Activated charcoal has traditionally been used for healing purposes for more than 3,000 years. It is a carbon-based substance that is very porous with the ability to attract and bind toxins in water-based environments. For this reason, activated charcoal is used to aid in human health by detoxifying the body of harmful substances and relieving symptoms of nausea, gastrointestinal upset, inflammation and even reducing cholesterol.
A recent chemical explosion in 2008 along the Songhua River in China contaminated the supplied drinking water for more than 10 million people in a city called Harbin. Significant quantities of the toxic chemical benzene were released in which the Chinese government acted quickly to filter the toxin from the water with activated charcoal. Successfully, the activated charcoal cleaned the benzene out of the river and prevented fatalities from contaminated drinking water.
Charcoal’s Remarkable Absorbency:
Lacking the presence of oxygen, charcoal is produced from exposing coconut husk or wood to high heat and burning it to produce millions of pores in the charcoal debris. Through Van der Waals forces or London dispersion forces, this activated substance is able to hold toxic debris and liquid.
In fact, activated charcoal can take in outside materials weighing more than 100 times its own weight. The inner surface of charcoal is about 200 to 300m2/g coal which approximates roughly into the area that spans a football field for every 2 grams of activated charcoal. When used properly, activated charcoal is a powerful detoxifier which can eliminate toxins not only from water but from the air and human body. (2)
Notice the adjective used to describe activated charcoal. It is able to “adsorb” foreign materials as opposed to “absorb”. Sponges can absorb liquids and are then squeezed right back out. Substances which adsorb matter actually hold and bind the toxins at a molecular level within so that they are unable to escape. This interaction of impurities with the charcoal prevents their release.
Health Benefits of Activated Charcoal
Ancient Egyptians documented their use of activated charcoal to remove the rotting odor from wounds. Hindus used activated charcoal to filter water for drinking purposes. Hippocrates used this detoxifying substance as epilepsy and anthrax treatment and the list continues on in history.
While some skeptics barely batted an eye to acknowledge the absorptive powers of this healing agent, researchers improved the refining process for producing activated charcoal making it more porous and better capable at absorbing chemical vapors and toxins. (4)
Today activated charcoal can be found in various beauty products for skin care, oral hygiene and is sold in supplements for detoxifying the body.
1. Reduce Toxic Load
Organic chemicals which are those that are carbon-based like charcoal can also interact with activated charcoal. In other words, such substances like herbicides, pesticides, contaminants in plastics, other industrial pollutants and environmental toxins are able to become trapped within the charcoal.
Research suggests that activated charcoal decreases the toxic load on the body by greater than 60% when used daily (1, 3). This is because activated charcoal can also effectively bind and limit the presence of chlorine, bacteria, viruses, yeast, toxic excretions and metabolic byproducts in the body. As a result of its passage through the body, activated charcoal and its impurities contained are passed through the body as feces.
Removes Chemotherapy Drugs: Activated charcoal is effective at removing most water-soluble toxins from the body including some chemotherapy drugs. Drugs that have been absorbed into the body have a dramatic reduction in the drug’s half-life reduction, or the time it takes for the toxin to rid the body.
2. Treat Gastrointestinal Complications
Activated charcoal is a safe way to detox as it is gentle on the colon and does not disrupt the intestinal mucous lining and rather cleanses the intestines. Toxic gases, parasites, Candida and physical impurities in the gut binds to activated charcoal and eliminated from producing symptoms of flatulence, bloating, constipation and an array of many other symptoms linked to poor gut health. When combined with proper amounts of hydration, charcoal supplementation is most effective when also combined with fiber like psyllium powder or celery seed powder.
Universal Antidote: Hospitals have used activated charcoal for decades as a tool to prevent the absorption of toxic substances through the GI tract and to stimulate the removal of chemicals already absorbed. For patients who present themselves in hospitals with a life-threatening dose of a poisonous substance, activated charcoal has been administered resulting in a low morbidity rate. (4)
3. Reduce Inflammation
As previously mentioned, activated charcoal exhibits a “back diffusion” process in which it is able to not only interact with toxins that have yet been absorbed by the body, but it can also draw poisons back into the gut from circulation in the body (5). Blood vessels that carry toxins to neighboring and distant areas of the body promote the diffusion of drugs to critical organs. This introduction of chemicals to tissue causes systemic inflammation and initiates your body’s immune system defenses.
It may be the process of back diffusion which is why activated charcoal has been used to treat in skin ailments such as rashes. The purifying properties of charcoal are not used to heal from the inside out but heal the skin when applied topically. People have praised the health benefits of activated charcoal for healing spider and mosquito bites (6). (3)
4. Lower Cholesterol Levels
Studies have found that activated charcoal can actually reduce bad cholesterol levels and improve total serum cholesterol concentrations. Results of one study showed an improvement of 41% in the patient’s LDL cholesterol levels and a 29% improvement in total serum levels. (7)
I don’t believe that having what is considered higher cholesterol is all that bad, however, the fact that charcoal can soak up LDL is a sign that it enhances the bodies ability to remove toxic bile from the gastrointestinal system. This is a vital area of detoxification that is rarely discussed. If toxic bile is not recycled or removed through the stool it will cause oxidative stress in the gut and contribute to an overgrowth of unwanted microbes in the gut.
Recommendations for Taking a Supplement:
Here are some basic recommendations for using a charcoal supplement.
- Take Away From Other Supplements: Never consume a charcoal supplement while also taking other supplements. Space out use by at least an hour
- Do Not Take With Medications: Seek advice from your doctor if you are currently taking any other medications as certain medications will bind to charcoal and be rendered inactive. You can avoid this by taking it several hours away from the medications.
- Drink a Lot of Water: Drink no less than half your body weight in ounces of water while taking the supplement or you risk constipation and poor elimination. The absorbency of the charcoal will soak up water, so drinking extra fluids will help you eliminate more toxins and regulate your bowel motility.
- Consume A Good Amount of Fiber: Adequate fiber intake is necessary to move activated charcoal through the intestines so that it may be eliminated from the body as feces and should be taken with a proper fiber source. The fiber does not have to be taken with charcoal, as we often will want to take charcoal all by itself, so focus on good fiberous vegetables throughout the day.
- Take Before Bed: The ideal time to take charcoal would be before bed, roughly 3 hours after eating dinner for pure detoxification methods
- When To Take With Meals: You can take activated charcoal with meals if you are trying to avoid a food sensitivity as the charcoal will grab up much of the nutrition in the meal and reduce the inflammatory compounds from influencing the body. This is only recommended if you are either eating unhealthy food or a food you have an allergy or sensitivity too. This is great for individuals with leaky gut who have a lot of food sensitivity. If they consume something and notice an increase in inflammation, then taking the charcoal will help to reduce the inflammatory activity.
- Consume a Mineral Rich Diet: Charcoal can pull minerals out of the body so be sure to have a mineral rich diet to balance this out.
- Best Dosages: You can take 100mg – up to 2 grams. I will typically start clients with 500-1000 mg. I like to use the Bulletproof activated charcoal for a deep detox or with foods to reduce sensitivity reactions.