Many celebrities, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Kim Kardashian, are big fans of activated charcoal as a contributor to their everyday health and wellness.
You might have seen it available as cleanser shots in cafes or heard rumours that it is a potent cure to the dreaded hangover. Perhaps you have even read about how it can negate the discomfort or gas from an overly indulgent meal? Maybe you’re even wondering if it might be able to support your gut health?
Here, we lift the lid (or open the capsule!) on how this dark knight may bring its shining armour to myriad health uses.
What does activated charcoal do?
Activated charcoal is made by heating hardwood, bamboo or coconut shells at an extremely high temperature and in an atmosphere of inert gas (for example, nitrogen). Following this, it gets oxidised with steam, carbon dioxide or oxygen. This oxidation process results in incredibly porous carbon with an enormous surface area for adsorption. If you were to examine this carbon structure under a microscope, you would see a honeycomb-like pattern full of tiny pores, which adsorb toxins, gases and other impurities. So, activated charcoal is basically a “sponge for toxins”.
Is that a typo? Do we mean “absorb”, not ”adsorb”?
Nope, it’s not a typo!
In chemistry, absorption is defined as “the penetration of a substance within the inner structure of another”. In other words, chemical absorption is any process by which one substance in liquid or solid form penetrates another substance’s surface. For example, cocoa powder penetrates the surface of milk to create a hot chocolate drink. Whereas adsorption is the process in which atoms, ions, or molecules from a substance (it could be gas, liquid or dissolved solid) adhere to the adsorbent substance’s surface. In other words, one substance sticks to another substance rather than penetrating or mixing with it - for example, digestive gas sticking to the surface of the activated charcoal.
This is why taking activated charcoal can be so powerful - toxins (such as gas, bacteria, poisons etc.) stick to the charcoal and then pass through the body to be expelled, rather than causing discomfort or harm.
Possible activated charcoal benefits
Activated charcoal for medical emergencies
It is because of its incredible adsorption abilities that activated charcoal is used in hospital emergency rooms, even to this day. Thanks to these substance-trapping pores, the charcoal binds to poison(s) in the gut, preventing any spread into the blood. This is why hospitals turn to activated charcoal for food poisoning, and it has also been used as an antidote for drug overdoses and sometimes snake or insect bites.
But what about outside A&E?
Although scientific evidence is still pending, activated charcoal now enjoys widespread use, from teeth and skin to bloating and gas, and can even help alleviate overeating and drinking symptoms.
Activated charcoal for gas or bloating
A study in 2012 required a small sample of people with excessive gas problems to take charcoal two days before an intestinal ultrasound. Typically, the gas would have obscured visibility of scans; however, medics were able to see some organs better. Moreover, some 34% of those in the study experienced improved symptoms.
Again, there may be limited clinical studies to support this. However, our customers swear by charcoal for gas and bloating, as our Amazon store reviews show (although remember, you will get a better deal directly with us!).
For gas or bloating, take four Edible Health Activated Charcoal capsules 30 minutes before eating and four when the meal is finished.
Activated charcoal and over-eating
When it comes to calling on charcoal to help relieve any over-indulgences, it’s important to understand this whole process of adsorption (aka binding). After a meal where you have overeaten or feel uncomfortable, taking charcoal may be a great way to ease abdominal discomfort. However, as mentioned, charcoal won’t differentiate between good and harmful substances in the gastrointestinal tract. As a result, it’s likely to bind with vitamins and minerals from the food as effectively as it might bind with anything that may be upsetting your digestive system. So, just be mindful of how you use charcoal and ensure that you administer it on an ad-hoc basis only. It is not designed for regular consumption or use as this could deplete essential nutrients.
Curing or even preventing a hangover
Many charcoal fans take the product to either help inhibit or avoid a hangover and even expedite recovery from one. Again, the logic for doing so is based on its ability to bind. Anyone who has enjoyed a tipple will know that alcohol doesn’t hang about in the stomach. It moves very quickly to the liver, where it then enters the bloodstream and proceeds to the brain and other areas of the body. Whether charcoal can wield its full magic will depend on when you take it, how much you have drunk and how your body processes both alcohol and charcoal. That said, this study indicates that it may help the kidney, serving to filter out undigested toxins. Whilst science again is lagging behind clinical evidence, bon vivants swear by its efficacy, taking four capsules with a pint of water as a nightcap, followed by the same, first thing in the morning, with a hangover smoothie chaser after that.
Treating diarrhoea with activated charcoal
Drugs, food allergies and intolerances or bacterial infections often cause diarrhoea. Given charcoal’s ability to bind with such pathogens or allergens, it has been touted as a natural remedy for alleviating this nasty condition. A study in 2018 acknowledged charcoal’s potential efficacy in managing diarrhoea but believed that further research is required.
Take four Edible Health Activated Charcoal capsules at the onset of a bout of diarrhoea and as required thereafter.
Activated charcoal and the microbiome
Although more research is required, one study suggests that activated charcoal might help to “mop up antibiotics” left in the large intestine, thus helping to balance the microbiome.
