What is charcoal and what are the benefits?
What is Charcoal?
Activated charcoal has been used for thousands of years for its health benefits and ability to treat various ailments.
Why is charcoal ‘activated’? Charcoal is made from coal, wood, and other natural substances. It becomes ‘activated charcoal’ when high temperatures combine with a gas or activating agent to expand its surface area.
Activated charcoal is charcoal that has been treated with oxygen at very high temperatures to make it more porous, the high temperatures cause it to develop microscopic holes. This procedure changes its internal structure and increases its surface area. The porous texture has an electrical charge which causes it to attract positively charged molecules such as toxins and gases. This allows the toxins and gasses to bind to the activated charcoal and pass through the body.
The final product is a fine black powder which can be encapsulated as supplements. It can also be used as a powder and added to various food and non-food products, from ice cream to toothpaste.
What is Charcoal used for?
It is most commonly used to treat an overdose or poisoning. Drugs and toxins can bind to activated charcoal and therefore pass through the body and get rid of unwanted substances. This is because activated charcoal does not get absorbed by the gut and therefore is able to pass through the body in an unchanged form.
It is important to note that activated charcoal is not used for all types of overdoses and you should not use it to treat an overdose yourself.
Its ability to remove waste products lessens toxic load on the kidney. Kidneys are responsible for filtering blood and removing waste, activated charcoal can help lower the toxic burden on the kidneys. This may be particularly beneficial to those with chronic kidney disease which inhibits the kidney’s ability to remove urea and other toxins. Activated charcoal binds to urea and other toxins to assist the body in eliminating them and in turn improves kidney function.
Some research suggests that activated charcoal can help to reduce cholesterol levels by binding to cholesterol in the gut and prevent it from being absorbed.
Activated charcoal has many other benefits, it can be used for many other ailments as well as household and cosmetic purposes.
- Digestion aid: Due to activated charcoal’s ability to adsorb gases, it can help reduce flatulence and bloating. It can be taken before to reduce the amount of gas or as a remedial remedy. It also binds to toxins such as poisons, bacteria or other unwanted products found in the gut and therefore helps with digestion.
- Diarrhoea treatments: Activated charcoal binds to the toxins or bacteria which is causing the diarrhoea and eliminating them from the body.
- Water purification: Activated charcoal can be used as a water treatment. It can aid water filtration by binding to and removing contaminants, suspended solids, and microorganisms like bacteria. It can treat or eliminate various hazardous substances like heavy metal species, different classes of coloured contaminants (dyes), several organic and inorganic pollutants from wastewater without altering the water’s pH or taste
- Teeth whitening: When used as a mouth rinse or in toothpaste, activated charcoal may help in whitening teeth by binding to and absorbing plaque and other teeth-staining compounds.
- Antibacterial & anti-fungal: Because it’s so porous and absorbent, some products aimed to relieve foot fungus, body odour, acne and other bacterial and fungal treatments contain activated charcoal because of its ability to bind and eliminate bacteria and fungus.
- Skin treatment: Activated charcoal binds to small materials that get under our pores and cause dirt and chemical build up.
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Anna Garner-Currie, Nutritionist