Making activated charcoal involves heating carbon-rich materials, such as wood, peat, coconut shells, or sawdust, to very high temperatures.
This ‘activation’ process strips the charcoal of previously absorbed molecules and frees up bonding sites again. This process also reduces the size of the pores in the charcoal and makes more holes in each molecule, therefore, increasing its overall surface area.
Meaning: one teaspoon full of activated charcoal has more surface area than a football field.
Possible uses of activated charcoal
Authorities have only approved activated charcoal for the emergency treatment of overdoses or poisonings.
But due to its powerful toxin-clearing properties, some advocates have proposed activated charcoal as a treatment for an ever-growing list of conditions.
No conclusive proof yet.
However, based on evidence, activated charcoal is used in:
Activated charcoal may be able to assist kidney function by filtering out undigested toxins and drugs.
Animal studies show that activated charcoal may help improve kidney function and reduce gastrointestinal damage and inflammation in those with chronic kidney disease.
A 2014 study saw rats with induced, chronic kidney disease given 4 grams (g) per kilogram per day of an oral activated charcoal preparation. The researchers found that the animals had significant reductions in intestinal inflammation and damage.
In another 2014 study, rats with induced chronic renal failure were fed mixtures containing 20 percent activated charcoal, and they also experienced improved kidney function, and a reduced rate of kidney inflammation and damage.
Activated charcoal powder is thought to be able to disrupt intestinal gas, although researchers still do not understand how.
Liquids and gases trapped in the intestine can easily pass through the millions of tiny holes in activated charcoal, and this process may neutralize them.
In a 2012 study, a small sample of people with a history of excessive gas in their intestines took 448 milligrams (mg) of activated charcoal three times a day for 2 days before having intestinal ultrasound examinations. They also took another 672 mg on the morning of the exam.
The study showed that medical examiners were better able to see certain parts of some of the organs they intended to identify with the ultrasound whereas intestinal gas would have obscured these before the treatment.
The research is still limited, but a panel of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reports that there is enough evidence to support the use of activated charcoal to reduce excessive gas accumulation.
There is no set way to use activated charcoal for intestinal gas, but the EFSA recommend taking at least 1 g at 30 minutes before and after each meal.
People have long used activated charcoal as a natural water filter. Just as it does in the intestines and stomach, activated charcoal can interact with and absorb a range of toxins, drugs, viruses, bacteria, fungus, and chemicals found in water.
In commercial settings, such as waste-management centers, operators often use activated carbon granules for one part of the filtration process. Dozens of water filtration products are also designed for at-home use, using carbon cartridges to purify water of toxins and impurities.
A 2015 study found that water filtration systems that used carbon removed as much as 100 percent of the fluoride in 32 unfiltered water samples after 6 months of installation.
Black activated charcoal tablets.
Activated charcoal may treat diarrhea.
Given its use as a gastrointestinal absorbent in overdoses and poisonings, it follows that some people might propose activated charcoal as a treatment for diarrhea.
In a 2017 review of recent studies on the use of activated charcoal for diarrhea, researchers concluded that it might be able to prevent bacteria and drugs that can cause diarrhea from being absorbed into the body by trapping them on its porous, textured surface.
While noting it as a suitable treatment for diarrhea, the researchers also pointed out that activated charcoal had few side effects, especially in comparison with common antidiarrheal medications.
Teeth whitening and oral health
Dozens of teeth-whitening products contain activated charcoal.
Many oral health products that contain activated charcoal claim to have various benefits. Studies n this are not enough, though.
Researchers have reported that activated charcoal can help draw microparticles, such as dirt, dust, chemicals, toxins, and bacteria, to the surface of the skin, to make removing them easier.
Various activated charcoal deodorants are widely available. Charcoal may absorb smells and harmful gases, making it ideal as an underarm, shoe, and refrigerator deodorant.
Activated charcoal is also reported to be able to absorb excess moisture and control humidity levels at a micro level.
Around the world, many different traditional medicine practitioners use activated charcoal powder made from coconut shells to treat soft tissue conditions, such as skin infections.
Activated charcoal may have an antibacterial effect by absorbing harmful microbes from wounds. Several are available commercially.