Last updated on January 6th, 2024 at 05:55 am
Activated charcoal powder has been used to treat a variety of ailments since ancient times. Today, though, its most prominent use is for treating drug overdoses when it’s used as an emergency anti-poison remedy in medical settings.
Yet, the list goes on as activated charcoal has been reported to help with other conditions such as diarrhea and high cholesterol. It’s reported to help relieve gas and flatulence and even support kidney function.
And we’re not through yet—its use stretches over to household and cosmetic uses where it’s believed to help with certain skin issues and dental health.
But how many of these claims go beyond mere anecdotal evidence and are there any research-backed ones out there? Let’s filter through some relevant active charcoal data and see what science has to say on the topic.
Today we get to the bottom of what activated charcoal is, what activated charcoal powder is good for (listing some scientifically proven benefits as we go along), how to safely use it, and more.
What Is Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal is a form of carbon made by burning natural materials (wood, bamboo, olive pits, or coal) in a low-oxygen environment. This kind of treatment extracts the methane, tar, and hydrogen from the material, reduces the size of its pores as well as its weight, and increases its surface area. [1, 2]
In the next step, the remaining charcoal substance is steamed at high temperatures and when it gets activated this eliminates any remaining non-carbon elements from the formula. What you get is an extremely porous version of carbon which has an increased ability to bind to many different elements.
Consequently, the active charcoal substance treated this way acts as a sponge, soaking up different chemicals. This clarifies why it’s used so extensively in toxicology. When we have a medication overdose, for example, activated charcoal can bind to the harmful substance before it gets absorbed by the body.
Activated charcoal is available in many forms, including but not limited to:
- Activated charcoal pills
- Charcoal tablets
- Charcoal powder
Care to learn more about the inner workings of active charcoal and how it produces suggested health benefits? Let’s get straight to it.
How Exactly Does Activated Charcoal Work?
Activated charcoal can keep your body from absorbing toxins and chemicals by binding to them. To understand how activated charcoal works we need to understand the concept of adsorption first—note, it’s adsorption—not absorption. Since it is porous, activated charcoal “adsorbs” substances by trapping them in its spaces, permeating and dissolving them.
Furthermore, activated charcoal, having a negative charge, attracts positively charged toxins to attach to it.  Finally, the activated charcoal gets flushed out of the system, pulling the toxins and chemicals along with it.
An example of alternative use of activated charcoal includes its application in water filtration systems. Used this way, it can adsorb toxic waste, fluoride, pesticides, and other chemicals from water.
But now let’s get straight to the point and review some activated charcoal benefits so you can understand what exactly you can hope to achieve with your activated charcoal supplement.
Our Breakdown of Activated Charcoal Benefits
Emergency Treatment for Poisoning
As mentioned previously, activated charcoal is most typically used as an antidote with patients who have checked in to the emergency room in case of poisoning or drug overdose. In effect, activated charcoal is used as a binder for reducing the effects of a host of different drugs. It’s been used for these purposes since the 1800s. [4, 5]
Importantly, this therapy is the most effective when taken within the first hour after poisoning or overdose. While older research claims its ineffectiveness beyond the initial hour, newer research cites several cases of antidote success even when taken past this first hour.
When used to treat slowly absorbed drugs, activated charcoal is administered sequentially in several separate doses. This multiple-dose activated charcoal (MDAC) protocol has exerted the most benefits in cases of life-threatening intoxications with the following intoxicants: [6, 7]
Word of caution: Remember to seek medical help in case you suspect poisoning of any kind. The medical specialists will ensure the best course of treatment and the most favorable clinical outcome.
Can Be Used to Aid Digestion
Among the most praised activated charcoal benefits is its supposed ability to cleanse your digestive tract and help alleviate gas and bloating. Word is going around among activated charcoal advocates that you can use charcoal pills or detox juices to flush any ingested toxins from your body.
Whether this is hype or fact remains a topic of ongoing debate. That said, let’s try to scratch under the surface a bit.
We can safely say that activated charcoal can serve as a sponge for any food residue in the human colon, bringing potential relief from poor digestion, bloating, and gas. But does charcoal powder detox your body?
There’s limited research on the topic and claiming that activated charcoal is the holy grail of detoxification is a bit of a stretch. Yet, there is suggestive evidence that it can adsorb certain toxic contaminants in foods. Moreover, charcoal is found to have a reactive relationship with certain metabolites from human microbiota.
And it gets more interesting. Researchers have found that these metabolites also affect immune receptors such as the aryl hydrocarbon and pregnane X receptor, which are critical for intestinal mucosal immunity.  Taking everything into account, this topic is yet to be researched and thoroughly examined for more conclusive evidence.
