Charcoal, A Handy Supplement

Charcoal Health

Many people have it in their homes. Some have it as briquettes for barbecuing, and some have it in filters to purify tap water, and still others have it in pill form just in case they get indigestion. While it might seem far-fetched to use the same thing to grill with as to quell a case of stomach upset, the binding powers of charcoal are impressive and have been used for over a hundred years.

A Historic Life Saver

Charcoal has a long history of nullifying toxins. In 1813 French chemist M. Bertran proved charcoal’s powers by swallowing an overdose of arsenic chased by activated charcoal and survived. M. Bertrand’s fellow countryman, Professor Tourey, a pharmacist, ingested lethal amounts of strychnine followed by activated charcoal and suffered no ill effects.

Both men lived to prove the wonders of charcoal because of the compound’s superb absorption properties.

Not Your Regular Briquette

While charcoal briquettes and activated charcoal are both forms of carbon, activated charcoal has been processed one step further by being super heated or treated with a strong base or acid. The extra step makes the carbon very porous and increases its surface area considerably.

The resulting compound has the ability to absorb many times its weight, making it invaluable in filtration systems and in the emergency room for handling overdose cases.

What It Can Do

Charcoal has an affinity for organic compounds as well as some non-organic. In filtering tap water, it’s useful in binding chlorine, however it won’t bind to salts. For treating overdoses, it can absorb certain drugs but will have no effect on lithium, for example.

But charcoal has more uses beyond filtering and life saving—it’s quite handy in tackling dyspepsia, also known as indigestion, and its companion, flatulence. Once ingested, activated charcoal goes to work in the GI track, absorbing everything it can, binding to it and helping it pass harmlessly out of the system. Charcoal is excellent at quelling nausea associated with fatty foods and is indicated as an effective solution for a greasy meal. In England, it’s been sold in tablet form for this very purpose for over a hundred years. For people who cannot, or chose not to, take antacids, charcoal is more effective and less reactive.

It’s also been taken as a home remedy at the first sign of certain food poisonings. It binds to toxins emitted by the bacteria. Those toxins are what make people ill. Charcoal will only work on food poisoning in which the illness is caused by toxins attracted to carbon. Therefore charcoal is not indicated for all poisonings. Repeated doses are necessary.  

For people with food sensitivities, charcoal may help in curtailing accidental exposure to reactive foods. Repeated doses are also indicated.

When NOT To Take Charcoal

Don’t take charcoal if an overdose is suspected. Call Poison Control and follow their recommendations. Don’t take charcoal to nullify the effects of alcohol. Some evidence suggests taking charcoal increases alcohol’s effects. And don’t take charcoal within two hours of taking medication as it’ll lessen its effects. 

Have It On Hand

Activated charcoal is now sold over the counter at most drugstores either in the supplement aisle or next to antacids and indigestion aids. Its benefits have been documented for hundreds of years and charcoal is now finally getting the attention it deserves. If charcoal can handle arsenic, it can handle a greasy meal and the troubles that may follow.

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