Activated charcoal benefits and uses go far beyond the scope of air and water purifying filters, in fact it has been used for health and healing for thousands of years. Of course this is not your typical source of charcoal briquettes, as in the kind you fire up your barbecue grill with…
This is an entirely different source of charcoal that offers some pretty amazing benefits for the body and at times can even be an absolute lifesaver. When used for the purposes mentioned in this post, careful consideration should be given as to the quality, source, and whether the charcoal is activated or not.
What is Activated Charcoal?
Charcoal must be activated in order for it to be effective when taken internally. This process of activation, whereby organic materials are burned at a very high heat, very slowly without the presence of oxygen, allows millions of tiny pores to be created within the organic material (carbon), which has a negative charge and has been shown to catch and hold 100 times its own weight by attracting positive ionic charges of outside matter (toxins and poisons).
Simply put, activated charcoal is highly effective at binding to toxins dissolved or suspended in gases and liquids. This includes binding to environmental toxins in air and water as well as to any that reach our skin and enter our body. It’s one of nature’s antidotes most definitely worth stocking your natural medicine cabinet with.
What is the Best Source?
The best source of activated charcoal for applications in the body and on the skin is food grade, from ground coconut husks/shells, using steam activation, resulting in a super fine, odorless and tasteless black powder which I like to call natures black magic gold, with a particle size that is easily and readily absorbed.
Other sources include bamboo, hardwood, peat and bone char, but as far as high quality is concerned, my vote is for coconut shell since it’s extremely absorbable while also being a more sustainable material without causing damage to the environment.
Also, beware of manufacturers that include sorbitol or other artificial sweeteners to make it more palatable. It makes no sense to add a chemical that is useless anyhow since the powder is tasteless anyway.
Top 8 Activated Charcoal Benefits & How to Use it
Regarding the uses for activated charcoal mentioned here – although generally deemed safe for most people, there are a few important things to keep in mind, as well as a couple precautions when taking it internally:
- Drink plenty of water (at least half your body weight) to avoid dehydration, and move toxins out of the body quickly. On occasion, constipation has been experienced while taking activated charcoal which is usually not an issue when drinking lots of water.
- Take two hours prior to or after nutrient rich meals, supplements and prescription medications, so that the activated charcoal doesn’t interfere with the absorption of these.
- Check with your health care provider when taking prescription medications, potential adverse interactions with activated charcoal and certain drugs can occur.
- Activated charcoal is not considered safe for those with medical conditions such as chronic dehydration, slow digestion, intestinal blockages or bleeding, holes in the intestines, or recent abdominal surgery. These conditions may change the way charcoal normally reacts in your body.
- It’s not advised to attempt to “hide” activated charcoal from kids by mixing it with sweet things like ice cream, this may prevent it from working properly.
1 ~ Emergency Toxin and Poison Control
Activated charcoal is a well known treatment effectively used by poison control centers and in the ER on a daily basis for emergency situations such as accidental poisoning or overdose with over-the-counter medicines and prescription medications, ingestion of pesticides, toxic cleaning products, and personal care products.
89 percent of poisonings take place at home. And if you have kids or pets, let’s face it – chances are, things will get swallowed. You just hope it’s not things on the “do not eat list” and worse yet, ones that are poisonous. It’s times like these that activated charcoal just may save a loved ones life.
If administered as quickly as possible, within one hour after ingestion of a poisonous substance, activated charcoal is highly effective at binding to the toxins before they have a chance to get absorbed by the body. Having some on hand can buy you some time in the event of a life-threatening situation.
Always call Poison Control or 911 first, before administering self treatment of activated charcoal so that they can assess the situation and advise you on how much to administer, based on the type of poison and how much was ingested.
Keep in mind that while over 4,000 toxic substances can be effectively neutralized by activated charcoal administered in sufficient quantities, it’s not the case with all poisons and in some cases charcoal may worsen conditions and delay diagnosis and treatment (some common substances are petroleum products such as gasoline, kerosene, cleaning fluids, lye or other strong acids), which is why it’s important to consult with Poison Control or emergency services for advice.
Activated charcoal is an amazing remedy to have on hand when hit with a bout of food poisoning. Again, it works best when taken at the first sign of it coming on, you may need to take more than usual, and more frequently depending on the severity. And it’s important to drink lots of water, especially with dehydration being a common side effect of food poisoning.
2 ~ Gas, Bloating and Upset Stomach Relief
For those times when you eat something that doesn’t do your digestive system justice, those over-indulgent moments and times when you splurge like at parties, holidays and eating out activated charcoal is your best ally.
It relieves gas, bloating and upset stomach – basically all the grossness that’s felt after eating heavy foods, sugary beverages, and treats.
When traveling, eating on the road can be a challenge, coupled with the possibility of foodborne illness when eating out, your best ally is a must have accompaniment for all trips. It can save you from a lot of pain when traveling abroad, it stinks to be laid up with foodborne illness carving precious time out of enjoying your trip.
If frequent bloating, abdominal pain and gas are things you regularly suffer from, activated charcoal has been proven to be a lifesaver by binding to gas causing substances in particular types of foods. It has brought relief to many sufferers of IBS, Colitis, Crohn’s, or Celiac.
Check out my post on how to make black lemonade with activated charcoal powder.
