If you’ve heard of activated charcoal, it’s likely you’re familiar with its medical use in treating drug overdoses.
Or maybe you’ve seen the latest trend of adding it to any and every type of food – it’s been added to everything from ice cream to pizza crusts.
But did you know it can be used to improve cardiovascular health?
Or as a water filter?
Keep reading to learn more about activate charcoal, its uses, and whether or not eating that black ice cream cone is a good idea.
What Is Activated Charcoal?
Charcoal is a by-product of heating wood to very high temperatures.
Activated charcoal is made by processing charcoal at extremely high temperatures.
This results in charcoal which is extremely porous, compared to regular charcoal.
How Does It Work?
Because activated charcoal is more porous than regular charcoal, it attracts molecules such as toxins in the gut.
The body does not absorb activated charcoal, which means it’s then expelled as waste, taking the toxins it binds to with it.
Uses For Activated Charcoal
There are a number of practical uses for activated charcoal.
Let’s have a look at some common ones.
1. As A Filter For Water
It’s very possible you have activated charcoal in your home at this very moment.
It’s used many in-home water filters, such as Brita.
As water passes through the filter, activated charcoal absorbs chemicals in the water, making it safer and taste better.
This is why these filters need to be changed on a regular basis, as they lose their ability to absorb chemicals over time.
It’s important to note, though, that these filters don’t catch everything.
Notably, if there are pathogens in your water, your countertop filter won’t help.
Fortunately, that’s a rare occurrence in Toronto, but if you live in an area where a boil-water advisory is in effect, an activated charcoal filter is no substitute.
2. As A Treatment For Poison Or Overdose
Due to its effectiveness in absorbing toxins, activated charcoal is an effective way to provide treatment for drug overdoses.
A 2016 study in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology noted that activated charcoal can be used to absorb drugs in the gastrointestinal system, reducing their absorption by the body.
When used within 5 minutes of an overdose it can reduce the absorption of a drug by up to 74%.
In 2015, The American Journal of Emergency Medicine reviewed records for over 302 months’ worth of overdose cases.
The study looked at the implications of administering activated charcoal to patients in the field, before arriving at the hospital in regards to safety and timing of arrival at the hospital, and it to be safe, and to not significantly impact travel time to the hospital.
3. May Help Lower Cholesterol
A study in the European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found the use of activated charcoal reduced blood cholesterol levels in study participants with high cholesterol in ranges between 23% and 41%, dependent on the dose.
The reason for this reduction is believed to be because activated charcoal binds to acids containing cholesterol and prevents them from being absorbed by the body.
In addition to lowering the levels of LDL (aka “bad” cholesterol) in the body, activated charcoal was also found to assist in increasing levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
4. May Help Promote Kidney Health
The role of the kidney in the body is to filter your blood and remove waste and water, in order to produce urine.
Activated charcoal may assist kidney function by reducing the number of waste products they need to filter.
In 2014, the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology showed use of activated charcoal in rats and found it to be effective to remove toxins from the kidneys.
This study recommends further study on this use of activated charcoal in humans, though.
5. May Help Manage Trimethylaminuria
Trimethylaminuria, also known as “fish odor syndrome” is a rare condition in which the body is unable to break down certain compounds which have a fishy smell to them.
In most healthy people, the chemical trimethylamine (TMA) which has a fishy smell, is broken down and excreted through urine.
Individuals with trimethylaminuria lack the enzyme required to break down TMA, and it can accumulate in breath, sweat, and urine.
Activated charcoal may help bind to TMA and help to remove it from the body, however, studies in this regard are limited at this time.
Risks Of Activated Charcoal?
Although generally considered safe, there are some risks associated with taking activated charcoal which you should be aware of.
Side effects can include nausea, vomiting, constipation and black stool.
When used to prevent an overdose, there is a risk of it travelling to the lungs, if the individual it’s being given to is not fully conscious – because of this, it should only be given to people who are fully awake.
Also, its super absorbent properties can cause problems for people on some medications, as it can absorb them and make them less effective.
Because of this, some people recommend against eating foods containing it, and some jurisdictions have banned its use in in food altogether.
Book An Appointment At Annex Naturopathic
Do you think you could benefit from using activated charcoal?
Or are you wondering if it might interact with other medications you’re taking?
Do you want to learn more about how it could help you with your cholesterol levels, or maintaining a healthy kidney?
At Annex Naturopathic one of our naturopathic doctors can help you to determine if activated charcoal, or perhaps another natural solution, is right for you.
Contact us today to set up an appointment.
Yours in Health,
Dr. Marnie Luck, N.D
Annex Naturopathic Clinic is a clinic in Toronto that offers integrative healthcare solutions from Drs. Marnie Luck, ND, and Tanya Lee, ND