That Old Black Magic


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From beverage to toothpaste to facemask, activated charcoal is finding its way into products beyond the vitamin aisle.

Activated charcoal can help relieve digestive distress, assist a detox, and even save your life if you’ve swallowed poison. Although it certainly doesn’t replace emergency medical treatment, taking activated charcoal while waiting for an ambulance can significantly reduce harm from ingesting poison or drugs. In fact, it’s used in emergency trauma centers around the world.

Made from coconut shells or wood, activated charcoal is a fine, black powder that is odorless, tasteless and nontoxic. Quite different than ashes from burning wood or charcoal in a barbecue grill, charcoal becomes "activated" when high temperatures combine with a gas to expand its surface area, creating tiny pores that trap toxins and chemicals.

It works by trapping drugs, many poisons, environmental toxins and foodborne bacteria in the stomach and helps you eliminate, rather than absorb, them. However, there are some substances that it can’t trap, including cyanide, iron and lithium. Typically, it’s not used when petroleum, alcohol, lye, acids or other corrosive poisons are ingested.

Activated charcoal capsules can help to absorb toxins from food poisoning. Charcoal

works best when taken when you first realize you ate something questionable. Th e activated charcoal that is used to treat poisoning in emergency rooms is a powder that is mixed with a liquid. Activated charcoal for home remedies is available in handy capsules.

Aside from emergencies, activated charcoal in capsule form is used to prevent gas or bloating. When taken before or right after a meal, it can absorb gas-producing food byproducts. A study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that the supplement decreased the amount of gas produced in the colon and reduced bloating and stomach cramps.

As a detox aid, activated charcoal can absorb and help eliminate toxins. During a detox, toxins will be released and circulate through the body, possibly causing flu-like symptoms. Depending on the length of a detox program, activated charcoal supplements could be taken after a few days or every couple of weeks. Research shows that activated charcoal may also reduce bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol as much as some prescription drugs.

On trend, activated charcoal is finding its way into green juices and lemonades and is being touted as a detox elixir. Th e idea being that the charcoal absorbs all the stuff;in your system that shouldn’t be there. Promising to boost energy, brighten skin and make you feel sharp and focused, activated charcoal is being combined with cold-pressed lemon juice, dandelion extract, ginger root, hemp seeds, lemon zest or spinach and packaged as a juice detox. Dirty lemonade or ebony colored juice may not be appealing or easy to stomach and there are several precautions of which one should be aware.

The most important precaution is that activated charcoal in any form can interfere with the absorption of nutrients, supplements and prescription medications. It should not be taken within two hours of vitamins or medications. Drink at least 8 – 10 ounces of water with each dose, and drink plenty of water during and after. Water is essential to eliminate toxins and activated charcoal can cause dehydration and constipation if adequate amounts of water aren’t consumed with it. If you have intestinal blockages, chronic dehydration, slow digestion or recent abdominal surgery, ingesting activated charcoal is not advised. There are also adverse interactions reported with a variety of drugs, so consult a medical practitioner before taking activated charcoal if you are taking any drugs.

Activated charcoal can also absorb bacteria and toxins from the skin, and is a popular ingredient in natural cleansing scrubs, masks, soaps and deodorants. It draws out bacteria, impurities, chemicals and dirt. It treats acne without drying out the skin.

You will also find it as an ingredient in whitening toothpaste. Activated charcoal whitens teeth by adsorbing plaque and microscopic particles that stain teeth. It also changes the pH balance in the mouth, helping prevent cavities, bad breath and gum disease. Caution: If you use pure, powdered activated charcoal for oral care, it can stain crowns, caps, porcelain veneers, clothing and rough surfaces, such as bathroom grout.

Lastly, activated charcoal is used in water filtration systems to remove disagreeable tastes and odors, including objectionable chlorine and hydrogen sulfide that produces a rotten-egg odor. It also traps impurities in water, including solvents, pesticides, industrial waste and other chemicals. However, activated charcoal water filters are not particularly successful at removing heavy metals, hard-water minerals, viruses or bacteria.

Historians say that the Egyptians and Sumerians of southern Mesopotamia were the first to produce and use charcoal as a fuel in the process of manufacturing bronze. Th e two civilizations also discovered that it can be used as a preservative, and thus started capitalizing on its anti-toxin properties that has continued until today.

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