Table of Contents
What is Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal is a compound that is made from selected raw materials. Also known as activated carbon, it can be made from any carbonaceous raw material.
These consist of any materials that contain carbon, such as coconut shells, wood, or coal.
To “activate” the selected material, it is subjected to a specialized treatment process. The activation itself involves innate chemical and physical changes.
First, the carbonaceous substance is burnt without any oxygen at high temperatures.
Any heat-sensitive (volatile) compounds are stripped away, leaving a carbon skeleton – or “char”.
This char is then treated once again to create interconnected pores inside it. This can be done physically or chemically. The material of choice is now considered activated!
The porous network of holes is now capable of attracting most organic chemicals to it. Organic chemicals include benzene, oils, and even smells!
Due to the treatment process, the activated carbon has a large surface area. This means it can also hold as well as attract organic matter.
It is important to note that activated charcoal does not absorb substances. Rather, it adsorbs them instead.
Absorption involves the chemical or compound in question being dissolved entirely. When something is absorbed, it becomes a part of whatever is absorbing it.
When activated charcoal attracts another organic substance, it does not absorb it. The chemical or substance is collected, adhering to the surface of the activated charcoal. (Source)
There are different types of activation processes and equipment. Activated charcoal can be more or less effective depending on how it was activated. (Source)
Activated Charcoal Through History
Due to its useful properties, activated charcoal has a wide range of uses. One of the earliest recorded uses of activated charcoal is by the Ancient Egyptians.
This ancient society initially used charcoal for smelting ores, such as copper and tin. This is because charcoal is capable at burning at far higher temperatures than wood.
The Ancient Egyptians then inadvertently discovered another useful property of super-heated charcoal!
Wooden posts were scorched by charcoal burning at a high temperature. These posts did not rot as unburnt wooden posts did when buried in wet soil beside the Nile River.
Activated charcoal is capable of attracting organic material. This means it attracted the fungi that cause wood to rot in wet environments.
Renowned Roman philosopher and naturalist Pliny made mention of activated charcoal in his works. He had witnessed it being used to treat various ailments.
Activated charcoal served as a remedy for epilepsy, vertigo, and severe anemia. It was also given to individuals with anthrax poisoning.
Pliny made note that the charcoal appeared to be effective only after having been burnt.
Activated charcoal then briefly disappeared off the historical scene. This was due to scientific discovery being suppressed.
Thankfully, by the 1700’s activated charcoal appeared once again. It was used to treat a range of conditions.
There are also records of charred wood being used to reduce the odors of gangrenous ulcers.
The charcoal activation process itself was developed at some point between the late 19th century and early 20th century.
Medical publications began to mention activated charcoal. It became an established treatment for intestinal disorders, and an antidote for poisons.
Activated charcoal eventually made its way into hospitals across the world. Several common uses include the treatment of drug overdoses, alcohol poisoning, and anemia. (Source)
Today, activated charcoal is used for a variety of other purposes. Activated charcoal can be purchased as a powder or a tablet.
It can be found in water filters, as it helps to trap unpleasant substances such as pesticides and solvents.
It is also an ingredient in several beauty products on the market today. You can find face masks and tooth-whitening powders all made from activated charcoal. (Source)
Uses and Health Benefits of Activated Charcoal
There are numerous products on the market today that contain activated charcoal. It is taken for medicinal purposes as well as beautification and more.
So, what are the health benefits of activated charcoal? Let us explore the various uses of this compound and how effective it really is.
E. coli is a nasty type of bacteria that can contaminate food. If you ingest it, you can get ill – commonly known as food poisoning.
Activated charcoal is capable of adsorbing E. coli entirely. Best of all, it can do so quickly.
A study demonstrated that 10 milligrams of activated charcoal adsorbed all of the present bacteria within five minutes. (Source)
You can find over-the-counter activated charcoal supplements, tablets and syrups to treat mild cases of food poisoning.
If you are suffering from serious symptoms such as bloody stools or a high fever, seek urgent medical attention. (Source)
Activated charcoal is frequently used within hospitals as a remedy for poisonings. It is most effective when administered up to one hour after the poisoning occurred.
