Activated charcoal is the familiar black powder you see in your water filter. It’s also been used in emergency rooms for many years to treat certain kinds of overdoses and poisons and can be added to a natural medicine cabinet as needed.
Another place you may have seen activated charcoal is social media advertising it in items such as ice cream, coffee, and other food and beverage items.
But, what exactly is activated charcoal?
Activated charcoal is made by burning carbon-rich materials, such as wood, at very high temperatures to create charcoal. It is “activated” by heating it in steam, air or carbon dioxide at high temperatures creating the special crevices that give it the ability to bind to drugs or toxins in the gut so they don’t get absorbed by the body. (1)(2)
Because activated charcoal has the ability to detox the body by blocking toxins from harming it, there are great ways to use it as well as easy ways to misuse it.
Let’s explore shall we?
When Is It NOT OK to Use Activated Charcoal?
To cure hangovers. Charcoal is great at absorbing many things, but alcohol is not one of them. Plus, it won’t absorb anything that has already left your gastrointestinal tract and entered your bloodstream.
To stop diarrhea. If overused, one of the side effects of too much activated charcoal is constipation, but this is not a reason to use it to treat diarrhea. If you are unable to wait it out, seek medical help if you feel dehydrated, have a fever or pain, or if it lasts for more than two days.
In food and beverage items. It’s ironic that charcoal is being added to ice cream and other products, but it actually interferes with the absorption of essential nutrients as well as some medications reducing their effectiveness, which brings me to the next point.
When on certain prescription medications. Because activated charcoal can interfere with the effectiveness of some medications it’s best to check with your doctor first to make sure using activated charcoal will be OK. It also can interact with some medications including codeine, glucagon, and fentanyl. (3)
To detoxify your body. If a detox program calls for activated charcoal, run the other way. A detox program should not suggest activated charcoal as a detox agent.
When Is It OK to Use Activated Charcoal?
Obviously, in the ER. In case of overdoses or poisoning, emergency room doctors may administer activated charcoal as a powder that binds with the drugs and helps your body to eliminate them. Call a poison center or 911 if you think someone has consumed anything dangerous.
In deodorant. Natural deodorants are increasingly popular for reasons of personal and environmental health. Activated charcoal fights odor naturally and will draw out and absorb any bacteria without nasty chemicals. If you want to test how charcoal works for you, try one of the commercial brands that contain activated charcoal or just stick a plain old briquette in the back of your refrigerator to absorb odors.
In your shoes. Yep, because activated charcoal has the ability to draw out odors to use as a deodorant, it can also draw out odor from your shoes. Place an activated charcoal tablet or some powder in your shoes and see for yourself how well it works.
Care for your skin. Activated charcoal helps to fight skin infections and clears up acne by lifting bacteria from the pores.
Purify water. Activated charcoal has been shown to be an effective filter for water in both home and commercial settings. It absorbs a wide range of chemicals, viruses, bacteria, and other substances found in tap water.
Oral care. Got stains on your teeth? Activated charcoal may help to remove them and keep your teeth white. Also, plaque can bind to the charcoal as well as help fight bad breath and gum disease! In addition, activated charcoal can help detoxify your mouth and keep your PH levels balanced keeping bacteria away. Recommended use of activated charcoal for oral care is 2-3 times a week. Also, remember since activated charcoal can interfere with the absorption of nutrients and effectiveness of medications don’t use it within two hours of taking any prescription medication or supplements.