First recorded as a treatment for infected wounds in 1500 BC, activated charcoal is a natural remedy for removing toxins. Although it is wood or coal, activated charcoal is not the same as the briquettes cooks use for fuel. Activated charcoal has several medical and therapeutic applications, effective to varying degrees.

What Makes it Work
Manufacturers heat wood, coal, or other natural substances to extremely high temperatures in an airless environment. They grind the resulting charcoal into a fine powder.

  • The granules of this powder are porous and hold a negative electrical charge.
  • This porous, negatively-charged state causes the tiny particles of activated charcoal to attract toxins, chemicals, and nutrients.
  • The body does not absorb activated charcoal, so the particles move through the digestive system removing undesirable elements.

The premise of activated charcoal treatment is that it naturally removes harmful substances, internally and externally, to keep the body healthy.

Typical Uses and Benefits
Although skin cleansing is its primary purpose, it is also taken as a digestive aid.

  • For skin cleansing, creams, either a mask or scrub, remove environmental contaminants from the skin.
    • A mask forms a solid film that adheres to debris and pulls it away, and a scrub abrades the skin surface.
    • Scrubs are available for purchase, but they are easily prepared at home using activated charcoal powder.
    • Users frequently apply these to the face, but an all-over body scrub is an option to remove environmental contaminants from the skin.
  • Another favored use is teeth cleaning and whitening. Because activated charcoal particles bind with plaque and microscopic particles in the mouth, it may help remove buildup and stains from teeth.
    • The basic method is to mix activated charcoal powder with water to form a paste and apply with a toothbrush.
    • Alternatively, mix the powder into a commercial toothpaste.
    • Additionally, activated charcoal changes the pH balance in the mouth making the environment unfriendly for bacteria. This environment may deter bad breath, gum disease, and cavities.
  • Some use activated charcoal as a general detoxification agent by ingesting it. Swallowing a pill or capsule is an option, as is drinking it in a liquid.
    • If taken in a drink, use a non-acidic beverage such as a green smoothie. Users and medical professionals claim some detox benefits such as reduced bloating and increased energy.
    • Claims also state that such cleanses may remove environmental toxins from sources such as pesticides and exhaust fumes from the body thereby protecting internal organs from damage.
    • This detoxification is also said to reduce the effects of aging as it removes contaminants that cause cell damage.

Some Possible Outcomes and Risks
Although activated charcoal is not known to pose any significant health risks, it does come with a few cautions. Users should also note that activated charcoal is not a proven medical treatment or cure for any health issue; therefore, they may see little to no improvement. These are side effects and risks associated with activated charcoal use:

  • Tooth enamel damage – the American Dental Association warns it may abrade enamel.
  • Constipation and vomiting – drink plenty of liquids. Use detoxification drinks only occasionally.
  • Medications and nutrient depletion – activated charcoal draws beneficial substances from the body and has known undesirable drug interactions. Again, use treatments sparingly.

Many people swear by the benefits of the occasional and wise use of activated charcoal. Because it is natural and relatively safe, it may make a welcomed addition to one’s health regimen.

For more information, visit Careworks.

Author:  Katlyn Lytle Rushing, PA-C

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