For example, a patient who took too many over-the-counter aspirin may be administered activated charcoal.
In these situations, activated charcoal is usually administered in liquid form. The solution is give to the poisoned individual to drink.
Once again, activated charcoal’s unique properties come into play. Through adsorption, it can collect any excess toxins in the gastrointestinal tract. (Source)
If caught early enough, most drug overdoses can be treated with activated charcoal. It is generally considered preferable to gastric lavage, another method of treating poisoning. (Source)
If you suspect you are poisoned, do not attempt to treat yourself at home! Seek urgent medical attention.
Cholesterol is a serious problem that can increase your risk of heart disease and other health complications.
However, there are two different types of cholesterol. High density lipoprotein (HDL) and low density lipoprotein (LDL).
LDL is often known as so-called “bad” cholesterol. This is because an excess of LDL is not healthy for you.
Contrastingly, HDL has protective abilities. It has the reputation of being “good” cholesterol. (Source)
Activated charcoal can help reduce your levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol. Individuals with high cholesterol took activated charcoal for a period of four weeks.
After treatment had ended, HDL cholesterol was found to have increased by eight percent! LDL cholesterol levels were reduced by 25 percent. (Source)
If you are suffering from high cholesterol, check with your doctor if activated charcoal may be appropriate for you.
Activated charcoal powders and toothpastes claim to whiten yellow teeth quickly and dramatically. This usage actually has some historical precedence.
Before the invention of conveniently packaged toothpastes, a variety of natural materials were used to keep teeth clean. Charcoal was one such example.
Charcoal kept teeth clean and also reduced bad breath. In certain regions of the world where toothpaste is not readily available, charcoal is still used for this purpose.
As charcoal is mildly abrasive, it can help to get rid of surface stains on your teeth. This can make your teeth appear brighter and whiter!
However, using activated charcoal toothpaste or powder can be a messy endeavor. These products are black and can stain your sink and clothing.
Ensure you check what is contained in the activated charcoal dental product you want to buy. The more natural, the better!
If you have veneers, crowns or other dental work check with your dentist before using activated charcoal on your teeth. (Source)
Activated charcoal was commonly used to dress (bandage) wounds in the past. It was used on wounds from mild (cuts) to severe (ulcers).
Dressing infused with activated charcoal was discovered to promote healing in chronic ulcers. It was more effective than standard hydrocolloid surgical bandages. (Source)
You can apply charcoal powder or paste to minor scrapes or cuts at home! For chronic or serious wounds, check with a doctor before proceeding.
There are many activated charcoal skincare products on the market today. Facial masks and scrubs claim to be able to refresh and revitalize your skin.
Unfortunately, there is very little medical research verifying these claims. Still, you can always try including activated charcoal in your skincare routine.
Activated charcoal is capable of attracting toxins, oils and other substances. Through adsorption, it may help to collect excess oil from your face.
In turn, this can make your skin appear smoother and clearer. There is no evidence that activated charcoal can be used to treat serious skin disorders.
If you have acne, ask your dermatologist before using an activated charcoal product. (Source)
How to Use Activated Charcoal
If you are purchasing activated charcoal for beauty purposes, carefully review the products on offer.
There are a wide range of items on offer with different compositions. The activated material can range from charcoal to coconut shells or peat.
As mentioned earlier, certain ingredients can interfere with activated charcoal.
For example, an activated charcoal tooth whitening product with fluoride might not be the best option. Fluoride can reduce the effectiveness of the activated charcoal. (Source)
Similarly, gels and facial masks can contain numerous additional ingredients. Ensure you are not allergic to any added scents or chemicals.
If you are taking activated charcoal to treat an upset stomach or as a supplement, take precautions.
Always use activated charcoal as instructed by the manufacturers. Do not exceed the recommended dosage for supplements or tablets!
If you have a medical condition that affects your intestines, check with your doctor before using activated charcoal.
A tendency towards constipation is one such condition. These individuals may want to avoid large doses of activated charcoal tablets.
Certain medications can interact with activated charcoal or vice versa. Activated charcoal is safe for use by pregnant and breastfeeding women. (Source)
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