve bloating in patients and is a great digestive remedy. I use toothpaste with charcoal in it and despite being grey I really think it helps keep my teeth white!
Activated charcoal has been used since Ancient Egyptian times to remove toxins and was even used as an early method of mummification to preserve bodies as it effectively prevented them decaying. It is a truly amazing substance but make sure you get it from a reputable source to avoid impurities.
Other uses and benefits:
- Chronic ulcers – Activated charcoal may improve wound healing of long-term ulcers (10)
- May reduce the risk of dying from malaria – In early animal studies it appears taking activated charcoal may reduce the chance of dying from malaria as it reduces inflammation in the brain (11)
- Pruritis (itching) from kidney disease – Activated charcoal significantly improved itching in patients with uremic pruritus (12) and patients on dialysis with pruritus (14)
- Improve cholestasis of pregnancy – Activated charcoal significantly decreased bile acids when given for 8 days, which could help cholestasis of pregnancy (15)
- Jaundice – Activated charcoal improved levels of bilirubin in jaundiced newborn babies (16)
- Ulcerative colitis – When given with myrrh and chamomile, charcoal was as effective as the standard drug treatments with less side effects for stopping episodes of ulcerative colitis (17).
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus – Immunosorption is a process in which blood is perfused through activated charcoal and has been shown to be very effective to improve symptoms, kidney disease and reduce antibody levels (18).
Do not use if you suffer from the rare condition of variegate porphyria as it may worsen the disease (19).
HOW TO USE ACTIVATED CHARCOAL
Take as a capsule or tablet – Make sure to buy high quality activated charcoal from a natural source – e.g. coconut – and a good supplier. Activated charcoal tablets can be taken as needed for digestive upset, bloating, reflux and gas, particularly after over-indulgence! Take 2 capsules or tablets up to three times a day. Be careful to drink enough water and make sure not to take them within 2 hours of other medicines or supplements (consult your healthcare provider to ensure they are suitable for you).
For teeth whitening – Brush activated charcoal powder onto your teeth (be careful to charcoal proof the immediate area and use a toothbrush you don’t mind discolouring) Brush all your teeth for 2 minutes in small circles then rinse out mouth. Repeat this daily for 2 weeks to see an improvement in staining. Make sure you use food-grade activated charcoal powder.
Help prevent (and help) hangovers – People often report that taking activated charcoal capsules with alcohol reduces a hangover (it also binds to other toxins, sweeteners, preservatives and additives in many alcoholic drinks). It may reduce blood alcohol concentrations.
Filter your water – Activated charcoal has been used for hundreds of years to filter water and removes a large number of the toxins and chemicals from tap water. Filter jugs and whole house filtration systems are a good investment for your family’s health.
To keep in for emergencies – A great addition to your medicine cabinet in case of food poisoning or accidental ingestion of chemicals or overdoses of medication. As well as urgently seeking medical advice, activated charcoal can help and is useful to have ready in case advised.