This is particularly interesting, given so many of us can experience significant side effects (such as candida, allergies and skin conditions) from a round of antibiotics. It is, however, essential to understand that charcoal won’t discriminate between substances. As a result, it could sweep up good substances along with the bad.
We suggest taking charcoal three-four hours after taking antibiotics, then two hours later taking a good probiotic, then repeating this in between doses of antibiotics.
Please be sure to check with your medical professional or GP to ensure that the charcoal will not negate the benefits (as well as the negatives) of any medications you are taking. Always allow at least three-four hours after taking medication before using charcoal.
What’s the best collagen for gut health? We reveal all
Edible Health co-founder Corinna’s stomach before and after taking our Activated Charcoal
Activated charcoal and colonics or enemas
Ingesting activated charcoal before an enema has become a growing practice. The theory is that taking a charcoal supplement a few hours to a day before having a colonic or doing an enema enables it to bind to any toxic load dump. Some followers believe it’s particularly beneficial in flushing heavy metals from the body. If you plan to do a detox or a fast, then supporting it with charcoal and colon cleansing may be a great way to boost the process, expedite toxin elimination and reduce/avoid any detox reactions.
Many people who start a detox or fast find that it can leave them light-headed, nauseous, lethargic or with a headache. This is especially true of coffee and/or red wine drinkers who undergo a fast. The toxins from these products that the body often stores in the brain and fatty tissues get released into the gut. With the lack of food, digestion slows down, and the person doesn’t have sufficient bowel movements to eliminate these toxins. Consequently, these toxins get reabsorbed across the gut wall into the bloodstream, thereby causing the headaches, nausea and detox symptoms that most people wrongly think are coming from the detox itself.
Cleansing the colon before, during and after a fast or detox and using charcoal to support this is a great way to mitigate such a cleansing crisis.
There is no science to support this, but the logic and reports from people who swear by it may make it worth a go!
Activated charcoal to cleanse the skin
Given its binding properties, activated charcoal is purported to be an effective skin cleanser, as it sweeps oils and dirt from the skin’s surface, trapping them in its pores. Effectively the charcoal clogs its pores to unclog yours! Although Edible Health charcoal is in capsule form, you can still use it as a unique DIY cleansing facial! It’s effortless - as the below highlights.
Edible Health DIY charcoal facial mask
Just gently pull apart one capsule and mix with natural goodies like avocado, yoghurt, honey, banana or papaya. Create a paste, apply to the face (avoiding eye area), leave for 15 minutes before removing with a cloth, and rinse with water. Hello, happy, glowing, clean skin!
Activated charcoal and teeth whitening
Many devotees use activated charcoal to whiten their teeth and/or naturally remove stains. This can be true but comes with a huge caveat…. charcoal’s highly porous surface has a texture that is more like rough honeycomb than a soft sponge, so it is EXTREMELY abrasive. Using charcoal for teeth whitening should be done minimally and infrequently and not part of a daily tooth care regime because the charcoal can wear down tooth enamel.
Although our Edible Health charcoal is in capsule form, you can still use it to achieve pearly whites! Just pull apart one capsule and mix the powder into a dish with some of your regular toothpaste. Then, simply brush your teeth, tongue, and inner cheeks gently and then rinse well as usual. Do this once per month as a MAXIMUM to avoid tooth enamel erosion.
Activated charcoal and insect bites
This is the first step Edible Health co-founder Corinna takes whenever the mozzies find her tasty! She swears by its ability to draw out the itch.
The number of Edible Health Activated Charcoal capsules used depends on the size or number of stings. Gently pull capsule/s apart and create a paste with the powder and a thick substance that won’t quickly melt from body heat (set honey, mashed avocado, thick porridge, a cleansing cream, Greek yoghurt - anything thick you can get your hands on!). Apply the paste to the affected area and then re-apply a new application every 30 minutes until itching/sensation eases.
Activated charcoal side effects
Some side effects linked with taking activated charcoal include:
- Black stools
- Discoloured tongue
- Constipation or diarrhoea
Edible Health Activated Charcoal - where to buy
Edible Health Activated Charcoal is available to purchase on our website. We have developed a 100% pure, high strength powder made from premium quality coconut shells. Although encapsulated, we have found an all-natural rice bran capsule and do not use any fillers, caking agents or bulking ingredients in our encapsulation process. As with all Edible Health products, it contains no additives, preservatives or nasties.
Edible Health owners Corinna and Simon can’t speak highly enough of this versatile, potent product. It’s one to have in your tried-and-trusted health and wellbeing go-to kit!
The information we have provided herewith, and all linked materials, are not intended, nor should they be construed as medical advice. Never take activated charcoal if you have experienced bleeding of the stomach or colon, if you have had gastrointestinal surgery or digestion troubles, without first seeking professional advice. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, consult your GP before taking activated charcoal. The information herewith should not be used as a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. Please refer to our Terms and Conditions and consult your General Practitioner for advice specific for you.