The first time I heard of activated charcoal was in Burning Man 2012, when my friends would take it after having alcohol or drugs saying it helped them detox, which to me seemed completely ridiculous and oxymoronic, (drugs and detox?) but ok. And even though I didn’t take it at the time, I became extremely fascinated with the detoxifying powers of this supplement, and since then I have always kept it in my cabinet as a remedy for general detoxification, digestion issues (gas, bloating, and heartburn), and for DIY skin treatments.
Activated charcoal is charcoal that’s been heated to increase its ADSORPTIVE (no, its not a typo) power. The result is a gritty, black substance that acts like a magnet, binding to toxins in the body and flushing them out. It’s the latest cleansing supplement popping up all over, but let’s explore a little more: is it really just a trend?
For me, when I doubt the benefits of any new supplement or food, before listening to what people have to say about it, I take a look at the history of it to see how long its been used for its medicinal properties. In the case of activated charcoal, it turns out that for over 10,000 years, healers from Chinese Medicine, Ayuredic Medicine, and Western Medicine have used it to soak up poisons and improve intestinal health through a process called “adsorption” which means “to bind to” rather than “to absorb.” Ancient Egyptians used it on wounds, the ancient Hindu used it for purifying water, and Hippocrates and Pliny used it to treat epilepsy, anthrax, and chlorosis. Native Americans used a mixture of charcoal and water to treat upset stomachs. In 1831, a pharmacist named Touery ingested several times the lethal dose strychnine with equal amounts of activated charcoal, and he survived. Many hospitals today still use activated charcoal for many types of poisoning and overdoses.
Beyond its use in hospitals as an antidote for drugs and poisons, activated charcoal is a remedy for general detoxification, digestion issues, heart health, and even as an anti-aging aid.
Truth is that the world we live in has more man-made toxins from low quality processed food, and environmental pollution than it used to. We are constantly being exposed to a huge variety of synthetic chemicals, and even though we have a remarkable system of defenses and mechanisms to remove unwanted substances from the body through the skin, kidneys, lymphatic system, gastrointestinal system, and most importantly, the liver, these defenses can become overwhelmed, and that’s when aids such as activated charcoal come in handy. It is important to help your body eliminate toxins to promote a healthy digestive system and brain, since gut toxins quickly become brain toxins if you don’t eliminate them. Chronic exposure to toxins produces cellular damage, allergic reactions, compromised immunity, and more rapid aging. Not only that, but excess toxins and chemicals in the body can also zap our energy, trigger food cravings and lower our overall performance.
Activated charcoal reduce the risk of harmful effects because it acts as a toxin sponge in the gastrointestinal tract removing unwanted toxins from your body, leaving you feeling energized. It also helps unwanted bacteria move through and out of your system faster before they spread and multiply. In my opinion, its the best ally to prevent you from feeling bloated and tired after eating a big restaurant meal, and an efficient pick me up if you’re suddenly tired.
The only way to find out if activated charcoal works for you is to try it out yourself in different amounts and see how it affects your body. However, check in with your doctor if you take medications, as activated charcoal may interfere with them (just as it adsorbs toxins and bacteria, it can also adsorb antibiotics).
Helps the body detoxify, improves digestion, skin health, and energy levels.
- Relieves indigestion, gas, and bloating: Activated charcoal adheres to digestive byproducts that can cause discomfort, which are then flushed out of your system. Its also good against diarrhea.
- Potent detoxification: Has long been used as a remedy against poisoning and drug overdose. It adsorbs most organic chemicals, many inorganic chemicals, drugs, pesticides, mercury, and even lead, before they harm your body. On a day-to-day basis, it can serve to flush out toxins from processed foods, alcohol, and environmental pollution.
- Rids bad breath, body odor, and skin ailments – Body odor and bad breath is usually a result of toxins leaving the body, which is why taking activated charcoal greatly helps rid bad breath and body odor.
- Relieves skin ailments: When applied topically, activated charcoal can relieve inflammation from insect bites, poison ivy, and other skin issues. It is often used in body detox products and skin products that help relieve insect stings, mushroom poisoning, poison ivy, cholera, bites, and inflammation. Many people (like me) also use it as a purifying facemask when mixed with water and clay.
- Anti-aging: Studies show activated charcoal prevents many cellular changes associated with aging, adrenal gland, and kidney function. It builds a better body defense mechanism by improving the adaptive functioning of essential organs like the liver, kidneys, and adrenals. It also slows the rate at which the brain becomes increasingly sensitive to toxins as we age, which makes for better cognitive functioning. A study showed activated charcoal’s powerful anti-aging properties and ability to increase the average lifespan of older test animals by approximately 34%.
- May improve heart health: Some studies show that activated charcoal may lower total cholesterol, triglycerides, and lipids in your blood as well as prevent sclerosis. In a recent study, patients with high cholesterol who took activated charcoal three times a day showed a 25% reduction in total cholesterol. They also doubled their HDL/LDL cholesterol ratio. Studies examining microscopic tissues show a daily dose of activated charcoal may prevent abnormal hardening (sclerosis) in heart and coronary blood vessels.
- May interact with medications: Since activated charcoal flushes out substances in the stomach and intestines, it can decrease how much medicine your body absorbs. If you are on any type of medication, you should absolutely consult your doctor before taking activated charcoal, as it will adsorb medications.
- It is not a cure-all: Even considering its known benefits, activated charcoal cannot serve as a quick fix for overeating or excessive drinking. It can suck out the toxic chemicals from the gastrointestinal tract only, not from the blood.
- You shouldn’t take this as a supplement long term, as it could be absorbing vitamins and minerals from your diet.
- Some people report constipation with higher doses, or long term use.
I personally like to take activated charcoal with Kefir, because of its probiotic and healing power to the gut.
In general Kefir is a better choice than yogurt as yogurt only contains a few strains of beneficial bacteria whereas kefir has 20 or more friendly bacteria and, unlike yogurt, some of these are aggressive strains that recolonize the gut. Adding probiotics to your diet is extremely important, and I realize that when I drink kefir my sugar cravings subside, which is probably because unfriendly bacteria feed off of refined sugar and refined flour, so when there is more friendly bacteria than unfriendly bacteria, our bodies don’t crave the things that feed the unfriendly bacteria!