It is surprising to know that something as black as charcoal can actually whiten your teeth. But, it’s true. Besides making your teeth sparkle, there are many other benefits of activated charcoal or activated carbon. It is a natural substance that helps in eliminating toxins and harmful chemicals from the body by filtering toxins and prevents the body from absorbing them. Though it is similar to common charcoal, activated charcoal is manufactured especially for medical use.
After the activation process, a highly adsorbent powder devoid of taste and odor is produced, which captures, binds, and removes poisons, heavy metals, chemicals, and gases. Activated charcoal has been used for thousands of years in ancient ayurvedic and Chinese medicine systems as a powerful antidote that adsorbs most organic toxins, chemicals, and poisons before they can harm the body.
However, some of its claimed benefits are not supported by scientific studies, which makes you think twice before using it. Here are the top seven benefits of activated charcoal and what science has to say about it.
1. Helps Purify Water
Our water sources and disinfected water supplies often contain many organic compounds that can be carcinogenic or toxic. Chemicals like chlorine are frequently used to disinfect water and kill germs to make the water fit for usage. But, chlorinated water is unfit for drinking and can cause many adverse effects. So, activated charcoal can be used to filter the water and remove any harmful substances that are present in water.
Activated charcoal traps impurities and contaminants such as pesticides, solvents, industrial waste, and other chemicals, making the water fit for drinking. It filters out fluoride in tap water and even helps in eliminating the dangerous chemical bisphenol A (BPA).1 This is why most water filtration systems use activated charcoal in their products.
2. Improves Skin Health
The cosmetics market is abuzz with numerous products containing activated charcoal, which is claimed to have anti-aging properties. Some experts suggest that its antibacterial properties help in treating acne and spots, making your skin appear smooth and clear. It is known to soak up bacteria, exfoliate the skin, reduce the pores and maintain the pH balance of your skin.
Activated charcoal mask adsorbs dirt, oil and other impurities usually found in the skin. Many people use a face mask made of activated charcoal to eliminate skin imperfections. But, there are not many science-backed studies about its effectiveness in skin care.
3. Removes Dental Stains
Consumption of beverages like sodas, coffee and tea, habits such as smoking and drinking wine can leave your pearly whites stained. Brushing your teeth with activated charcoal can help in making your teeth a few shades whiter as it adsorbs plaque and other substances that stain your teeth. It also improves oral health by keeping the pH levels in your mouth balanced and prevents cavities, bad breath, and gum disease.
But, since it has abrasive qualities, daily or excessive brushing with activated charcoal can damage your enamel.2 More research for evidence that activated charcoal is beneficial for teeth is required.3 Additionally, the American Dental Association (ADA) is yet to officially approve it as a teeth whitener.
Note: If you have dental crowns, caps or porcelain veneers, activated charcoal may stain them.
4. Treats Insect Bites
Some insect bites may be mildly venomous or may cause rashes or allergies. Activated charcoal is effective in removing these toxins and allergens when used externally on the affected area. It is known to relieve pain caused by insect bites, and rashes from plants such as poison ivy or poison oak.
Generally, activated charcoal is combined with coconut oil and topically applied to the skin. Although it can get rid of poisons and toxins, it is best to opt for a consultation at emergency poison center.4 When it comes to insect bites and allergies, it’s better to seek professional help rather than experiment with less effective methods.
5. Reduces Digestive Problems
Activated charcoal is known to cleanse your digestive system and relieve problems such as bloating and gas formation. It can also help remove toxins that enter the body from pesticides present in foods. Research shows that orally ingesting activated charcoal can promote digestive function and immunity by filtering out heavy metals, toxins, viruses, and parasites.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, activated charcoal can prevent intestinal gas formation in the colon.5 However, it is recommended that you consult your physician before taking activated charcoal internally and adhere to the instructions on the product’s label. Oral consumption of activated charcoal may cause certain side-effects and you must call your doctor if you experience any adverse effects.6
6. Lowers High Cholesterol
Another popular claim which requires more detailed research is that activated charcoal can potentially reduce cholesterol levels. Some studies have demonstrated that patients who had high levels of cholesterol showed improvement with their total cholesterol levels dropping by 25 percent when they were treated for four weeks with activated charcoal at a specific dosage.7
But, this study was limited to just a handful of patients, which is not enough to generalize the findings. So, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that activated charcoal has any effect on reducing cholesterol levels in the general population. Besides, there are far more effective natural techniques to lower bad cholesterol levels.
