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As strange as it may sound, the practice of using the charred remains of non-toxic wood and other vegetation for both utilitarian and health-related purposes has been around for thousands of years. In fact, the first documented use of charcoal was dated at approximately 3750 B.C. in Egypt where it was used as a cleaning product, for creating bronze, for writing, and as a digestive aid. Flash forward to 2020, and charcoal is making a comeback in a big way. Here’s all you need to know to get started using activated charcoal for detoxification, longevity, and everyday vitality.
What is Activated Charcoal?
There is a difference between the powdery black gunk left at the bottom of your grill after a summer barbeque and the types of charcoal you use for health.
The former is actually a proven carcinogen. The latter is known as “activated charcoal,” or AC. AC is exposed to very high temperatures, which changes its internal structure. This makes it very porous and a much more potent detoxifier. Through the heating process, charcoal also becomes “activated” in that it can hold a negative electric charge. This charge then attracts positively-charged toxins. A quality activated charcoal can attract up to 100 times its weight in toxic materials.
How Activated Charcoal Works
Learning about activated charcoal and trying it myself not only gave me an appreciation for the substance itself, it also helped me to gain a deeper understanding of how important our detoxification pathways are for maintaining optimum health overall.
“It’s a discovery that indicates something we’ve suspected for quite some time and it’s very important especially with any kind of diagnosis,” says nutritional visionary and best-selling author David “Avocado” Wolfe. “And that is detoxification is more important than nutrition.”
Wolfe is just one prominent voice among many in the field of natural health who stress the necessity of keeping our detoxification pathways clean and in good shape if we want to experience longevity and prevent disease.
Functional medicine doctor John C. Cline, MD, BSc, IFMCP, of the Cline Medical Centre in Nanaimo, British Columbia, agrees. He states that “detoxification is a vital cellular task that, if lacking, can lead to early morbidity and mortality.”
Of course, we can (and should) also use key substances to help these processes along, especially in the face of our increasingly toxic world. This is where activated charcoal can be of great help.
“Charcoal, activated charcoal, and super charcoal work genetically, flipping on the genes that are related to autophagy, helping us to self-eat, break down toxic materials, [and] metabolic waste,” says our friend David “Avocado” Wolfe.
8 Activated Charcoal Uses
Imagine all the toxins you are exposed to every day. Toxins exist in food, in water, even in the air we breathe. They are present in the lotions and potions we put on our skin, in the chemicals we use to clean our homes and in the new appliances, furniture, carpets, and cars we buy. A 2005 study conducted by the Environmental Working Group found that a typical newborn comes into this world with “an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants” inside their system.
Unfortunately, no one is immune to toxic exposure these days.
Now consider a relatively inexpensive, simple substance you can get at your local health food store or online that is able to sop up 100 times its weight in microscopic toxins. According to Bulletproof founder Dave Asprey, just two grams of activated charcoal powder has the same surface areas as a football field!
Let’s take a look at some specific conditions that may benefit from the use of activated charcoal supplementation:
1 | Getting Rid of Heavy Metals
Activated charcoal has been shown to be able to remove some of the “heavy hitters” when it comes to heavy metals, including copper, lead, arsenic, and mercury. A 2015 research team from Jordan University of Science and Technology analyzed activated charcoal’s benefits for industrial workers exposed to toxic vapors.
“AC has potential roles in removal of heavy metals from [the] environment, particularly water,” their report in the European Scientific Journal said.
2 | Lowering Cholesterol
A clinical trial published in The Lancet close to 30 years ago looked at how activated charcoal may benefit patients with high cholesterol levels. Individuals who took 8 grams of activated charcoal three times a day experienced significantly lower LDL levels (41%) and total cholesterol levels (25%).
3 | Helping the Digestive System
Charcoal cleans out gunk in the gut through adsorption, which is quite different than absorption. Adsorption is the process of attraction that positively-charged substances (i.e., the toxins) go through when they bind with negatively-charged particles (i.e., charcoal). When adsorption occurs in the intestinal tracts, it leads to improvements in microflora balance, amongst other things.
Charcoal is known for its benefits in helping with acute diarrhea and also for what it can do for those who suffer from gas and bloating. A double-blind clinical trial published in the mid-1980s in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that individuals who used activated charcoal had lower levels of hydrogen in breath test samples, compared to those who took a placebo. Patients who took activated charcoal also experienced less abdominal pain and bloating.
4 | Support for the Kidneys
Some studies have pointed to charcoal’s benefits for kidney health. The Jordan University team mentioned above found that patients who were suffering from kidney disease who took activated charcoal were more successful on renal dialysis.
Another study conducted by Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee, found that a “novel charcoal compound” may help block processes that start in the intestines, which are known to stimulate cytokines and fibrosis tissues connected to kidney disease.
5 | Periodontal Health
Charcoal is often used in toothpastes because of claims that it is antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal. It is also used for teeth-whitening and is said to be a detoxifying agent for the mouth in general.
