Activated charcoal may sound like the briquettes used to grill hamburgers or hot dogs, or even the blocks or sticks that artists use to create draw with. But neither are the case. Activated charcoal is a healing aid that is a staple of hospital emergency rooms worldwide, and these days, it’s experiencing something of a resurgence as people learn more about the benefits and uses of this natural remedy.
Activated charcoal is made by burning a carbon source, like coal, wood or coconut shells (coconut is the best option for natural treatments). When heated, the high temperature removes all the oxygen from the source and leaves behind a substance with millions of open pores. These pores are then able to trap toxins and chemicals from the body through a chemical process known as adsorption, in which one item passes into another. So instead of the body absorbing and digesting the activated charcoal, it is easily eliminated from the body, along with all of the toxic substances that cling to it.
Activated charcoal is most well-known as a safe treatment for poisoning and drug overdoses in hospitals—but that’s not all it’s good for. Check out my five favorite at-home uses for this life-changing ingredient.
Whiten your teeth
It might seem counterintuitive to clean your teeth with charcoal, but activated charcoal is actually one of the best ways to naturally whiten your teeth. Activated charcoal cleans teeth by grabbing on to plaque and those microscopic remnants of last night’s dinner that eventually lead to stains.
To brighten your smile, wet your toothbrush and dip it into powdered activated charcoal. Brush teeth as normal with a little extra TLC on stained areas. Rinse well until your spit is clear. You don’t need to do this every day; brushing two to three times a week is enough. Caveat: because activated charcoal stains fabrics and grout, be sure you’ve protected counters, floors and your clothing before using.
Upgrade your beauty routine naturally
Thanks to activated charcoal’s ability to draw out toxins and excess oils, it’s wonderful at getting the gunk out of your pores and serving as a natural acne treatment that won’t dry the skin like other pharmaceutical options.
One of my favorite face mask treatments combines a capsule of activated charcoal with two teaspoons of aloe vera gel. Mix it up and apply it to your face, avoiding the eye area. Let it dry, then rinse the mask off to safely get rid of the bacteria that can lead to acne. Do this once a week to refresh your skin and unclog pores, or use this same mixture as a spot treatment for a particularly bad zit.
After you’ve freshened up your skin, you can also give limp, greasy locks a lift, too. If your hair is weighed down by product residue, activated charcoal can remove residue and add volume. Just add a teaspoon of powdered activated charcoal to your usual shampoo and wash as usual. The charcoal will draw out the extra oils, leaving you with smooth, shiny hair.
Give your digestive system a break
The holidays are notorious for huge feasts and cocktail parties, so it’s especially easy to overindulge and tax the digestive system. But activated charcoal promotes a healthier digestive tract by flushing out those toxins that can cause oxidative damage and create a toxic burden on our bodies, ultimately leading to the development of leaky gut. Whether it’s from chemicals in our water, pesticides and preservatives in our food or too much alcohol, activated charcoal hits the “reset” button, increasing energy, improving mental function and helping us feel better overall.
To do a digestive cleanse, take 10 grams of activated charcoal 90 minutes before each meal for two days. During the cleanse, stick to eating organic fruits and veggies, grass-fed meat and wild fish, and drink lots of water.
As an antidote for chemical and food poisoning
Activated charcoal is fantastic for removing toxins and chemicals that might be ingested accidentally or in the case of an overdose of pharmaceutical drugs or over-the-counter medications. Most organic compounds, pesticides, bleach and mercury will bind to activated charcoal’s surface, enabling quicker elimination.
If you suspect poisoning (overdose), you should always call 911 immediately, but you can also begin to bind the poison in the meantime. For adults, 50 to 100 grams of activated charcoal is standard, while 10 to 25 grams are recommended for children.
You can even take activated charcoal to ease your stomach if you’re suffering from food poisoning, particularly if nausea and diarrhea are part of the problem. Adults should take 25 grams, while children should be given 10 grams.
Alleviate gas and bloating
Does your favorite meal bring on gas or a bloated stomach? If so, you can safely ease the discomfort (and smell!) with activated charcoal. When taken before eating, activated charcoal can bind with gas-producing food by-products, thus preventing intestinal gas and allowing you to eat the foods you enjoy without worrying about the aftermath.
The next time you plan to eat something that might make you gassy, take 500 milligrams of activated charcoal 90 minutes beforehand with a full glass of water, then drink another glass of water so that the charcoal gets into your system and is able to bind with gas-producing elements.
One final note
When ingesting activated charcoal, be sure to always drink plenty of water. And because activated charcoal can interfere with your body’s absorption of nutrients, supplements and prescription medications, it’s important to always take it 90 minutes to two hours before meals, supplements or medications.
Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine. He recently authored ‘Eat Dirt: Why Leaky Gut May Be the Root Cause of Your Health Problems and Five Surprising Steps to Cure It’ and he operates one of the world’s largest natural health websites at http://www.DrAxe.com. Follow him on Twitter @DRJoshAxe.