Home Health Topics What are the Health Benefits of Activated Charcoal?

What are the Health Benefits of Activated Charcoal?

by Gauri Kolhe

Almost all of us have heard about activated charcoal as it is famous for being universal antidote. Recently activated charcoal is being promoted as potent natural treatment. The health benefits vary from the cholesterol lowering to curing hangovers.

This article includes the detail of various health benefits of activated charcoal.

Activated charcoal

Activated charcoal is like charcoal but it is finer and light weighted powder made up of carbon from coconut shells, peat, coal, olive pits and bone char.

Activated charcoal prepared by processing normal charcoal at extreme high temperature which makes changes in the internal structure of coal and reduces the size of pores present between the particles which make them to increase the surface area. This makes activated charcoal different from the regular charcoal.

Sometimes activated charcoal gets confused with charcoal briquettes which are used in barbecue. Both activated charcoal and charcoal briquettes can be made of same base material but charcoal briquettes does not face the extreme high temperature while activated charcoal does and become more porous and light.

Working of activated charcoal

In case of poisoning and toxins, activated charcoal entrapped the toxins and chemicals in the gut and prevents their absorption.

The porous texture of activated charcoal carries negative electrical charges, which attracts the positive charge molecules like gas and toxins and prevent the absorption.

As activated charcoal does not get absorb in the body it excretes out through the faeces and toxins that bound to the surfaces of the activated charcoal also get excreted.

The health benefits of activated charcoal

Treatment in Poisoning

Activated charcoal has the capacity of binding with the drug and other toxins which makes this useful in the treatment of poisoning and wide variety of medical uses.

Activated charcoal reduces the effect of drugs by preventing the absorption in the circular system and absorption inhibits the further process of distribution and metabolism of drug stopped which makes the drug deactivated in the body.

Since the early 1800s, activated charcoal has been used as an antidote for different kind of poisoning and in recent years it has been proved scientifically.

Activated charcoal may also used to the problems associated with the overdose of prescribed drug as well as over the counter drug such as aspirin, acetaminophen and sedatives and hypnotics.

For example, a study show that a single dose of 50-100 gram of activated charcoal administered within 5 minutes of taking drug reduces the drug absorption by 74% in the adults.

When the charcoal is taken after 30 minutes after drug administration, the effect of charcoal decreases by 50 %  and 20 % when taken after 3 hours of drug ingestion.

In some cases the initial dose of 50-100 grams sometimes followed by the 30-50 grams in six doses for every two to six hours. This dose regimen is not used widely or used less and effective in the limited poisoning cases.

Activated charcoal is not effective in all cases of poisoning is the matter to be noted.  Activated charcoal is effective in heavy metal poisoning, lithium, potassium, iron, acid or alkali poisoning and alcohol poisoning.

Some of the experts warn that routine administered of activated charcoal in all cases poisoning shouldn’t be done.

Reduce Intestinal Gas (Flatulence)

Reduce Intestinal Gas

In some studies Activated charcoal reported to may help reducing gas generation after consuming food which causes the gas production. However, all of the study doesn’t observe this benefit of activated charcoal.

Lower Cholesterol Levels

Activated charcoal also helps you to lower cholesterol levels. Due to the property of binding with drugs and toxins, activated charcoal can easily bind with cholesterol and cholesterol containing bile acids in the gut and prevent the absorption in gut.

According to a study, consuming 24 grams of activated charcoal per day for four weeks seem to lower the total cholesterol about 25 % and 25% of low density lipids cholesterol. The level of good cholesterol (HDL) also increased by 8%.

Another study on activated charcoal shows that consuming 4-32 grams per day helped in reducing 29-41 % of cholesterol level in the patients who have excessive amount of cholesterols. Larger the dose greater the effect was the point to be noticed.

This is quite interesting to know that all studies related to the activated charcoal were conducted in the 1980s. Recent studies would help to confirm the effect of activated charcoal.

Treat Bile Flow Problems (Cholestasis) During Pregnancy  

In a study conducted in pregnant women, has been found that activated charcoal is helpful in treatment of bile flow problems during pregnancy.

Activated charcoal in Kidney Function

Kidney Function

Activated charcoal entraps the toxins which lead the reduction in the number of waste products that have to filter by kidney. This makes kidney feel less burden and keep healthy.  

Activated charcoal could be proving beneficial in the patients suffering from the chronic diseases and promote the elimination of toxins. When kidneys are not able to filter waste products properly, the condition considered as chronic kidney disease.

Generally healthy kidneys are designed to filter the blood and separate nutrients and toxins. In case of chronic kidney disease, kidneys are not able to filter and remove out the urea and toxins form the body.