GI Detox zeolite and charcoal tablets can remove toxins from your GI tract and help rebuild your microbial balance, contributing to healthier digestion and gut health.
May Reduce the Load On Your Kidneys
Activated charcoal powder can be used to adsorb toxins from your body and excrete them via feces. In a way, this promotes the function of your kidneys as charcoal reduces some of their workload so they have to work less vigorously. An added activated charcoal benefit is that it can reduce unpleasant urine odors as well. 
Though human studies are limited, certain animal studies suggest activated charcoal can serve as a nephroprotective agent.
When you take activated charcoal, it can bind microparticles such as urea and other waste products which can now pass from your bloodstream into your gut via a process known as diffusion. Once in your gut, these particles pass through your system and get excreted via your stool. 
May Lower Cholesterol Levels
For lack of a better word, the fast ways of modern living paired with a high-fat diet puts a majority of people at risk of developing high cholesterol (alongside a bundle of cardiovascular issues like heart attack and stroke).
Research on how activated charcoal can help with cholesterol levels has been limited, but more research is underway and some promising findings have been already emerging.
Namely, activated charcoal has been found to bind to bile salts containing cholesterol, helping them excrete more easily. To be more precise, an older study found that activated charcoal powder can lower total blood levels of lipids, cholesterol, and triglycerides in this way. 
And it gets better. A novel 2022 research has evaluated the impact of acidic activated charcoal on the excretion of neutral lipids, cholesterol, and bile acids.
Researchers discovered that charcoal supplementation promoted the excretion of these microparticles via feces. Additional findings show that charcoal can also improve the enterohepatic circulation of bile acids and cholesterol—which is the major excretory route for these microparticles. 
Further evidence shows that acidic activated charcoal can improve high-fat-diet-induced obesity in mice. These findings prompted researchers to propose more human studies focusing on the role of activated charcoal in the prevention of obesity, overnutrition, metabolic syndrome, etc.
May Aid Your Dental Hygiene
Social media has gone wild brimming with posts on activated charcoal as an all-natural teeth whitener. People have been sharing posts containing the #activatedcharcoal hashtag, raving about miraculous teeth-whitening properties of activated charcoal. But how real is this and what does science have to say about it?
Although studies are limited in scope, the existing studies suggest activated charcoal uses its nano-sized pores to bind to tooth-staining agents and produce ion exchange in the mouth—both contributing to the removal of these agents from your teeth.
Now get this: a 2015 study investigated the abrasive effect of charcoal on dental acrylic as compared to whitening toothpaste. The results showed a slight advantage of charcoal over the whitening toothpaste in terms of its abrasive effects and whitening properties.
In short, the former was more abrasive than the latter when used on acrylic resins. 
Is It Safe to Take Activated Charcoal Powder?
Activated charcoal has a high general safety profile. For most people, it’s safe to take as long as you’re not taking it for long periods of time. If you’re wondering about possible side effects of taking charcoal powder, these include digestive symptoms such as constipation, dehydration as well as certain drug interactions.
According to an animal study done on activated charcoal, no negative effects on the lungs and gastrointestinal tract were observed. The study concluded that activated charcoal is relatively safe to take, although more research is needed to confirm its safety when applied in the form of a charcoal supplement in humans. 
Since it can cause dehydration, it’s advisable to take two to three liters of water per day with activated charcoal. Alongside preventing dehydration, water will also help flush out the toxins.
Likewise, activated charcoal may reduce or prevent the absorption of certain drugs so it’s ill-advised to take it with other medications or supplements. These include fat-soluble vitamins and drugs such as:
- Tricyclic antidepressants
Special note: Do not consume activated charcoal within a two-hour window of taking your medication. Better still, consult with your doctor before starting any active charcoal powder regimen.
The Bottom Line
Whether activated charcoal can be used to cleanse and detox the human body has remained a topic of controversy with one faction claiming it can help with bloating, high cholesterol, and body detox and others admitting no such benefits.
This article has covered what science has discovered so far on the topic and we hope this has been helpful.
Considering getting activated charcoal supplements made by reliable brands? We have this at heart of what we do making sure our Simply Nutrients store features only supplements from noteworthy brands. Check out our online store for a selection of quality activated charcoal supplements or learn more on how to maintain your health and detox your body using resources below:
- Kidney Detox: Is It Necessary and How to Do It Safely
- 4 Scientifically Proven Signs That a Kidney Detox Is Working
- X Safest Ways To Zeolite Detox
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