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Ohio State research supports benefits of activated charcoal

Many people are looking for that new beauty or health trend that claims to revolutionize how we take care of ourselves. However, it’ can be difficult to decide whether we want to find a new trend for beauty or for health.

New studies from the Wexner Medical Center have revealed new and innovative ways of to use charcoal-based powder to absorb toxins that are damaging to the body. Not that this method is to replace standard day-to-day procedures, like taking vitamins, but it is a way to add an extra kick to your health regimen.

To be sure, this is not the charcoal you’ll find at the bottom of your grill after a Sunday barbecue.

In fact, charcoal-based powder is an odorless, tasteless powder that is used to absorb toxins. It is a wood carbon that has no carcinogenic properties, which makes the chemicals safe to digest. Even though it is safe for digestion, it is not recommended for consistent and daily use.

Medical uses

The main development of charcoal use is in the medical field, where it is currently being used for addiction overdoses and the intake of poisonous substances. Dr. Robert Weber, administrator of Pharmaceutical Services at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, works closely with overdose patients and has experience using activated charcoal during his time as a clinical pharmacist in the intensive care unit.

“These were the people who had taken too many pills or had too much of a toxic substance and it was very effective in the reducing its level in the blood,” Weber said. “We only prescribe the charcoal to the patients when it is clear there is a medication in the system.”

The activated charcoal enters the system and binds with toxic materials to better ensure their way out of the system. However, for those who are unable to use the activated charcoal for medical reasons, Weber said the alternative is for medical practitioners to work to support the patient and ensure their heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate are all normal as the toxins exit the body naturally.

“In addition to supporting the patient, there are certain antibiotics that target specific substances,” he said. “For example, the antibiotic, Narcan, can be used specifically to treat those who have taken too many narcotics.”  

Activated charcoal powder can also be used to fight indigestion and bloating. Lori Chong, a registered dietician at the medical center for family medicine and integrative medicine, notes its effectiveness.

“When the powder enters the system, it binds to substances effectively and tends to absorb gas to reduce indigestion and bloating,” Chong said.

The charcoal enters your system and absorbs intestinal gases, toxins and impurities, decreasing bloating and gas. However, this effective asset of activated charcoal could be a reason to avoid it. Though acknowledging its success, Chong believes the powder should only be used occasionally.

“The problem is it also binds with minerals and other nutrients or any medicine the patient might be taking,” she said.

For this reason, for someone who is currently taking medication to combat a serious health issue, the charcoal could be rendered ineffective because it absorbs the medication and removes it from your system.

Weber also said the activated charcoal could not move beyond a singular use for overdose patients.  

“Even though its use is becoming popular, there is no proof that the use of activated charcoal is beneficial for other uses for the very fact that it is not as effective as everyone thinks and because of its negative symptoms,” he said.

However, Chong said there are alternatives for short-term issues, suggesting digestive tea like the Traditional Medicinals brand, which has a tea specifically for gas and bloating.

“For the short-term I suggest natural herbs and teas, however, if this is a long-term or chronic problem I usually have the patient take a look at their overall diet to see if there’s a certain food or eating problem that is creating these problems,” Chong said.

Beauty Uses

For cosmetic needs, the beauty benefits of the activated charcoal powder reach from the face to hair and all the way to teeth.

For example, using the activated charcoal powder on your toothbrush can strip away some of the plaque build-up resting on your teeth, giving you a whiter and cleaner smile, according to Best Health Magazine. However, Weber said there can be side effects to this use as well.

“Using the activated charcoal for teeth whitening could lead to gum irritation,” Weber said.  

In addition, adding charcoal powder to your shampooing routine can purify your hair from environmental toxins and return that shine to your flowing locks, according to Best Health Magazine. As this treatment has a dehydrating effect, it is only recommended for use on oily hair.

The same goes for the skin. Best Health Magazine also noted that charcoal powder can dry out sensitive or dry skin. But for those who have issues with excess oils in their pores, adding charcoal powder to your routine can limit oil and dirt in the pores and limit acne build-up.

Above all, before using the charcoal powder for anything, consult any number of sources or your medical professional to make sure your individual use of the charcoal is right for you — unless of course you’re a patient with a snake bite and your doctors decide to use charcoal to eliminate the poison. Then, you don’t really have a choice.

One comment

  1. Narcan is not an antibiotic. I think whoever was transcribing that got confused. Narcan is an antidote , it is an opioid receptor antagonist, not an antibiotic.

    Figured I should comment so you guys could correct that. I highly doubt Dr Weber, who is a pharmacist would have said that.

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