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December 14, 2015
By Susan Callahan, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Charcoal may seem more suited to the barbeque grill than your body,
but this material actually has health benefits. Common charcoal, made
from coal, peat, wood, or coconut shell, is excellent for absorbing
moisture and odors.
Activated charcoal is a medically-enhanced charcoal, used in an
emergency to treat certain kinds of poisoning as it prevents chemicals
from being absorbed from the stomach into the body.
Activated charcoal may also have other health benefits including as a
treatment for intestinal gas, high cholesterol, and even hangovers. Is
activated charcoal a useful addition to your medicine cabinet? Does
charcoal work to prevent and treat common health conditions? Does it
pose any health problems?
How Does Activated Charcoal Work?
Activated charcoal is made by heating common charcoal in the presence
of a gas that helps the charcoal to form large pores or gaps within its
These pores in activated charcoal help to trap chemicals, making them
less available to the body and therefore reducing their effectiveness. As
activated charcoal is effective at trapping chemicals it is often used to
treat conditions where these chemicals could be a problem.
What Are the Dangers of Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal is believed to be relatively safe when taken in
reasonable doses. However, there are some side effects that you need
to watch out for, so it is always necessary to consult with your doctor
before you try it.
The most common side effect is constipation, which can also occur with
black stools. In serious cases the consumption of activated charcoal
may cause a slowing of the digestive tract or even a blockage, which
results in dehydration. Avoid activated charcoal if you have a health
condition that results in intestinal obstruction.
Also remember that activated charcoal affects the action of any
medication you take orally.
Because activated charcoal absorbs substances in the stomach, it can
decrease how much medicine your body absorbs, causing a decrease in
effectiveness. If you’re concerned, talk to your health care provider.
We looked at the scientific evidence to discover what --- if any ---
effect activated charcoal has on the body. Here are some of the reasons
why people take activated charcoal.
1. Activated Charcoal Helps Decrease Intestinal Gas
Intestinal gas or flatulence can be an embarrassing problem. Some
studies show that activated charcoal can reduce levels of intestinal gas,
although there is not enough evidence to come to a solid conclusion.
A 2001 study from Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston says that
activated charcoal can be an effective option for reducing the
symptoms associated with intestinal gas like flatulence, bloating and
burping, in some patients.
A more practical way activate charcoal helps with intestinal gas
problems is in the form of charcoal-filled pads that are worn inside the
undergarments and help to reduce odors, according to a 2005 study
from the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
2. Take Activated Charcoal to Lower Cholesterol Levels
Activated charcoal taken by mouth may help to lower cholesterol levels
in the blood, according to experts, but the treatment has not been
A 1989 study from the University of Helsinki in Finland showed that
activated charcoal reduced LDL cholesterol by 29 percent. Other studies
have shown different results, with some not noticing a significant
difference after taking activated charcoal.
3. Your Wife or Girlfriend May Consider Treating Cholestasis During
Pregnancy with Activated Charcoal
Cholestasis or reduced bile flow in pregnancy can be treated by
activated charcoal, according to a 2013 study by the University of
Nottingham in the UK.
Cholestasis is linked to poor outcomes for the baby and activated
charcoal may be suitable as a treatment for this condition.
4. Does Charcoal Treat Heart Disease in Kidney Patients?
According to a 2009 study from Vanderbilt University, activated
charcoal may be useful for managing the high incidence of heart
disease in people with advanced kidney disease.
Patients with advanced kidney disease have a greater risk of
atherosclerosis and subsequent death from heart disease. Oral
activated charcoal was found to decrease atherosclerosis in mice with
kidney damage, according to the scientists.
5. Activated Charcoal Treats Cardiac Poisoning
Charcoal could be a cheap solution to the problem of cardiac poisoning,
according to a 2003 study from the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka.
Researchers looked at the common problem in Sri Lanka of accidentally
eating oleander seeds, which has a severe effect on the heart.
Treatment is normally with a temporary pacemaker or antibodies, but
both are expensive and not readily available in rural areas. Repeated
doses of charcoal can reduce the death rate by oleander poisoning by
up to 70 percent, according to the scientists.
6. But Does It Actually Work? Activated Charcoal Doesn’t Treat
Poisoning, Say Scientists
While the study above suggests that activated charcoal is an effective
intervention after poisoning, other experts say it doesn’t work.
A 2008 review of literature by scientists at the New Royal Infirmary in
Edinburgh and the University of Oxford and John Radcliffe Hospital in
the UK shows that multiple-dose activated charcoal has no effect on the
rate of mortality after chemical poisoning.
7. Activated Charcoal Helps Prevent Hangovers?
Activated charcoal is included in many hangover remedies but there is
no evidence it works as a hangover cure. Activated charcoal is not
particularly effective at trapping alcohol, and it doesn’t actually work
well because it is administered many hours after the alcohol has already
been absorbed into the blood stream.
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