Charcoal is the new darling of the natural health world. It’s in everything from ice cream to beauty creams and toothpaste. Charcoal products are purported to offer health benefits far beyond their traditional medical use to treat poisonings. Here, we’ll show you the uses of charcoal pills backed by scientific research.
What Are Charcoal Pills?
Charcoal pills are concentrated forms of activated charcoal. The charcoal is derived from a variety of carbon-rich materials ranging from coconut shells and peat to sawdust and petroleum products.
The carbon is subjected to high temperatures, which results in what is called activated charcoal. This charcoal is different from regular charcoal because the heat increases the surface area. The heating process removes bonded atoms, freeing up new space and making the compound more porous. This type of charcoal binds more readily to other atoms. Charcoal capsules and charcoal powder are available over-the-counter (OTC).
Uses of Charcoal Pills
Poison Control & Drug Overdose
The main use of charcoal pills is as a poison and drug overdose remedy in emergency rooms. Charcoal works by binding to poisonous atoms and absorbing them. This prevents the poison or drugs from being absorbed through the digestive tract into the bloodstream where it can cause serious side effects. The activated charcoal can be added to a glass of water or injected intravenously.
Charcoal powder may help to alleviate symptoms of intestinal gas and bloating thanks to its porous surface. Research published in the Journal of Ultrasound found that activated charcoal helped to eliminate gas in the GI tract (1).
In a randomized trial published in PLOS, researchers found similar results. The study consisted of 52 participants who took activated charcoal daily for ten days. Participants who took activated charcoal showed a significant reduction in abdominal pain caused by gas (2).
Some people argue that activated charcoal is also a good hangover cure thanks to its absorbent nature. More research is needed to determine its efficacy for this use.
The porous nature of activated charcoal makes it perfect for use in water filters. The carbon cartridges usually form one part of a multi-step water filtration system. The activated carbon helps to absorb toxins, bacteria, and heavy metals to prevent them from entering household or municipal water systems. Scientific evidence shows that activated charcoal is particularly effective in removing fluoride from water (3).
The most recent trend in the world of charcoal is its use in beauty products. Carbon can be found in everything from hydrating face masks to toothpaste. Research on its effectiveness is new and still emerging. Many dentists argue that charcoal may actually damage tooth enamel because of its rough, porous surface (4). Experts recommend using activated charcoal toothpaste sparingly or avoiding it altogether until more research can be conducted.
Activated charcoal may help lower cholesterol levels according to existing research. A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that patients who took activated charcoal had lower cholesterol levels. The small study consisted of seven patients who suffered from high cholesterol. Researchers believe the activated charcoal may bind with cholesterol and prevent its absorption (5). More research is needed to establish these benefits.
Side Effects of Charcoal Pills
Always seek medical advice from a qualified healthcare professional before taking new supplements including activated charcoal pills. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements so a medical professional can help you understand uses, side effects, and proper dosage.
The main side effects of activated charcoal are black stools and a black tongue. Prolonged or excessive use may also result in stomach upset including diarrhea and vomiting. Taking high doses of activated charcoal may also cause constipation.
The porous nature of activated charcoal may inhibit medications and cause negative interactions. Charcoal may prevent the absorption of medications including acetaminophen, antidepressants and other pain relievers. Talk to a doctor before use, especially if you are taking medications or have a medical condition.