Activated Charcoal for Health, by Britt Brandon (Adams Media, 2017), is a guide on how to incorporate activated charcoal into your lifestyle through recipes, DIY beauty and self-care products, remedies, and more uses. Brandon's approach compliments a holistic approach to wellness. This excerpt explains the background of activated charcoal and some precautions when using it.
What Is Activated Charcoal?
Activated charcoal, sometimes referred to as “activated carbon,” is a form of carbon that has been specifically processed to have small pores. These pores help increase its absorption of elements and its ability to engage in chemical reactions. Because activated charcoal is manufactured for specific functions related to absorbing, expelling, or reacting to elements, it is sometimes referred to as “active” charcoal.
Manufacturers create activated charcoal from peat, coal, wood, petroleum, or coconut shells. Heating common charcoal with gases causes the charcoal to develop tiny internal spaces (its pores), giving it an astoundingly high degree of “microporosity.” Even one gram of activated charcoal has an estimated surface area of 32,000 square feet! This activation process can be performed using either physical or chemical means, but both methods produce the same quality product.
The activated charcoal you find in stores and through distributors is derived from a variety of sources, but it’s all created with the intent of ridding pollutants, contaminants, or chemicals from an environment. Activated charcoal can be used for a multitude of things, including removing air or water pollutants, making wine, purifying distilled alcohol, removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from products, and even cleansing the body of harmful elements. While activated charcoal has historically been used for medicinal or environmental cleansing purposes, it is now being included in a variety of beauty, health, and home uses that can all contribute to the improvement of your overall health and the quality of your daily life.
The History of Activated Charcoal
Charcoal has played a role in a variety of applications throughout history with the earliest recorded use dating back to 3750 b.c. It was utilized by the Egyptians and Sumerians in the manufacturing process of bronze, as well as a preservative. Even in construction projects along the River Nile, Egyptians used fire to char posts in order to prevent rot once they were implanted into the wet soil. After discovering the preservative powers of charcoal, the Egyptians began using the substance in their process of preserving the corpses of the dead. Once wrapped in cloth, the bodies of those who had passed would be buried under layers of sand and charcoal for preservation purposes. The Egyptians incorporated charcoal in their embalming processes as well.
In 450 b.c., the charring of wooden barrels was a common practice to prepare for the safe transport of potable water on long journeys at sea. In addition to water, a number of other foods and organic materials were transported using the charred carriers. This practice led to the fine-tuning of charcoal in water preservation and purification that has evolved into the effective filtration and processing procedures we use today.
The awareness that charcoal could be used for preservation or purification led to the medicinal uses that became popular during the times of Hippocrates and Pliny between 400 b.c. and a.d. 50. Once it was determined that charcoal had health-improving powers, the substance was used in the treatment of everything from epilepsy and severe anemia to vertigo and anthrax. Around a.d. 78, Pliny even wrote in Natural History (volume 36), “It is only when ignited and quenched that charcoal itself acquires its characteristic powers, and only when it seems to have perished that it becomes endowed with great virtue.”
Following Pliny’s documentation of charcoal as a medicinal staple, Claudius Galen, the most famous physician within the Roman Empire, researched and experimented with the substance, producing nearly 500 medical texts that detailed successful charcoal treatments for a wide range of diseases.
After the charcoal activation process was discovered and perfected between 1870 and 1920, reports of the successful medicinal use of activated charcoal became increasingly popular in published scientific journals around the world. Now regarded as a “safe and effective” application by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), activated charcoal is commonly used in a wide variety of treatments in homes, hospitals, and clinics throughout the world. Available at a variety of locations and effective in countless applications, activated charcoal is taking the holistic healing community by storm.
How to Select and Store Your Charcoal
When activated charcoal is processed into powder, the original source can play a major role in its quality and intended use. Because it has such a wide variety of protective and preventative applications, such as gas purification, water purification, decaffeination, metal extraction, sewage treatment, medication, air filtration, etc., the consistency and porosity, or “grit,” of the activated charcoal can vary just as widely. For example, in industrial, environmental, and agricultural uses, the most commonly preferred products have a larger hardness or abrasion number.
With organic, high quality varieties being easily accessible and low in cost, selecting the right activated charcoal for your favorite at-home applications is easier than ever. For beauty and health treatments, the activated charcoal should have a high density and low ash content. The fine forms of activated charcoal that should be used in personal applications are readily available in health stores and online, making the purchasing process very easy.
Once you purchase your activated charcoal powder, you should keep it in a dark area or cabinet, free of moisture and humidity. For most of the applications presented throughout this book, a simple teaspoon or tablespoon of charcoal is all that’s needed. Combined with easy-to-find ingredients, activated charcoal treatments for health and beauty can be made simply and easily in your own home. In the rare chance that you are unable to find activated charcoal powder, there are countless locations and websites that offer activated charcoal in encapsulated or pressed pill form.
Because activated charcoal has the ability to remove toxic chemical and organic compounds from air and water, it has been the center of countless studies performed to identify healing benefits within the body. Activated charcoal is readily used in cases of poisoning and drug and alcohol overdoses since it can rid the body of dangerous, harmful toxins. Additionally, activated charcoal has become a star ingredient in the treatment of blood disorders, cardiovascular conditions, digestive disruptions, and even brain and neurological conditions.
This odorless, tasteless, nontoxic powder is also an effective ingredient in a number of common external applications. With the ability to detoxify and naturally treat common skin conditions safely and effectively, activated charcoal can be used in the treatment of insect bites, athlete’s foot, and acne, as well as in do-it-yourself makeup applications that safeguard your skin’s health.
The Dark (Staining) Side Of Activated Charcoal
While activated charcoal can provide the body and mind with immense benefits when ingested or applied in topical applications, the processes involved in preparing these treatments can be quite messy if proper precautions are not in place. When you mix your activated charcoal be sure that you keep it contained in an area that will be easy to clean. Also because activated charcoal powder has a tendency to stain, wear only clothes that are able to be discarded if ruined. With these simple precautions in place, you can minimize the messiness of activated charcoal treatments simply and easily.
While activated charcoal is a nontoxic product, the safety precautions regarding its use should be acknowledged and understood before including charcoal in your everyday applications. With the ability to combat foreign and organic toxins, activated charcoal should not be consumed within two hours of ingesting medications as it will block their absorption. With excessive consumption, some studies have shown that diarrhea or constipation can result. Even though activated charcoal can be used in the treatment of digestive disorders, pregnant and breastfeeding women should always consult their physician before using the product in any ingested form. As with any product, the appearance of rashes, hives, or redness that might indicate an allergic reaction should always trigger discontinued use of the product. However, because activated charcoal is nontoxic and organic, irritations and reactions may be unique to a specific brand or manufacturer.
If you do choose to incorporate activated charcoal in your everyday life, it is always recommended that you consult your physician in order to determine if the product could possibly interfere with any medications, conditions, or illnesses you experience. Also, before you give activated charcoal to a child, please consult your pediatrician for advice and counsel.
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Excerpted from Activated Charcoal for Health by Britt Brandon. Copyright © 2017 Adams Media, a division of Simon and Schuster. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.