What is activated charcoal and how useful is it?

Activated charcoal may effectively prevent toxins from getting absorbed in our body.

black charcoal from a fire

Once known to be an effective antidote, activated charcoal is made of coconut shells, petroleum coke, sawdust, olive pits, peat, and bone char. They are processed at high temperature resulting to this treatment having a fine black powdery appearance. Although this is made from similar materials as charcoal briquettes, which we use for grilling, the two should not be confused. The latter is toxic to us since it is not processed at the same temperature as activated charcoal.

The antidote is commonly used in medical emergencies, especially in cases of poisoning. This is because activated charcoal may effectively prevent toxins from getting absorbed in our body. Its porosity attracts chemicals and toxins in our gut and carries them out of the body through the feces. Below are the other benefits that we can get from using activated charcoal.

Natural Treatment for Drug Overdose or Poisoning

Activate charcoal is one of the first aid treatments, given by medical professionals since the early part of the 1800s. They used it to those who had drug poisoning or overdose. Known for its ability to bind toxins, this antidote is capable of attracting the different variety of prescription and over-the-counter medical drugs such as acetaminophen, aspirin, and sedatives and lessen their life-threatening impact on patients.

Medical studies show activated charcoal to be 74% effective in addressing the problem if it was administered to patients in five minutes after drug ingestion. The effectiveness is reduced to 50% if administered half an hour and to 20% if given three hours after ingestion.

Activated charcoal is indeed popular in drug poisoning and overdose. But it is also important to know that it may not be effective in other forms of toxicity. These include alkali, acid, potassium, iron, heavy metal, and alcohol poisonings.

Effects on Kidney Patients

Another helpful effect of activated charcoal is observed in patients with kidney problems. As it is able to trap and bind toxins in the gut and urea, this antidote can cut the waste products that are being filtered by the kidney. This helps in improving the function of our kidneys. The effectiveness of activated charcoal may not be observed or felt by patients with healthy kidneys. But its impact is widely seen on people who are diagnosed with chronic kidney disease.

A recent research has indicated that the use of supplements with activated charcoal in people suffering from end-stage kidney disease has helped lessen the waste products and blood levels of urea. This is because it has properties or substances that keep toxins in the urea and brings all the bad things out through the urine.

Impact on Patients with Trimethylaminuria

Trimethylaminuria (TMA) or the fish odor syndrome is a hereditary medical condition. This occurs when the body lacks the necessary enzyme for converting the rotting fish-like smell of TMA to a non-smelly one before it is released through the urine, breath or sweat.

This is where the effectiveness of activated charcoal has been observed. Medical experts believe that the porous appearance of this antidote helps decrease the concentration of TMA in patients to the point that it is the same as the levels in healthy people.

Activated Charcoal on Patients with High Cholesterol Level

In addition to helping TMA patients, activated charcoal also shows effectiveness in improving the health conditions of people with bad cholesterol level. Research conducted on these patients showed that having 24 to 32 grams of the antidote on a daily basis for a month will cut their health-threatening cholesterol level by 25% to 41%. In addition, activated charcoal has also been effective in boosting the participants’ good cholesterol level by 8%. As a conclusion, researchers claimed that the higher the dosage of activated charcoal, the higher its effectiveness will be.

Other Benefits From This Super Treatment

The effectiveness of activated charcoal does not stop at addressing serious medical cases. It also shows potential in improving other areas such as water filtration. Due to its porosity and ability to trap toxins, many people and businesses use activated charcoal to lessen the water’s fluoride and heavy metal levels.

Activated charcoal also shows promising uses in the dental world. It may help with teeth whitening as it is believed to bind teeth-staining compounds and plaque. However, there is a need to further support this claim with more clinical studies.

And, are you looking for an immediate treatment for your hangover? Well, why not try having activated charcoal with your alcohol? This might help lessen the alcohol levels in your blood.

Above all, some pediatricians and dermatologists are beginning to recommend its use to patients with insect bites and acne problems.

Safety of Using and Ingesting Activated Charcoal

With all the benefits and uses of activated charcoal discussed above, you might still have questions about its safety. As long as we use it within the recommendations of a medical professional, then there is nothing to worry about its safety. Patients should just be aware that it may have side effects like vomiting and nausea, having black stools, and in some cases, constipation.

Moreover, activated charcoal must only be given to fully conscious people to prevent any life-threatening effects. There is a possibility that it will go through the lungs instead of the stomach when given to those who are unconscious. Medical experts also warn of its use in patients diagnosed with bowel blockage problem and variegate porphyria as it could worsen their condition.

With all the help that activated charcoal can offer to us, it is important that we learn when it is recommended for use. Its effectiveness and safety lie on the limits that are set and given by referring medical professionals who have tested and tried using this antidote. By sticking to their advice, we can rest well knowing that the activated charcoal we used is working as we expect it to be.

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