Activated Charcoal: Get to Know Activated Charcoal and all its Properties

Activated Charcoal: Get to Know Activated Charcoal and all its Properties

Activated Charcoal is one of the trendiest ingredients used to make things such as black charcoal latte, toothpaste, food supplements and countless other products, but…

Which of these products are really effective? We’ll tell you all the secrets!

What is Activated Charcoal?

Is a compound derived from charcoal, together with other organic (or inorganic) materials with a high carbon load (fruit peels, pitch, wood, etc.), which is used as a chemical adsorbent in clinical and environmental engineering applications.

Is achieved through the chemical or physical treatment of the aforementioned materials, which are exposed to high temperatures in an anaerobic environment to carbonise or activate them.

What is activated charcoal?

This process increases the surface area of the compound, greatly decreasing its density, and transforming it into an element with a high porosity, a property that enables activated carbon applications.

Some technical characteristics are that:

  • It is a powder (<0.25mm) or granule (>0.25mm) that is black, light, not very dense, odourless and tasteless.
  • It has a surface area usually greater than 1500m^2/g.
  • It is filled with pores of different diameters (micropores, mesopores and macropores) – their structure determines the adsorption capacity it has and what size of adsorbate it’s capable of filtering.

What is activated charcoal used for?

As mentioned above, is an adsorbent.

Adsorption is the process by which a compound called an adsorbate (a xenobiotic, toxic or pollutant, desirably) is retained on the surface of an adsorbent compound.

Adsorption of activated charcoal

Graphic representation of the adsorption mechanism of action of activated charcoal.

Activated charcoal is used in medicine for the treatment of acute intoxications with toxins that are absorbed by enteral metabolism, such as caffeine.

Activated carbon filter

Graphic representation of the mechanism of action of the activated carbon filter.

Other applications of activated charcoal are:

  • Its use as a water filter for potabilisation.
  • Its use as a flatulence-reducing agent.
  • Its use in cosmetics (foundations, scrubs and other cleansers, and toothpastes).
  • Its application in compressed air and gas filters.

Do activated charcoal tablets help to relieve gases?

Has been attributed health benefits that have not yet been scientifically validated:

  • It is used as a body detoxifier, something that makes no sense as it’s not absorbed or passed into the bloodstream.
  • Other attributions such as lowering cholesterol, improving the lipid profile, or lowering blood glucose after a meal, may be plausible effects due to its adsorptive mechanism of action.

However, they’ve not been unequivocally validated, so possible effects of the use of activated charcoal can be considered, but the effective dose and recommended mode of use for this purpose is unknown.

The clearest effect that has been associated with activated charcoal is the reduction of flatulence after meals.

The mechanism by which it’s able to achieve this is the adsorption of hydrogen and methane produced by fermentation in the colonic microbiota of undigested carbohydrates, which is essentially the biological mechanism responsible for gas formation.

Graph of the shift of the exhaled hydrogen concentration

Graph of the shift of the exhaled hydrogen concentration curve for 6.5 hours post-meal.

Tests such as those conducted by Jain (1986) demonstrate this effect.

In it, the researcher administered a total of 8 capsules of activated charcoal (260mg/unit), divided into two intakes, half an hour before and half an hour after a flatulent meal.

The result was a significant reduction of more than 80% of exhaled hydrogen hours after the meal, thanks to the effects of activated charcoal.

How do you use Activated Charcoal?
  • Active charcoal helps to reduce excessive flatulence after eating.
  • Use a dose of 1g at least 30 minutes before a meal, and 1g just after eating.

Is activated charcoal bad?

There are no toxicological tests that report poisoning with this compound, as, thanks to the fact that it’s considered a nutritionally inert element as it’s not absorbed, it cannot have serious negative organic effects.

Its main adverse effects are:

  • Constipation.
  • Diarrhoea.
  • Digestive discomfort.
  • Bronchoaspiration (severe).

Activated Charcoal Capsules

Activated charcoal is considered a safe compound.

