Common Names: Activated organic charcoal, animal charcoal.
What Is Activated Charcoal?
Made from charred wood, peat moss, or other vegetable matter, this fine black powder is specially processed to enhance its absorption capacity.
What It Is Used For:
Activated charcoal can be used to help support poisonings for nearly a century. Its tiny particles have an enormous surface area capable of absorbing large amounts of complex toxic substances and transporting them through the bowels and out of the body, thereby keeping their absorption into the bloodstream. For poisonings, however, use activated charcoal ONLY under the guidance of a doctor or Poison Control Cen& agent, as there are certain circumstances in which it should never be used. This is very important, for charcoal's use in poisonings is not fully discussed here.
Other proposed uses include reducing flatulence (stomach or intestinal gas and associated pains), supporting bloating and other symptoms of digestive system upset, helping lower cholesterol levels, "detoxifying" the body, and combating hangovers, infections, and hiccups.
Forms Available Include: Capsule, liquid, powder, tablet. Capsules are the form typically used to help support complaints other than poisonings. Activated charcoal often appears in multi-ingredient formulations.
Dosage commonly Reported: A common dosage for digestive problems is 500 milligrams at the onset of symptoms and another 500 to 1,000 milligrams every two hours as needed. Doses in excess of 20 grams may interfere with nutrient absorption. Avoid taking activated charcoal within one hour of taking nutritional supplements. For poisonings, the charcoal should be taken under the guidance of a doctor or Poison Control Center agent only, as a mixture made with 60 to 100 grams of activated charcoal (15 to 30 grams for children) per S ounces of water as soon as possible after ingestion of the toxin; the dose is repeated as necessary.
Will It Work for You? What the Studies Say: Although not all studies have come to the same conclusion,' at least one well-designed though small human trial indicates that activated charcoal, when taken at certain dosages and appropriate times (about thirty minutes before a meal, for example), may reduce flatulence.2 In the study, the nine subjects taking charcoal experienced significantly less gas (as measured by breath analysis) and abdominal bloating or discomfort than when they took a placebo or a conventional antiflatulent drug (simethicone) after eating a cup of baked beans.3 Activated charcoal's anti-gas mechanism remains something of a mystery. Still, claims that it will somehow "detoxify" the intestines by adsorbing gases, as some promoters assert, appear to be unfounded; not only have test-tube studies indicated that this theory is false,4 but intestinal "toxins" are effectively removed through the body's normal elimination process anyway.
Much remains to be learned about the capacity of activated charcoal to maintain cholesterol in a healthy range, from the consistency of the effect to the appropriate dosage and risk for side effects.5 In a small but frequently cited 1986 study, total cholesterol and levels of "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol dropped by 25 percent and 41 percent, respectively, in seven individuals with high cholesterol levels. The reduction was seen after four weeks in which they took 8 grams activated charcoal three times a day.6 Levels of the "good" cholesterol - high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol - increased. Similar cholesterol shifts have occurred in individuals taking activated charcoal for other reasons, and in diabetic laboratory rats.7
Will It Harm You? What the Studies Say: Decades of experience in poisoning emergencies attest to the relative safety of activated charcoal. If taken regularly over time, however, the charcoal may start to interfere with the absorption of important nutrients or even pose the risk of digestive issues.8 The safety of megadoses has also not been determined. Take any vitamins or oral medications at least two hours after or one hour before the activated charcoal because they too may be adsorbed, allowing them no chance to enter your bloodstream. At high doses, activated charcoal may cause stomach upset, diarrhea, constipation, or vomiting.
Pharmaceutical Association. Handbook of Nonprescription Drugs. 11th ed. Washington, D.C.: Pharmaceutical Association, 1996. Barrett, S., and V. Herbert. The Vitamin Pushers: How the "Health Food" Industry Is Selling America a Bill of Goods. Amherst, NY, Prometheus Books, 1994. Lawrence Review of Natural Products. St. Louis: Facts and Comparisons, April 1996. Mayell, M. Off-the-Shelf Natural Health: How to Use Herbs and Nutrients to Stay Well. New York: Bantam Books, 1995.
T. Potter et al., Gastroenterology, 1985; 88: 620-4. R.G. Hail et al., Journal of Gastroent&ology, 75 (1981): 192-96.
N.K. Jam et al., Annals of Internal Medicine, 105(1) (1986): 61-62.
Potter et al., op. cit.
Lawrence Review of Natural Products (St. Louis: Facts and Comparisons, April 1996).
P. Kuusisto et al., Lancet, 2(8503) (1986): 366-67.
E.A. Friedman et al., Clinical Nephrology, 11(2) (1979): 79-80. T. Manis et al., Transactions- Society for Artificial Internal Organs, 25 (1979): 19-23.
Lawrence Review of Natural Products, op. cit.
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Take 1 capsule, 3 times daily, with meals.
Why is activated charcoal disappearing from some health food store shelves?
Activated charcoal is a very efffective internal cleanser and detoxifier (food additives, colorants, preservatives, etc.) that has been used safely for many centuries worldwide. It has been used primarily as a digestive aid and for its ability to bind to poisons and safely remove them from the body. Many people recall grandparents using the natural remedy as a "cure-all". While it is readily available in Ontario, there is some talk that it may be pulled from shelves (and this may have already happened) in some provinces, as it has in some parts of the US. It is unclear why this is so, as there is no mention of this issue at the Health Canada web site. All that is mentioned is the proper administering of the substance when used for poison treatment.
There is some discussion online that this may be due to the fact that activated charcoal was a known ingredient in black gun powder for old canons and rifles, and in some fireworks, but more recently fuel cells in hybrid cars. Despite having many industrial uses, it makes little sense why it would be taken off health food shelves. Medically speaking, its removal may be because of its ability to absorb toxins and medications. Perhaps, health authorities feel that its danger lies not in the effects of charcoal itself, but rather its influence on pharmaceuticals and its ability to absorb and bind to desirable medications or nutrients if misused or overused. It is best to use no more than as directed on the label, or as directed by a healthcare practitioner.
Activated charcoal should not be taken during pregnancy or in conjunction with birth control medication.
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* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Products are intended to support general well being and are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or cure any condition or disease. If conditions persist, please seek advice from your medical doctor. Information provided at ZooScape.com relies partly on Traditional Uses. The essence of the current American rule on Traditional Uses is, as stated by FTC, "Claims based on historical or traditional use should be substantiated by confirming scientific evidence, or should be presented in such a way that consumers understand that the sole basis for the claim is a history of use of the product for a particular purpose."