This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
Activated charcoal can be found in many products, such as in toothpaste, beauty masks, and even added to some foods. While activated charcoal has many uses, one of its most important may be detoxifying the body.
What Is Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal is a black powder that is odorless and tasteless. Charcoal comes from materials such as wood that have been exposed to high temperatures in an airtight environment. It is then “activated” by reheating the powder with various chemicals and oxidizing gas. This process increases the powder’s ability to absorb a variety of substances. Unlike absorption, which attracts particles and draws them in or soaks them up, the adsorption process causes particles to attach to the powder like a magnet. When the activated charcoal leaves the body, the attracted particles are removed along with it.
For centuries, activated charcoal has been used to clean water and treat a variety of health ailments. One of the first scientific demonstrations of activated charcoal’s effectiveness was recorded in 1813: Betrend, a French chemist, drank 5 grams of arsenic trioxide, a drug that can cause nausea, dizziness, headaches, and abdominal pain. However, when Betrend mixed the substance with activated charcoal, he felt no ill effects and was unharmed.
Other benefits of using activated charcoal include the following:
- Detoxification from Unhealthy Foods. Activated charcoal can bind to the various pesticides and toxins that may be on food, pulling them out of the digestive tract. Activated charcoal is often used by those who ate bad restaurant food that caused an allergic reaction, an upset stomach, diarrhea, or food poisoning. Hospitals often use activated charcoal to treat individuals who have overdosed on drugs or have experienced food poisoning as well.
- Digestive Relief. Activated charcoal can help with gas and bloating; it binds to the particles in food that cause gas and discomfort, preventing them from being absorbed in the body.
- Binds to Toxins. Some toxins and heavy metals bind to activated charcoal. Instead of being absorbed by the body, they are transported to the large intestine and removed from the body naturally through bowel movements. Over time, exposure to toxins could lead to many problems, such as allergic reactions, damage to cells, brain fog, a weakened immune system, and accelerated aging.
- Used for Kidney Health. Activated charcoal may help kidney function by decreasing the amount of waste products the kidneys have to filter. This extra filtering may help those with kidneys unable to filter waste products correctly, such as those with chronic kidney disease.
- Supports Low Cholesterol. Over time, cholesterol could build up on artery walls and increase a person’s risk of having coronary heart disease. Activated charcoal can help lower cholesterol levels by preventing the body from absorbing it.
- Health & Beauty. Activated charcoal has been used as a face mask to improve skin health. Activated charcoal on the face helps remove excess oils, toxins, and other impurities are removed along with it.
Activated charcoal can be used in a variety of ways. Here are the most popular uses of activated charcoal:
- After Night Out Partying. Consuming activated charcoal while drinking alcohol is believed to help reduce blood-alcohol levels.
- After Eating Bad or Processed Foods. Activated charcoal binds to the bad bacteria and other harmful food-related products. Consuming these foods could cause digestive issues, such as allergic reactions and food poisoning. Activated charcoal helps remove them from the body, helping to keep the digestive tract healthy and functioning correctly.
- As a Toothpaste. When used as a toothpaste, activated charcoal helps whiten the teeth by absorbing plaque and objects that stain the teeth.
- Topical For Bug Bites. Activated charcoal has been used as an insect remedy for centuries. The powder is mixed with coconut oil and applied to the affected area, “pulling” the toxins from the bites and stings out of the body and onto the activated charcoal.
- To Filter Water. Activated charcoal can remove fluoride and heavy metals from the water, making it an effective water treatment system.
- Health & Beauty. In addition to facials described above, activated charcoal can be mixed with aloe vera gel as a spot treatment for acne. The mixture binds with the dirt and other toxins that may cause acne. It is also used to absorb odors as an air purifier in the home or office and remove mold smells.
The amount of charcoal a person takes depends on the reason for its use; consult with a medical professional to help determine the correct amount for you:
- Intestinal gas: 500-1000 milligrams per day
- Stomach bug, viruses, bacteria: 500mg 2-3X/day
- Lower cholesterol: 4-32 grams daily
Common side effects associated with consuming activated charcoal include constipation and black stools. Drinking plenty of water is often advised when consuming activated charcoal. Other potential side effects are nausea and vomiting.
Activated charcoal may interfere with some medications. As a result, doctors should be notified of activated charcoal use if taking or are prescribed meds. As a general rule of thumb, wait at least 90 minutes after taking medication or two hours before taking meds to consume activated charcoal. (This helps reduce any interactions between the meds and the activated charcoal).
Those with genetic diseases that affect the skin, gut, or nervous system should consult with a physician before taking activated charcoal.
Activated charcoal has been used to treat a variety of health issues for centuries. Its adsorbing qualities have made it a popular treatment for reducing cholesterol levels, detoxifying the body, improving skin health, drug overdoses, and improving gut health. Activated charcoal is generally safe, moving toxins, bacteria, and other harmful particles to the intestines and harmlessly removing them from the body via bowel movements.
Activated charcoal is sold in many health stores and can be purchased online as well. It is available in pill or tablet form, toothpaste, face masks, and air purifiers. Avoid activated charcoals that contain artificial sweeteners. Besides, use those made from coconut shells or activated bamboo charcoal or activated charcoal powder only.
Medical Disclaimer: This article is based upon the opinions of Dr. Daniel Pompa. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Pompa and his associates. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD for accuracy of the information provided, but Dr. Pompa encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.