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Activated charcoal is not the same substance as that found in charcoal bricks or burnt pieces of food.
The manufacture of activated charcoal makes it extremely adsorbent, allowing it to bind to molecules, ions, or atoms. In this way, it removes these from dissolved substances.
Making activated charcoal involves heating carbon-rich materials, such as wood, peat, coconut shells, or sawdust, to very high temperatures.
This 'activation' process strips the charcoal of previously absorbed molecules and frees up bonding sites again. This process also reduces the size of the pores in the charcoal and makes more holes in each molecule, therefore, increasing its overall surface area.
As a result, one teaspoon full of activated charcoal has more surface area than a football field.
Possible uses of activated charcoal
Authorities have only approved activated charcoal for the emergency treatment of overdoses or poisonings.
But due to its powerful toxin-clearing properties, some advocates have proposed activated charcoal as a treatment for an ever-growing list of conditions.
There is not sufficiently conclusive, large-scale research to establish what the benefits are of activated charcoal. Many over-the-counter (OTC) products also rely on the basic chemical principles of activated charcoal to defend their benefit claims.
A few of the uses of activated charcoal with some evidence include the following:
1. Kidney health
Activated charcoal may be able to assist kidney function by filtering out undigested toxins and drugs.
Activated charcoal seems to be especially effective at removing toxins derived from urea, the main byproduct of protein digestion.
More research is needed, but some animal studies show that activated charcoal may help improve kidney function and reduce gastrointestinal damage and inflammation in those with chronic kidney disease.
2. Intestinal gas
Activated charcoal powder is thought to be able to disrupt intestinal gas, although researchers still do not understand how.
Liquids and gases trapped in the intestine can easily pass through the millions of tiny holes in activated charcoal, and this process may neutralize them.
Also, some 34 percent of the participants who were given the activated charcoal to reduce their gas had improved symptoms.
In a 2017 study, people who took 45 mg of simethicone and 140 mg of activated charcoal three times daily for 10 days, all reported a significant reduction in abdominal pain with no side effects.
The research is still limited, but a panel of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) reports that there is enough evidence to support the use of activated charcoal to reduce excessive gas accumulation.
There is no set way to use activated charcoal for intestinal gas, but the EFSA recommend taking at least 1 g at 30 minutes before and after each meal.
3. Water filtration
People have long used activated charcoal as a natural water filter. Just as it does in the intestines and stomach, activated charcoal can interact with and absorb a range of toxins, drugs, viruses, bacteria, fungus, and chemicals found in water.
In commercial settings, such as waste-management centers, operators often use activated carbon granules for one part of the filtration process. Dozens of water filtration products are also designed for at-home use, using carbon cartridges to purify water of toxins and impurities.
A 2015 study found that water filtration systems that used carbon removed as much as 100 percent of the fluoride in 32 unfiltered water samples after 6 months of installation.
Given its use as a gastrointestinal absorbent in overdoses and poisonings, it follows that some people might propose activated charcoal as a treatment for diarrhea.
In a 2017 review of recent studies on the use of activated charcoal for diarrhea, researchers concluded that it might be able to prevent bacteria and drugs that can cause diarrhea from being absorbed into the body by trapping them on its porous, textured surface.
While noting it as a suitable treatment for diarrhea, the researchers also pointed out that activated charcoal had few side effects, especially in comparison with common antidiarrheal medications.
5. Teeth whitening and oral health
Dozens of teeth-whitening products contain activated charcoal.
Many oral health products that contain activated charcoal claim to have various benefits, such as being:
Activated charcoal's toxin-absorbing properties may be important here, but there is no significant research to support its use for teeth whitening or oral health.
In a 2017 review, researchers concluded there was not enough laboratory or clinical data to determine the safety or effectiveness of activated charcoal for teeth whitening or oral health.
6. Skin care
Researchers have reported that activated charcoal can help draw microparticles, such as dirt, dust, chemicals, toxins, and bacteria, to the surface of the skin, to make removing them easier.
Various activated charcoal deodorants are widely available. Charcoal may absorb smells and harmful gases, making it ideal as an underarm, shoe, and refrigerator deodorant.
Activated charcoal is also reported to be able to absorb excess moisture and control humidity levels at a micro level.
8. Skin infection
Around the world, many different traditional medicine practitioners use activated charcoal powder made from coconut shells to treat soft tissue conditions, such as skin infections.
Activated charcoal may have an antibacterial effect by absorbing harmful microbes from wounds. Several are available commercially.
Side Effects & Safety
Activated charcoal is safe for most adults when used short-term. Side effects of activated charcoal include constipation and black stools. More serious, but rare, side effects are a slowing or blockage of the intestinal tract, regurgitation into the lungs, and dehydration.
Special Precautions & Warnings:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Activated charcoal might be safe when used short-term if you are pregnant or breast-feeding, but consult with your healthcare professional before using if you are pregnant.
