What does activated charcoal do?

Activated carbon is an effective and relatively nonspecific adsorbent for organic compounds. It is true that each type of activated carbon shows a preference for some of these compounds over others; He catches those for whom he has the greatest affinity first, but ends up catching the majority.

This is why activated charcoal is the most universal antidote against acute (severe) poisoning by organic compounds, such as those caused by drugs that are ingested in excessive amounts, drugs of abuse, ornamental plants, fungi, pesticides, rodenticides, hydrocarbons, among others.

Treatment with activated charcoal consists of administering it orally to the intoxicated person, as a very fine powder in aqueous suspension. The recommended dose is 0.25 g of charcoal per kilogram of body weight every hour. For example, if the patient weighs 70 kg, a suitable dose of charcoal is 35 g every hour. This weight of charcoal corresponds to a volume of around 70 ml, which is not small, if we consider that a sufficient quantity of water must be added to form an ingestible dispersion.

How does activated charcoal work in the body?

As it passes through the gastrointestinal tract, charcoal retains the organic compounds it encounters. It also causes intestinal dialysis with which it performs a blood purification: the organic compounds contained in the blood, whether toxic or not, pass through the cell walls of the intestine and reach the carbon that circulates there.

Woman drinking water with activated charcoal

In addition, activated carbon also prevents the reabsorption of active metabolites that reach the duodenum through the bile that comes from the liver. All the compounds trapped by activated carbon are excreted with it.

After treating an intoxicated person with activated charcoal, his blood tests show a decrease in the levels of urea, creatinine, triglycerides, cholesterol and other organic compounds. This has led many to wonder if activated charcoal could be used as a weight loss method.

Since fats, proteins, and carbohydrates are organic compounds, activated charcoal traps them. However, charcoal does not distinguish between compounds that are and those that are not toxic; between those who are ingested in excess and those who do not; between those that will lead to weight gain and those that will not. So while activated charcoal would cause weight loss, it would cause malnutrition, which is serious.

In addition to the problem of malnutrition, the amount of activated carbon that would have to be ingested to lose weight in a notorious way is very high: a gram of charcoal traps an average of half a gram of organic compounds. So, for every 50 g of food eaten in excess, you would have to eat 100 g of activated charcoal. Amounts like this cause constipation and intestinal irritation, so they need to be supplemented with a saline cathartic (laxative) that, if that were not enough, also causes dehydration.

Another undesirable effect of ingesting activated charcoal is that it carries away part of the intestinal microbiota (or flora).

All these negative effects of administering activated charcoal to a person are not a major problem when it comes to acute poisoning, which is truly accidental and sporadic. But they would become a real problem if you frequently ingested charcoal in sufficient amounts to lose weight.

Pharmacies and health food stores offer 400 mg capsules or tablets of activated charcoal. Between two and three capsules or tablets are indicated for cases of indigestion or flatulence and work well. In this case, the amount of charcoal is small and does not cause the negative effects of higher doses. However, in these amounts, activated charcoal does not have a significant effect on weight loss.

Of all this, although activated charcoal is a magnificent remedy against acute intoxications, against flatulence and indigestion, for no reason is it a recommended method to lose weight.

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