7 Surprising Benefits of Activated Charcoal

06/11/2016 12:15 am ET
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Activated charcoal might seem unassuming, but it offers a ton of incredible health benefits.

It's hard to believe that this simple powder is used in emergency rooms around the world to treat patients who have been poisoned or experienced a drug or alcohol overdose.

What Is Activated Charcoal?

In a nutshell, activated charcoal is a fine black powder. It's odorless, tasteless, and (unlike barbecue charcoal) completely non-toxic, with millions of tiny pores which can trap toxins.

How Is It Made?

Activated charcoal is made by burning a source of carbon - wood, debris, or even coconut shells.

The heat strips away all the oxygen and "activates" the charcoal with steam-like gases like steam. This heating process also creates millions of tiny pores, nooks, and crannies in the final product. Those pores help the charcoal trap dangerous toxins and chemicals.

Here are seven cool ways activated charcoal can help you:

1. Detox the Digestive System

Activated charcoal is powerful enough to detox poisons, drugs, and alcohol overdoses. The charcoal's millions of tiny pores keep toxins (like bleach, fertilizer, pesticides, lead, etc.) from being absorbed into your body.

This makes activated charcoal healthcare professionals' "go-to" treatment in these emergency situations. You can also take smaller doses daily for a non-emergency activated charcoal detox. Dr. Al Sears, MD, has patients take a total of 20 grams a day (spaced into two to four doses) to remove heavy metals which accumulate from exposure to our environment.

2. Water Filtration

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Since activated charcoal traps impurities and harmful substances, it's a great filter for cleaner drinking water.

This explains why backpackers carry charcoal filters on longer trips with limited access to water. Research from Cornell University found that using an activated charcoal filter effectively removes organic chemicals, chlorine, lead, and even unpleasant tastes and odors.

Charcoal filters have also become increasingly popular for home-based water filtration systems, both in kitchen countertop and "whole home" versions. Something important to keep in mind: charcoal filters don't trap bacteria, viruses, or hard-water minerals. Disinfecting with chlorine and filtering is the best bet for the purest drinking water.

3. Reduces Alcohol Poisoning and Prevents Hangovers

Have a rough night out?

Plan to go party with friends but have something to do early tomorrow morning?

Activated charcoal can help!

While activated charcoal doesn't remove alcohol itself, it quickly strips away other toxins founds in mixers and artificial sweeteners. These usually go hand in hand with a night out drinking. You feel much better once you get them out of your system.

Plenty of studies, like this one published in the journal Human Toxicology, found that taking activated charcoal while you're drinking can reduce your blood alcohol concentration significantly.

4. Improves Mental Clarity

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We already touched on how activated charcoal traps toxins from entering your digestive system, which keeps you feeling energetic and healthy.

But here's something a lot of people overlook. When you don't keep those toxins out, you experience negative mental effects in addition to physical ones because your brain and digestive system are closely connected.

If you're dealing with brain fog or chronic fatigue, give activated charcoal a try as a supplement!

5. Reduces Gas and Bloating

Tired of your stomach doing flip flops after a meal?

Activated charcoal can help you ease common digestive problems like bloating and gas. The charcoal works by trapping the food byproducts responsible for all your discomfort.

A study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that activated charcoal reduced intestinal gas, bloating, and abdominal cramps after a meal.

For best results, take activated charcoal about an hour before eating a meal that usually gives you problems.

6. Whitens Teeth

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Why in the world would you use pitch black powder to whiten your teeth?

This seems crazy, but it works. Cultures all over the world have used activated charcoal powder for centuries to clean their teeth.

It comes down to activated charcoal's porous structure. All the little nooks and crannies make it the ideal substance to attract tannins, the compounds found in coffee, tea, wine, and other things that cause unsightly stains on your teeth.

Through a process called "adsorption," the tannins end up trapped in the charcoal. Rinse the charcoal off and you're left with whiter teeth!

7. Skincare and Anti-Aging

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Activated charcoal can even help erase signs of aging and rejuvenate your skin. You can find it in numerous beauty and skincare products.

Why?

Its structure makes it perfect for exfoliating. When you rub it into your skin, all the dirt, grime, and toxins that accumulate in the top layer of your skin get trapped in the charcoal. Washing off the charcoal leaves you with clean skin and unclogged pores, making it easier for other products (like toners and moisturizers) to deliver nutrients deep into your skin.

Making activated charcoal a regular part of your skincare routine will help you turn back the clock.

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