Activated charcoal is able to bind with the toxins which make this helpful in the elimination f urea and other toxins from the body.

Process of elimination of toxins trough activated charcoal involve the passing of toxins and urea from bloodstream into gut through diffusion where they get absorb by the activated charcoal  and excreted through the feces. In this way activated charcoal seemed to help improving the kidney functions in the patients with severe kidney disease.

Another study reported that activated charcoal supplements may have help to lower the blood levels of urea and other waste product in patients who suffered from the end-stage kidney disease.

The current evidences seem to week hence more highly sophisticated studies are required so that strong conclusion can be made.

Activated charcoal in fish odor syndrome

Activated charcoal seems to help in reducing the fish odor syndrome which recognized as unpleasant odor in an individual who suffers from trimethylaminuria (TMAU). TMAU is a genetic condition which is associated with the accumulations of trimethylamine compound which has an odor similar to the fish odor.

In healthy human the fishy-smelling TMA convert into non-smelly compounds before the excretion through the urine. This mechanism is absent in people having TMAU due to absence of enzyme which is responsible for the conversion. This results the accumulation of TMA in the body and excretion through urine, sweat and breath. That’s why individual smells like fishy odor.

In some studies it has been seen that porous surface of activated charcoal may able to absorb compounds like TMA and increase their excretion.

In a small study conducted in the patients of TMAU it was analyzed that taking 1.5 grams of activated charcoal substances for 10 days reduced the concentrations of TMA in the patient’s urine level to a level which found in the healthy individual.

Results of these studies seem assured and promising but in order or get a strong conclusion more studies are needed.

Other uses of activated charcoal

Along with the various health benefits, activated charcoal is used for other purposes also even though those uses doesn’t supported by the science. Here are some other uses listed below.

  1. Water filtration through activated charcoal:

Activated charcoal is used to purify water by physical method as it is capable to reduce the heavy metal and fluoride content in the water. As this means to work as physical method it do not appear to seem effectively do purify water at microorganism level or you can say it does not kill viruses or bacteria.

  • Curing hangover:

Sometimes activated charcoal is used to cure hangover. Consuming activated charcoal with alcohol may reduce blood alcohol level. But the effects on hangover have not been studied yet.

  • Activated charcoal in skin treatment:   

Activated charcoal is also known to use in skin treatment as face wash, facemask etc. this is also believe that activated charcoal helps to treat acne and insect or snake bite. However unreliable reports could found related to this topic.

  • In tooth whitening:

The use of activated charcoal in brushing the teeth said to whiten the teeth even though n scientific study has been done. It has been believed that activated charcoal absorb the plaque and other tooth staining compounds.

Overall in all of the other uses, only water filtration is supported by the science.

Is the use of activated charcoal safe for you?

Since activated charcoal has not supported by science, the safety of using activated charcoal is a matter of concern. Solving this out activated charcoal is considered safe in most of the cases and adverse reactions seems to be infrequent and rarely severe.

The unpleasant side effects of activated charcoal are nausea and vomiting. Additionally constipation and black stools are other side effects commonly reported.  

The use of activated charcoal as an antidote for poison in emergency condition sometimes develop the risk to travelling charcoal into the lungs instead of stomach , Especially in those case when person receiving charcoal vomits or semi-conscious.

Due to the risk of travelling of activated charcoal, it is given only in those people who are fully conscious.

Activated charcoal may worsen the symptoms in the person who are suffering from variegate porphyria which is rare genetic disease that affects skin, nervous system and gut flora.

In very exceptional cases, activated charcoal seems to link to the bowel blockages or holes.

Another point to be concerned is that activated charcoal bound to the drugs so it may reduce the absorption of certain drugs. Hence it is very necessary to consult your health expert before taking activated charcoal.

Instructions for the dosage of activated charcoal

As consuming activated charcoal may produce some side effects, make sure to follow the instruction given regarding the dosage of activated charcoal in the above mentioned studies.

It is must to go for medical help immediately in case of drug poisoning.

A dose of 50-100 grams can be prescribed by a medical professional within an hour of the overdose while children generally prescribed a lower dose of 10-25 grams.

Summary

Activated charcoal is prepared by exposure of extreme high conditions and has a porous structure which expands the surface area and enhances the absorption capacity of activated charcoal.

Activated charcoal has tendency to entrap toxins or drug substance which makes it useful in many aspects.

Activated charcoal provide numerous health benefits like lowering cholesterol, treat various poisoning, overdose of alcohol and also help kidney function.

Activate charcoal also had many other uses like whitening teeth, to treat acne or purify water.

But the safety measures must be concerned and consulting with the health professionals prior to use to prevent side effects.

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