Activated Charcoal: Functions, Benefits, Risks

Carbon-based substances such as sawdust or coconut shells are treated with oxygen and heated at very high temperatures. The result is activated charcoal with a vast surface area − the fine odorless, flavorless black powder changes internal structure with reduced pore size.

Common Modern Uses

Activated charcoal has been used as a medical remedy since ancient times. Nowadays, it finds many uses as an antidote to poisons. Drug overdoses, too, are helped by activated charcoal. Further, find relief from gas and flatulence. It is believed that kidney functions improve and cholesterol levels are lowered. Whitening teeth, water filtration, and hangover relief are other supposed effects. The big question arises as to whether these effects have the backing of research, science, and evidence. While some effects are still debated and lack the support of research evidence, others are widely accepted as accurate. Some research being decades old, they require a more recent endorsement.

Activated Charcoal Effects

As a powder or supplement, activated charcoal is added to food products like ice cream and even toothpaste. What happens when it enters the human system? The gut does not absorb it where it reaches without any change in form. With a negative charge, activated charcoal attracts positive molecules. As a result of adsorption, toxins and gases in various forms bind to it. These harmful substances are not absorbed in the body but expelled through fecal matter.

Antidote to Poisoning

Activated charcoal has served as an anti-poison treatment for over 300 years! It is strongly advised that self-medication should be avoided and professional assistance sought in such emergencies. The charcoal binds with many drugs and reduces the impact. Overdose of sedatives and acetaminophen could be treated, for instance. Research shows that immediate consumption of charcoal is necessary to counteract the effects. Within 5 minutes of taking the overdose, 75 grams of charcoal must be consumed. The overdose risk reduces by 75%. Other sources think the beneficial effects are felt if the charcoal is consumed within an hour of poisoning. After an hour, the impact might be feeble.

Other studies think that the positive effect lasts beyond an hour. The result is not only in reducing further absorption but also in getting rid of already absorbed toxic substances. The charcoal effects may last as long as 4 hours after the overdose or poisoning. After the initial dose, smaller doses may follow over the next 6 hours. Drugs that are absorbed slowly would be nullified faster. In the absence of broader research, it is thought that multiple doses would protect against severe levels of dapsone, phenobarbital, and quinine, among others.


The charcoal does not counteract all overdoses and poisons.

Caution should be used and healthcare professionals entrusted with administering antidotes. Instead of usual doses for overdosing and poisoning, a case-by-case study is best. According to reports, charcoal has little effect on alcohol, heavy metal, and iron. Similarly, it will not work against lithium, potassium, acid, or alkali cases.

Additional Activated Charcoal Applications

Purifying drinking water of heavy metals like nickel is facilitated by charcoal. According to one research, 90% of the nickel in drinking water was gone with the charcoal treatment. Combining silica with activated carbon increased the effectiveness.

Activated carbon offers protection against inhaling harmful vapors of paints and plastics during the manufacturing process. Respirators that contain activated carbon cartridges filter the air.

Activated carbon can remove phosphorus from the blood of kidney disease patients. Otherwise, cardiovascular disease is a possibility.

The Contemporary Craze for Activated Charcoal

While starting with counteracting poisons and overdoses, charcoal is almost universally applied now. Believed to be a detox treatment in an age that is returning to nature, charcoal treats many ailments. Flatulence, kidney issues, diarrhea, and yellow teeth are targeted. Skincare and drinks, toothpaste, and cocktails similarly bear the charcoal stamp.

Side Effects and Potential Risks

Generally considered relatively safe and freely available without a prescription, there is little to worry about charcoal with random use. Yet, it should not become a daily diet or medication.

Regarding skincare, a 2017 study found that charcoal cleansed the skin. It cleared dirt and bacteria and attracted them to the skin’s surface. Thus helped Acne. Extensive research is lacking, and risks are similarly unknown.

What happens when charcoal is added to food sources or during hangovers? Adding charcoal to foods like burgers has become common, but the effects are doubtful. Is it only a psychological high? Regarding treating a hangover, research dates back decades. The same doubt prevails about the impact on aches.

Harming the gut is a possibility. While getting rid of toxins, nutrients may be getting destroyed too. If gut bacteria are imbalanced, health may be at risk. Absorption of medications could be hampered too. Nausea and constipation could be the result of charcoal. The teeth may also suffer if charcoal is used for cleaning or whitening. Some studies felt that charcoal caused cavities in teeth.

A Super Home Remedy

  • Considering the tremendously positive effects, the European Food Safety Authority recommends its use to relieve bloating and severe gas. USFDA does not regulate activated charcoal, which means that they approve.

  • Trapping toxins in the gut prevents the absorption of diarrhea-causing drugs and bacteria in the body. Another study recommends its use in treating diarrhea with few side effects. More research is awaited.

  • Evidence supports the efficacy of charcoal in wound healing. Dressing with carbon cloths healed chronic venous leg ulcers very well. Wounds improved, too, with carbon cloth dressing. Bedsore healing may not be helped with charcoal.

  • Chronic kidney disease is helped by charcoal which helps to remove wastes like urea. In another study, elderly patients with severe renal disease decreased blood urea and creatinine levels. They took activated charcoal daily along with a low-protein diet. Further research would confirm the findings.

  • Skincare products are the ultimate craze! Recipes include charcoal combinations of aloe vera, rose water, and coconut oil. Choose from a mighty range of gels, masks, and scrubs. Soaps and exfoliants are all available online.

With the wide availability and almost no dangers, people use activated charcoal widely. It is best to talk it over with a doctor. In research, confirmations still need to be improved for some of the supposed functions. Yet, many benefits are sure that have been practiced for ages.

Updated on: 17-Jan-2023


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