“Charcoal toothpastes may be found to help remove external (extrinsic) staining on teeth without negative abrasive effects, but the extent and rate of stain removal has not been reported,” stated Nairn Wilson, Emeritus Professor of Dentistry at King’s College in London, in a 2017 article for the Pharmaceutical Journal, a publication of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.
Although there are a few current studies that focus on charcoal’s benefits for oral health specifically, it can be noted that people have been using charcoal in this way for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
6 | Clearing Up Brain Fog
There are many ways in which the build-up of toxins in the body overall can affect the brain. In the Vanderbilt University study, among others, charcoal was found to support the liver and adrenals as well as the kidneys. Because of this, activated charcoal can also slow the rate in which the brain becomes sensitive to common toxins.
In addition, charcoal has the ability to “soak up” specific substances in the intestines connected to inflammation. Lipopolysaccharide (LPS), the residue of deceased bacteria, as well as mycotoxins, are two such substances. Systemic inflammation has long been connected to cognitive decline, especially in older adults.
7 | Longevity
Because of all that activated charcoal can do for the body’s detoxification pathways, is it any wonder that it is also considered an anti-aging substance? An in vivo investigation spearheaded by well-known Russian gerontologist Dr. V.V. Frolkis found that the average lifespan of subjects given activated charcoal increased by 34% overall. Older rats had their lifespan extended by 43%.
8 | Emergency Situations: Poisonings, Wounds, Infections, Water Purification
Still to this day, charcoal is the most widely used substance worldwide for the remedy of accidental overdose or poisoning, including poisoning caused by snakes and insects. The World Health Organization (WHO) listed activated charcoal as the treatment of choice for these life and death situations in 1990.
Charcoal can also help fight infections, both internally and externally, can help in wound healing when applied as a poultice, and is a key toxin-filtering substance found in most water and air filtration systems.
Different Types of Charcoal
If you are thinking about adding activated charcoal to your own healing regime, you may be a bit confused about all the options on how to take it these days! Hopefully, the following list can shed some light:
Activated Charcoal Powder
A quality AC powder supplement should be non-GMO, completely free from chemicals, and created using only non-toxic types of wood. The best kinds of charcoal for health come from either non-GMO, organically processed coconut shells, or bamboo. Powder is the most common form that activated charcoal comes in, either loose (that you mix with water or another liquid), in capsules, or compressed into an activated charcoal pill. Any of these forms will do the trick for overall detoxification.
“Super charcoal” is a charcoal substance that consists of “C60” carbon molecules, typically in a food-grade oil base (like olive oil). C60 is a type of anti-aging “fullerene” molecule. The difference between regular activated charcoal, which contains only about 1% C60, and “super charcoal” is that while AC is good for everyday detox, C60 takes that detoxification to the next level to clear out toxins at the cellular level. Super charcoal is said to extend longevity significantly longer than activated charcoal can.
Charcoal in Other Products
Activated charcoal can also be found in other products as well, such as toothpastes and soap. When used on the skin in organic soaps, AC can be a great aid for helping to clear up skin infections.
Activated Charcoal Side Effects?
There are no serious side effects of consuming activated charcoal as long as you stick with non-toxic, non-GMO sources, and be sure to drink plenty of water with your supplement. The most common side effect is constipation, usually as a result of not drinking enough water along with your AC. Some individuals may have allergic reactions, but this is fairly rare.
In the past, there has also been speculation that AC supplementation may lead to the absorption of healthy “macronutrients” as well as toxins. As David Wolfe and others point out, to date there are no evidence-based studies to prove this theory.
That being said, some individuals may opt to take AC between meals just to be on the safe side. It is also not recommended to take AC with prescription medication as it may lessen the desired effects of your prescriptions. Be sure to consult with a health professional if you have any concerns.
Finally, and this is more of an oddity than a side effect, don’t be alarmed if your stool is darker than normal when taking activated charcoal. AC can sometimes turn poop black. This just means that it is getting to where it is supposed to go and is coming out the other end appropriately!
How Should You Take Activated Charcoal?
In terms of dosage, it really depends on your needs and lifestyle.
Some people beef up on charcoal every time they travel. Others take a charcoal capsule or two before a meal where they could be exposed to extra toxins, such as a dinner at a restaurant where the only options are commercial meats and non-organic vegetables or a cocktail party where you may indulge in a few more alcoholic beverages than normal. Dave Asprey suggests taking approximately 2,000 mg of quality AC for added protection in these situations.
Still, others take activated charcoal upon waking up with a large glass of water to jump-start their day. This way of taking it may be beneficial for you if you suffer from brain fog or are experiencing other clear symptoms of toxic overload.
No matter how you use it, just be sure that the AC you consume is 100% organic and/or wild-crafted, sourced from a non-toxic wood product such as coconut or bamboo, and is non-GMO. We recommend David Wolfe’s Kohlbitr Activated Coconut charcoal brand because it is 100% organic and wild-crafted, cleanly processed, contains no hidden fillers, and is allergen-free.
How you incorporate activated charcoal into your daily life really is up to you! Once you do, however, the sky’s the limit as to how it may benefit you and your detoxification pathways, which are so vitally important to your overall health.
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