Health and Nutrition Articles

Activated Charcoal: Gastrointestinal Agent and Poison Antidote

How Activated Charcoal Works

Carbon or activated charcoal is not the same thing as the charcoal used for grilling. It is made from peat, coal, wood, coconut shell or petroleum. It is heated at high temperatures in the presence of a gas which increases the surface area and causes the charcoal to develop countless internal pores that help it absorb chemicals.

It is a fine black powder, and has no taste or odor. It is best known for its use as an antidote for poisons and organic toxins.

What makes activated charcoal work is the process of adsorption (not to be confused with absorption). Adsorption is the adhesion of a substance to another substance. One substance, like gas in the intestinal tract, binds to the other substance (charcoal) but it does not become part of the substance like water in a sponge for example.

Gases or toxins in the stomach or intestinal tract adhere to the activated charcoal and then are removed from the body. It has been shown to reduce the absorption of poisonous substances in the body by nearly 60%.

It has also been used as toothpaste and shown to aid in whitening teeth and fighting tartar and plaque buildup.

Activated charcoal is not a supplement to be taken internally every day, because in addition to binding to toxins, it can also take up vitamins, minerals and other food nutrients. It may be used for occasional periods of intestinal discomfort or in the event someone has ingested a poison of some kind. Always consult a doctor or poison control center first in the event of a poisoning. In some situations, taking activated charcoal for a poisoning can give the patient time to get to a medical facility.

Dosing

For drug overdose or poisoning: 50 to 100 grams of activated charcoal is given at first, followed by charcoal every 2 to 4 hours at a dose equal to 12.5 grams per hour. For children, lower doses (10 to 25 grams) are used.

Precautions

  • Always seek help from a qualified medical practitioner or a poison control center before using activated charcoal for poison consumption
  • Taking too much activated charcoal without adequate water consumption, may lead to constipation.
  • Do not use activated charcoal for consumption of a corrosive agent.
  • Do not use activated charcoal if you have an intestinal blockage or peristalsis.
  • Alcohol can decrease the effectiveness of the charcoal.
  • Milk products may hinder the adsorption of the charcoal.

Quick Facts

  • Used for centuries to detoxify the body
  • Also known as carbon
  • Used most often as a detoxifier and antidote for poison
  • Relieves bee stings and bug/spider bites
  • Whitens teeth
  • Eliminates or reduces flatulence (gas) and bloating