Activated charcoal is obtained from some vegetables such as linden tree and birch and subsequently treated to give it porosity. The result is an odorless and tasteless powder. It is a well-known remedy for combating aerophagia, meteorism and intoxications. The mechanism of action of charcoal can be traced back to the fact that this substance is not absorbed but remains unchanged in the intestinal tract. From there, charcoal can absorb toxins, poisons and gases (Silberman et al, StatPearls Publishing, 2022). In recent times, other uses of charcoal are also being hypothesized, from a cosmetic use against acne and dandruff to a possible ally against inflammation caused by the new coronavirus. So let's try to understand the properties of charcoal and which uses are supported by scientific research.
Activated charcoal, properties for gastrointestinal wellbeing
Charcoal is commonly used to reduce abdominal bloating and intestinal fermentation. In particular, research has shown that the combination of charcoal, magnesium oxide and simethicone, which is an active ingredient that is administered in case of meteorism and aerophagia, was able to significantly reduce abdominal bloating more than simethicone taken individually (Foley et al, Gastroenterol Hepatol, 2014). But even taken alone, activated charcoal can be beneficial. Studies have in fact documented its ability to act against the formation of intestinal gas after a meal based on legumes or other foods that could cause fermentation (Hall et al, Am J Gastroenterol, 1981). Not only that, charcoal also helps reduce abdominal cramps, often associated with bloating (Jain et al, Am J Gastroenterol, 1986). Finally, charcoal is considered an emergency remedy even in case of poisoning (Zellner et al, Dtsch Arztebl Int, 2019).
Activated charcoal and COVID 19
The possible protective role of activated charcoal against damage caused by a new coronavirus infection has recently been hypothesized. In particular, scientists believe that charcoal can help absorb and reduce the circulating amount of certain substances produced by the intestinal microbiota and which play a role in increasing inflammation levels. Since the new coronavirus acts by increasing inflammation and that the greater the levels of inflammation generated, the greater the risk of a severe course and also long-term consequences, the so-called long covid, charcoal can therefore act by alleviating the symptoms of the infection. However reasonable it may be, it is still a hypothesis that will need to be deepened and verified with subsequent studies (Khitan et al, Med Hypotheses, 2020).
Activated charcoal in cosmetics
Nowadays it is possible to find various cosmetic products on the market, from soaps to facial cleansers, which contain charcoal. It is believed that this substance has an exfoliating action, anti-aging and helps to combat acne and dandruff. The cosmetic use of charcoal is considered safe, however, it should be emphasized that its effectiveness in the cosmetic field is not supported by scientific studies, at least at present (Sanchez et al, Clin Dermatol, 2019).
Activated charcoal, where it is found and how to take it
Charcoal can be found in herbalist's shops or pharmacies in the form of capsules. It is taken before or after meals, remembering then to ensure proper and regular hydration.
Activated charcoal, contraindications
Do not take charcoal together with drugs as it could hinder its absorption. If taken in excess, it can have a constipating effect. Given these possible side effects, it is always good to talk to your doctor before starting any treatment with charcoal.