The short answer:
Activated charcoal is not absorbed into your blood circulation. It acts locally within your gastrointestinal tract. Activated charcoal could last within your gut for 2-3 bowel movements based on the dose you administered. Find more about activated charcoal in this article.
- Activated charcoal is used as a detox to adsorb poison.
- It is not absorbed into your bloodstream, it acts locally within your gastrointestinal tract.
- Activated charcoal should be administered with plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
- It last within your intestinal tract for up to 2-3 bowel movements based on the dose.
- Activated charcoal is used for poison detoxification, antiflatulence, and lower blood cholesterol, and helps patients with chronic kidney disease.
- You may suffer from constipation and /or dark stool as side effects of the administration of activated charcoal.
What is activated charcoal?
Activated charcoal is a black, fine, odorless powder. It is made by heating pulverized carbon-rich substances such as peat, sawdust, or coconut shells at a high temperature (600-900°C) in the presence of gas as oxygen.
This process leads to the formation of numerous pores within the charcoal. These pores play an important role in the function of activated charcoal as a poison adsorbent.
How long does activated charcoal stay in your intestine?
Activated charcoal is taken to act locally inside your gastrointestinal tract. Actually, it isn’t absorbed into your blood circulation. Therefore, it is not correct to ask how long charcoal stays in your system. Actually, it doesn’t enter your blood circulation. Instead, it remains inside your gastrointestinal tract till evacuation during defection.
So, activated charcoal is removed from your intestine after you poop. It may be removed after one or two bowel movements according to the dose you take (Ref).
How does activated charcoal work?
Activated charcoal has large numbers of microscopic pores. These pores increase the surface area available for toxins adsorption.
The surface of activated charcoal is negatively charged. Hence, it attracts positively charged toxins and gas. This process is known as adsorption.
Activated charcoal should be administered with plenty of water to avoid body dehydration by its absorption of water content in your intestine.
Uses of activated charcoal:
Poison detoxification adsorbent (For acute poisoning):
In case of swallowed poison, the oral administration of activated charcoal could help with poison removal.
Poison is adsorbed into the activated charcoal surface and removed during defecation. This process prevents the absorption of the poison into your systemic blood circulation. However, this action is helpful only in case of rapid administration of activated charcoal following poison swallowing.
If you are too late, the poison will be absorbed into your blood system. At this moment, activated charcoal will not help. Another strategy should be followed.
The World Health Organization approved the usage of activated charcoal for emergency treatment of poisoning and overdoses.
- In case of poisoning, you have to call your doctor or/ go to the nearest hospital as soon as possible. The use of activated charcoal is considered first aid till you reach the hospital.
- Activated charcoal is not useful in certain poisonings such as cyanide, alcohol, and iron toxicity.
Flatulence occurs due to gas entrapments inside your intestine lumen. The entrapped gases lead to pain and discomfort sensation. Activated charcoal is capable of adsorbing gases in your intestine and acting as anti-flatulence.
Also, it could be used before the abdominal ultrasound to improve visualization after the removal of intestinal gases.
A study reported that taking activated charcoal capsules before ultrasound is helpful to reduce gastrointestinal gases.
It is considered a safe, inexpensive, and easily used method to improve visualization in abdominal ultrasound.
Help in reducing cholesterol levels:
Activated charcoal could adsorb cholesterol in your gastrointestinal tract and reduce its systemic absorption.
This could effectively help to reduce a high blood cholesterol level.
A study showed that, for patients with hypercholesterolemia, a daily dose of 32 g/day of activated charcoal was useful to reduce blood LDL cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol). Also, the ratio of HLD/LDL (good/bad cholesterol) was increased.
This result was explained as the administered activated charcoal adsorbed cholesterol from the intestine. The net result is a lowering of the blood LDL level
Could help patients with chronic kidney diseases:
In case of impaired kidney function for patients with chronic kidney diseases, the orally administered activated charcoal could help to remove urea and other toxins.
For those with chronic kidney diseases, Urea could diffuse from the blood into your intestinal tract. This occurs as a result of elevated blood urea levels. Activated charcoal could bind to urea and other toxins and help remove these toxins outside your body (Ref).
1. Is it safe to take activated charcoal daily?
There is no sharp restriction about taking activated charcoal daily.
It is safe to be taken daily if needed. You may suffer from constipation and/or dark stool.
2. What is the major side effect of activated charcoal?
Vomiting is the most common side effect of taking activated charcoal.
For adults, the rate of vomiting after taking activated charcoal range from 7% to 23%.
For children, the rate of vomiting following the administration of activated charcoal range from 6.9 % to 20 % (Ref).
Constipation and dark stool are also commonly reported after activated charcoal administration.
3. Can I take activated charcoal after food?
Activated charcoal is best to be administered away from your meals, at least 30 minutes before meals or 1-2 hours after meals. This is because activated charcoal could inhibit the absorption of nutrients.
4. Can I take activated charcoal on an empty stomach?
Yes, activated charcoal is best to be taken 2 hours before your meals.
It helps in the detoxification of your intestine from bacteria (adsorb bacteria), and relieves bloating and discomfort sensation.
When activated charcoal is administered with food, it might reduce the good absorption of nutrients in your meals.