The Dirt on Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal (AC) is a product that you’ll want to keep on hand as its uses are plentiful, and its effectivity is great. AC is quite literally charcoal that is “activated” with heat. Its utility mainly comes from the ability to absorb toxins from the body. It is used traditionally for many conditions for which toxins accumulate in the digestive tract, or even for absorbing toxins from infections on the skin, or in the mouth (like a tooth abscess). AC is a great remedy to use for upset stomachs -the charcoal absorbs the by-products which cause gas and bloating, hangovers, detox regimens, and non-caustic poisonings.

AC: Remedy of Medical Renowned Ability

It has been used for thousands of years and used to be a remedy of medical renowned ability, being used for drug overdoses, snake bites, bacteria, viral infections and household poisonings. AC is currently catching on as a component in beauty products like face masks to treat acne. It absorbs toxins from the skin just like from the digestive tract, it can also be used in toothpaste as a whitening agent as it absorbs the components that make plaque, as well as the odorous compounds that cause bad breath. It has been included in some natural deodorant products.

All Forms of AC

AC comes in powder, capsules, and higher quality versions will be made from known wood sources or coconut shells. These types are preferable as they are less likely to contain contaminants. A little generally goes a long way, and too much charcoal may be detrimental to absorbing other nutrients from food (the charcoal isn’t selective about what it is absorbing). It is typically advised to take charcoal outside of meals, at least 2 hours, so that nutrient absorption is not affected. But in small doses, charcoal is very safe and well tolerated, even in children. It offers an acute internal remedy, and should not be used by individuals on a daily basis as part of a “dietary supplement” protocol for prolonged periods; this could severely alter nutrient status. However, for times when you overeat, drink a little too much, or have a gastrointestinal bug, charcoal may be your best friend.

AC is a Beautiful Mess

Keep in mind also, that AC is very messy. The capsules are very easy to use, but if you are trying to add it to a home recipe, clean out your sink, counter, or pots quickly after use, because they will stain! Also, getting charcoal directly on mucosal tissue, or in a cut, will tattoo the skin. For situations where you want to use AC on an open wound or on mucosal tissue (like the mouth), wrap it in gauze first, this works very well.

As with any home remedy, consider contacting your naturopathic physician if you are experiencing symptoms that you aren’t completely comfortable with handling on your own, or if symptoms worsen rapidly, or unexpectedly.

Node Smith, associate editor for NDNR, is a fifth year naturopathic medical student at NUNM, where he has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine amongst the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend campout where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Three years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision. 

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