7. Purifies The Air
Many studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of the use of activated charcoal for purifying the air indoors.8 Poor indoor air quality has been associated with numerous health problems, especially among children.9 It helps remove unpleasant odors from the refrigerator, cupboards, closets, and other places in the house.
Through the process of adsorption, activated charcoal absorbs irritating positive ions like dust, microfibers, harmful chemicals and pollutants present in the air.10 Many air purifying products incorporate activated charcoal for the same purpose.
Where Can You Buy Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal powder and supplements can be bought from grocery stores, drugstores, health shops, and online. But, more importantly, ascertain the source of the product when you’re buying it and ensure that it is made from organically grown coconuts or wood, which are purer and more effective.
Precautions When Using Activated Charcoal
- Before using activated charcoal, consult your doctor to ascertain the dosage and if it’s appropriate for your condition.
- If you experience poisoning or adverse effects due to the exposure to toxic substances, contact a poison control center or hospital immediately.
- Although activated charcoal is non-toxic, do not consume it within two hours of taking vitamins or medications as it may prevent the body from absorbing them.
- Activated charcoal is not the charcoal you use on the barbecue grill. Barbecue charcoal contains many toxins and chemicals and should never be consumed.
|↑1||Bautista-Toledo, I., M. A. Ferro-Garcia, J. Rivera-Utrilla, C. Moreno-Castilla, and F. J. Vegas Fernandez. “Bisphenol A removal from water by activated carbon. Effects of carbon characteristics and solution chemistry.” Environmental science & technology 39, no. 16 (2005): 6246-6250.|
|↑2||McCarty, Brantley, Nicholas Letteri, Jim Singletary, and Carolyn Primus. “Activated Charcoal as a Whitening Dentifrice.”|
|↑3||Brooks, John K., Nasir Bashirelahi, and Mark A. Reynolds. “Charcoal and charcoal-based dentifrices: A literature review.” The Journal of the American Dental Association (2017).|
|↑4||Schaper, A. “Charcoal, cocaine and rattlesnakes: evidence-based treatment of poisoning.” Der Anaesthesist 62, no. 10 (2013): 824-831.|
|↑5||Jain, N. K., V. P. Patel, and C. S. Pitchumoni. “Efficacy of Activated Charcoal in Reducing Intestinal Gas: A Double–Blind Clinical Trial.” American Journal of Gastroenterology 81, no. 7 (1986).|
|↑6||Activated Charcoal (By mouth). U.S. National Library of Medicine. 2017.|
|↑7||Kuusisto, Pasi, Vesa Manninen, Heikki Vapaatalo, JussiK Huttunen, and PerttiJ Neuvonen. “Effect of activated charcoal on hypercholesterolaemia.” The Lancet 328, no. 8503 (1986): 366-367.|
|↑8||Hu, Shih-Cheng, Angus Shiue, Shu-Mei Chang, Ya-Ting Chang, Chao-Heng Tseng, Chuang-Cheng Mao, Arson Hsieh, and Andrew Chan. “Removal of carbon dioxide in the indoor environment with sorption-type air filters.” International Journal of Low-Carbon Technologies (2016): 1-5.|
|↑9||Claudio, Luz. “Planting healthier indoor air.” Environmental health perspectives 119, no. 10 (2011): a426.|
|↑10||Raso, Renzo A., Martin Zeltner, and Wendelin J. Stark. “Indoor air purification using activated carbon adsorbers: Regeneration using catalytic combustion of intermediately stored VOC.” Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research 53, no. 49 (2014): 19304-19312.|