January 18, 2018

Charcoal for Health

Articles by Dr. Erdman are for informational purposes, and are not to be taken as specific medical advice.

We are going to cover charcoal in this article. Charcoal is used as a heat source for grilling foods and used in creating metals. But that isn’t the kind I’m writing about. Did you know charcoal can have medicinal value? Egyptian records from 1500 BC show they used activated charcoal to absorb odors from infected wounds.

There is a difference between charcoal for grills, and activated charcoal for medicine. Activated charcoal is still the same burned wood, coconut shell or peat, but it has also been treated with oxygen. The medicinal charcoal is very porous and nonpolar, allowing it to bind toxins and odors from gasses or liquids that are 1000 times its weight. It is tasteless and odorless, yet still very black.

Today, activated charcoal is used in cosmetics and medicine. You have probably seen the toothpastes with charcoal in them, and the antiaging creams advertised with charcoal, or sponges and fabrics for cleansing the skin. I haven’t seen any evidence in the cosmetics claims except for the use with teeth cleaning. I can attest that it does work for teeth cleaning.

Most people know activated charcoal is used as a poison antidote. Charcoal traps harmful chemicals and toxins in its pores, a chemical process called adsorption. Once trapped, they are ushered out the GI tract causing you no more harm. It works throughout the entire GI tract, from mouth to rectum. It is said to reduce the amount of toxins by 60 percent or more.

What people fail to realize is that many upset stomach and diarrhea events are really caused by the infecting bacteria releasing toxins that your body reacts to control. By taking charcoal at the first signs of illness, many times you can reduce the severity or even completely eliminate the causal toxins, thereby making you feel better. 

Dosing for this purpose would be to drink at least 100 grams in a water slurry of 2-6 ounces. Then take 50 grams every 2-4 hours until symptoms subside. Depending on how sick you are when you start this process, you may lose some of the dose by vomiting due to the existing illness. If this occurs, you will have to judge for yourself how long it stayed down, or didn’t, and take new doses accordingly. If you vomit the initial dose within the first 20 minutes, redo the initial dose. If it is longer than 2 hours, just take the follow up doses of 50 grams every 2-4 hours.

Activated charcoal comes in capsules and in bulk, and it is sold a lot of places. For making the slurry drink, bulk is better. For carrying on vacation just in case of emergency, capsules will be easier to transport. However you buy it, just try to find the source it is made from. It should be from as natural and organic as possible to avoid contaminants.

There is also an activated charcoal product that contains sorbitol. That actually works as a laxative, eliminating the toxins more quickly. This product is meant for acute poisonings and detox situations. Do not use this if you have diarrhea already.

Also, some of you may be thinking that there is a time when inducing vomiting is necessary.  The most recent studies show that most poisoning cases are better off using charcoal than inducing vomiting.  

There are also poisons that you never want to induce vomiting for such as: strychnine, alkalis (lye), strong acids, kerosene, fuel oil, gasoline, coal oil, paint thinner, and cleaning fluids.

There are really no side effects to taking charcoal during acute treatment of problems. There have been some side effects that are noted with longer term use; but they are nominal such as pain or swelling of the stomach. Also, your vomit or stool will be black after taking charcoal.

One last thing to keep in mind is that you should not take it at the same time as other medicines, especially heart medicines or cancer drugs. It should be obvious that if charcoal adsorbs chemicals, it will also adsorb drugs you may need to stay alive. Ideally take it an hour before or two hours after taking the medicine.

Clearly charcoal has potential to improve your well-being. It is not magic but can be very helpful when used correctly.