When administered at clinical doses, which in certain cases can be up to 100g in bolus (a one-time intake), so the dose of 2g recommended by AECOSAN (2015) is extremely safe.

However, regular use of this product may interfere with the intestinal absorption of nutrients like certain minerals that are adsorbed to its surface.

Similarly, regular brushing with activated charcoal appears to be able to demineralise the hydroxyapatite complexes in the bone matrix of the teeth, weakening them.

It is preferable to limit the use of activated charcoal to specific times, after meals that are known to cause flatulence. If you experience frequent, unwanted digestive effects, you should contact a gastroenterologist who can determine the cause and extent of the underlying condition.

Activated charcoal face mask

Activated charcoal is used in numerous cosmetic products, especially cleansers (scrubs, soaps, etc.).

Charcoal cream

Cosmetic cream based on activated charcoal.

The mechanisms of action through which it’s proposed that cosmetic products based on activated charcoal can act are the same as those through which it acts at clinical level: its high adsorption capacity.

Healthier skin with activated charcoal

This would allow toxins and/or particles to be captured from the skin, improving the appearance and cleanliness of the dermis.

Despite the plausibility of the mechanisms by which it may act, and the large number of cosmetics that exist with this ingredient, authors such as Sánchez et al. (2019) continue to recommend caution and scepticism to consumers, as these effects have not been clearly demonstrated.

Buying Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal can be purchased at multiple locations, both physical and virtual.

You can find many websites that offer activated charcoal, without any quality control in the production, or specifications of the raw material used.

At HSN, we’ve developed a food supplement based on activated charcoal, with a concentration up to 30% higher than other brands on the market, 333.3mg per capsule.

Activated charcoal can be obtained from the treatment of many natural sources, both organic and inorganic.

Traditional origins in the development of activated carbon products are: pitch, charcoal or by-products of charcoal combustion, including petroleum.

It is preferable to use other organic sources to ensure safety and the absence of potentially hazardous compounds in the final product, such as the shells of hard-shelled fruits (almonds or walnuts), and coconut shells.

Activated Charcoal HSN

This final option has been chosen to develop the activated (coconut) charcoal you’ll find in the EssentialSeries catalogue.

With a small nominal particle size, it has a high solubility in the middle, and a full spectrum of pore diameters in which adsorbates are filtered.

Choose food supplements from HSN, where we use the highest quality sources on the market for the development of our food supplements.

Why choose HSN?

At HSN, we take the quality of all our supplements seriously, which is why we have a specific R+D+i team that develops products according to the latest scientific evidence, in compliance with market regulations.

We work with top quality raw materials, with all the latest quality control and safety certificates in the production process, to guarantee not only the content, but also the maximum purity of the base of the food supplements.

These raw materials arrive directly at our warehouses, and follow an internalised closed-chain process, where our specialised personnel work with them in our own factory, with GMP and HACCP certificates, as well as an ISO8 particle filtering system, which guarantees the correct environmental cleanliness for the treatment of products as important as food and food supplements.

You can find more information and learn more about our quality policy at this link.

Choose quality at the right price, choose HSN!

Bibliographic references

  1. AECOSAN. (2015). Informe del Comité Científico de la Agencia Española de Consumo, Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutrición (AECOSAN) sobre condiciones de uso de determinadas sustancias para ser empleadas en complementos alimenticios (4).
  2. Jain, N. K., Patel, V. P., & Pitchumoni, C. S. (1986). Activated charcoal, simethicone, and intestinal gas: A double-blind study. Annals of Internal Medicine, 105(1), 61–62.
  3. Sanchez, N., Fayne, R., & Burroway, B. (2020). Charcoal: An ancient material with a new face. Clinics in Dermatology, 38(2), 262–264.
  4. Silberman, J., Galuska, M. A., & Taylor, A. (2020). Activated Charcoal.

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Review of Activated Charcoal

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About Alfredo Valdés
Alfredo Valdés
He is a specialist in metabolic physiopathology training and in the biomolecular effects of food and physical exercise.
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