3 ~ Hangover Prevention
While it doesn’t technically absorb alcohol, activated charcoal binds to other substances like sugary mixers and preservatives like sulfites in wine and beer that are toxic, especially when present in higher amounts after a night of drinking (don’t ask me how I know this), ahem…
1/2 teaspoon in some water, or 2 capsules with a glass of water before going to bed does wonders for the next morning. Hey, I’m human and enjoy some good beverages if the occasion is right. ;)
4 ~ Digestive Cleanse
All this talk of activated charcoal binding to toxins and this next one is a no-brainer. Everything we are exposed to and put into our bodies gets absorbed by our digestive tracts, gut imbalances lead to inflammation which is at the root of acute and chronic diseases. Activated charcoal is one way to rid the digestive tract of toxins that build up over time.
To routinely cleanse the digestive tract, you can take 10 grams of activated charcoal 90 minutes prior to each meal, for two days. Drink lots of water, avoid processed foods, eat only organic fruits and vegetables, high quality grass fed proteins, and wild-caught fish.
If you become constipated, it’s your body’s way of telling you it needs more water. A glass of warm water with lemon every half hour until relief occurs should do the trick to get things moving again.
5 ~ Spider Bites and Bee Stings
Applying a poultice of activated charcoal to bug bites and stings is very effective. It has even been found to be extremely effective at removing toxins and treating symptoms of poisonous bites of the brown recluse, black widow, scorpion stings, and snake bites.
For these types of bites, it is recommended to seek medical attention, especially depending on the severity, but with an initial treatment of a poultice, many people have noticed a dramatic reduction in pain and swelling, and have reduced the chances of a dangerous infection.
Poultices can be made by mixing activated charcoal powder with something as simple as purified water, or with the addition of baking soda or coconut oil into a paste and applying directly to the bites or stings. Keep in mind, charcoal can stain things (it won’t stain your skin though) so the poultice can be covered with a bandage or gauze.
6 ~ Acne and Skin Treatment
Externally, activated charcoal removes impurities from the skin that contribute to things like acne, rashes and poison ivy or poison oak. A simple paste of coconut oil or aloe and activated charcoal powder can be applied as a spot treatment for these.
A charcoal facial mask makes a great addition to a regular acne treatment regime. While it looks a bit scary, it’s great to counteract blemishes.
Simply mix two teaspoons of either a high quality, additive free aloe vera gel or coconut oil with two teaspoons activated charcoal powder, a few drops each of tea tree and lavender essential oil (if the consistency is too thick, just add a bit of water) and smooth over your face. Once it dries, rinse off completely and your skin will feel fantastic.
Again, although the black paste won’t stain your skin and is fairly easy to get off counter tops and sinks, it may stain fabrics, or other surfaces (especially grout), a little fair warning and friendly reminder. :)
7 ~ Teeth Whitening and Oral Hygiene
It’s seems like an oxymoron that a black powder can actually brighten your pearly whites. Probably the most popular use for activated charcoal, found all over the internet is for whitening teeth. It is indeed incredible for this, but even more importantly (yet frequently unmentioned), it promotes oral hygiene.
It’s ability to maintain a balanced pH in the mouth and pull toxins makes it effective in prevention of plaque buildup, cavities, gum disease and bad breath.
To use, wet your toothbrush, dip into powdered activated charcoal (remember, it’s tasteless) and brush away, paying special attention to any extra stained spots. Rinse mouth with water until you spit clear and follow up with a good brush using your regular toothpaste. For a non-toxic DIY version get my recipe here.
*Using these two things has tremendously improved my dental health, and helped to remineralize my teeth, clearing up some problem areas and sensitivities.
You will have black mouth for a few minutes, it’s all good – I say go all out and use this along with your mask to your advantage to run a mini freak show in your bathroom, giving your family a good scare. Heads up, you may want to have a wet paper towel handy to clean up any mishaps quickly in case the show gets out of control.
For best results, do this two to three times a week until desired whitening, after that once a week may be sufficient. For more intense stains (coffee, cigarettes, wine), it may be necessary to brush daily until stains are greatly improved or gone. If you notice any sensitivities with your teeth after using activated charcoal, you can reduce how many times a week you use it, if it continues, you may need to stop using it altogether.
8 ~ Odor Elimination
Say goodbye to nasty odors with activated charcoal. Besides purification reasons, carbon filters are used in air purifiers, oven exhaust intakes, hooded cat boxes and moisture absorbers to absorb odors. Instead of masking odors like most so called scented solutions do, charcoal (carbon) actually absorbs odors which makes it highly effective at eliminating them.
It can be used as a shoe deodorizer! Sprinkle some in shoes, let sit until ready to wear (at least overnight) and shake out excess before wearing.
Where to Get Activated Charcoal
My favorite activated charcoal powder I keep on hand is a food grade, coconut shell source, nothing added. The texture is a super smooth powder, not gritty at all, and it’s tasteless/odorless. This is a high quality powder useful in all internal and external applications.
I also take capsules with me when traveling, or generally on the go (eating at other peoples homes, parties, and restaurants). The best activated charcoal capsules I’ve found are made from the same high quality ingredients in a vegetable cellulose capsule, no fillers – nothing added.
While I have found activated charcoal to be super effective in numerous applications and use it when deemed necessary, I would like to stress that based on all the research, I do not suggest taking it internally everyday or on a regular basis.
There are people recommending this but personally I think it’s important not to ignore the fact that it can interfere with nutrient absorption. The exact reason it certainly serves the purpose of ridding the body of toxins in certain circumstances, but not a good idea to rid the body of healthy nutrients consumed on a regular basis.
It’s also not meant to take place of medical advice or treatment.
Had any interesting experiences using activated charcoal? Any other ways you’ve found to use it, to add to the list? Share below!