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:
Activated Charcoal Capsules and Tablets
Generic Name: Activated Charcoal Capsules and Tablets (CHAR kole AK tiv ay ted)
Uses of Activated Charcoal Capsules and Tablets:
What do I need to tell my doctor BEFORE I take Activated Charcoal Capsules and Tablets?
This medicine may interact with other drugs or health problems.
Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all of your drugs (prescription or OTC, natural products, vitamins) and health problems. You must check to make sure that it is safe for you to take this medicine (activated charcoal capsules and tablets) with all of your drugs and health problems. Do not start, stop, or change the dose of any drug without checking with your doctor.
What are some things I need to know or do while I take Activated Charcoal Capsules and Tablets?
How is this medicine (Activated Charcoal Capsules and Tablets) best taken?
Tell your doctor if you have ever had any unusual or allergic reaction to medicines in this group or any other medicines. Also tell your health care professional if you have any other types of allergies, such as to foods dyes, preservatives, or animals. For non-prescription products, read the label or package ingredients carefully.
Activated charcoal should be used only under the direct supervision of your doctor, poison control center, or other health care professional.
Many medicines have not been studied specifically in older people. Therefore, it may not be known whether they work exactly the same way they do in younger adults. Although there is no specific information comparing the use of activated charcoal in the elderly, this medicine is not expected to cause different side effects or problems in older people than it does in younger adults.
However, elderly persons with slow digestion are more likely to develop constipation if given more than one dose of activated charcoal.
Activated charcoal has not been reported to cause birth defects or other problems in humans.
Activated charcoal has not been reported to cause problems in nursing babies.
Although certain medicines should not be used together at all, in other cases two different medicines may be used together even if an interaction might occur. In these cases, your doctor may want to change the dose, or other precautions may be necessary. When you are taking any of these medicines, it is especially important that your healthcare professional know if you are taking any of the medicines listed below. The following interactions have been selected on the basis of their potential significance and are not necessarily all-inclusive.
Using medicines in this class with any of the following medicines is not recommended. Your doctor may decide not to treat you with a medication in this class or change some of the other medicines you take.
Using medicines in this class with any of the following medicines is usually not recommended, but may be required in some cases. If both medicines are prescribed together, your doctor may change the dose or how often you use one or both of the medicines.
Certain medicines should not be used at or around the time of eating food or eating certain types of food since interactions may occur. Using alcohol or tobacco with certain medicines may also cause interactions to occur. Discuss with your healthcare professional the use of your medicine with food, alcohol, or tobacco.
Other Medical Problems
The presence of other medical problems may affect the use of medicines in this class. Make sure you tell your doctor if you have any other medical problems, especially:
Before taking this medicine, call a poison control center, your doctor, or an emergency room for advice. It is a good idea to have these telephone numbers readily available.
To prevent activated charcoal powder from scattering, be careful when opening and adding water to the powder container.
It is very important that you shake the liquid form of this medicine well before taking it, because some might have settled in the bottom. Be sure to drink all the liquid. Then rinse the container with a small amount of water, shake the container, and drink this mixture to get the full dose of activated charcoal.
If you have been told to take both this medicine and ipecac syrup to treat the poisoning, do not take this medicine until after you have taken the ipecac syrup to cause vomiting and the vomiting has stopped. This usually takes about 30 minutes.
Do not take this medicine mixed with chocolate syrup, ice cream or sherbet, since they may prevent the medicine from working properly.
If you are taking any other medicine, do not take it within 2 hours of the activated charcoal. Taking other medicines together with activated charcoal may prevent the other medicine from being absorbed by your body. If you have any questions about this, check with your health care professional.
The dose medicines in this class will be different for different patients. Follow your doctor's orders or the directions on the label. The following information includes only the average doses of these medicines. If your dose is different, do not change it unless your doctor tells you to do so.
The amount of medicine that you take depends on the strength of the medicine. Also, the number of doses you take each day, the time allowed between doses, and the length of time you take the medicine depend on the medical problem for which you are using the medicine.
For activated charcoal
For activated charcoal and sorbitol
Keep out of the reach of children.
Store the medicine in a closed container at room temperature, away from heat, moisture, and direct light. Keep from freezing.
Do not keep outdated medicine or medicine no longer needed.
Along with its needed effects, a medicine may cause some unwanted effects. Although not all of these side effects may occur, if they do occur they may need medical attention.
Check with your doctor as soon as possible if any of the following side effects occur:
Less common or rare
Other side effects may occur that usually do not need medical attention. These side effects may go away during treatment as your body adjusts to the medicine. However, check with your doctor if any of the following side effects continue:
Less common or rare
Activated charcoal will cause your stools to turn black. This is to be expected while you are taking this medicine.
There have not been any other side effects reported with this medicine. However, if you notice any other effects, check with your doctor.
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