In 1831, Professor Touery (in the presence of his colleagues at the French Academy of Medicine) drank a lethal dose of strychnine and to everyone’s surprise, survived! He had mixed the deadly poison with activated charcoal. (source)
That’s why activated charcoal is often used as an emergency decontaminant when a person (especially children) swallows or absorbs almost any toxic drug or chemical.
How It Works?
Activated charcoal itself is a fine, black powder that is odorless, tasteless, and nontoxic.
Once ingested it is estimated to reduce absorption of poisonous substances by almost 60%.
It works by binding (adsorbing) chemicals, thus reducing their toxicity (poisonous nature), through the entire length of the stomach and small and large intestines (GI tract). In short, it helps prevent the poison from being absorbed into the body.
Aside from poisonings, activated charcoal can also be used to reduce intestinal gas (flatulence), lower cholesterol levels, prevent hangover, and treat bile flow problems (cholestasis) during pregnancy (1).
How Is It Made?
Common charcoal is made from peat, coal, wood, coconut shell, or petroleum. “Activated charcoal” is similar to common charcoal, but is made specifically for medicinal use.
To make activated charcoal, manufacturers heat common charcoal in the presence of a gas that causes the charcoal to develop lots of internal spaces or “pores.” These pores help activated charcoal “trap” chemicals and toxins, helping your body get rid of them. (source)
No, It Doesn’t Deplete Your Body of Nutrients…
Some people have wondered if charcoal also absorbs nutrients. In the book Activated Charcoal, David O. Cooney states:
“Charcoal added to the diet of sheep for six months did not cause a loss of nutrients, as compared with sheep not receiving charcoal. … 5 % of the total diet was charcoal. It did not affect the blood or urinary levels of calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, inorganic phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, creatinine, uric acid, urea nitrogen, alkaline phosphatase, total protein or urine pH.” (4).
Health Benefits of Activated Charcoal
A study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that activated charcoal prevents intestinal gas following a typical gas-producing meal (6). The substance is also said to to help relieve bloating and cramps caused by gas.
Charcoal can also absorb bad cholesterol within the stomach and intestines (7). In one study, total cholesterol decreased by 25 percent, LDL cholesterol decreased by 41 percent, while HDL increased by 8 percent in just four weeks. The participants (who suffered from hypercholesterolaemia) were treated with activated charcoal at a dose of 8 g three times a day.
Research shows that activated charcoal may help reduce nitrogen-containing waste products. A low-protein diet combined with activated charcoal has been found to benefit elderly people who have advanced kidney disease (8).
Charcoal helps prevent toxic build up in the liver and kidneys by absorbing toxins in the stomach and intestines, preventing them from being absorbed into the body and reaching these organs. (9). This ensures that the liver and kidney don’t become overrun with toxins.
It also increases bile flow, which is used to expel toxins from the body (1).
How To Use Activated Charcoal
Activated charcoal is often included as an ingredient in body detox products. You can find it various forms such as powder form, liquid form and chewable tablets.
Mix 1 teaspoon of activated charcoal in a large glass of water and drink a few times a day. Repeat as needed for up to two weeks – or more, if needed.
Charcoal can interact with a large variety of prescription and non-prescription medication so it should be taken under the supervision of a naturopath or general practitioner.
Using Activated Charcoal Internally & Externally
Here’s a printable pdf that lists how to go about using activated charcoal internally and externally in the even that medical help isn’t available.
D.O. Cooney, Activated Charcoal Antidotal and other Medical Uses. Marcel Dekker, New York and Basel, 1983.