Activated Charcoal: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Unhealthy (And 1 Uncommon Risk)

Humans, despite our lofty intentions, are still animals. Despite trying our best to abstain from momentary pleasures, we all still have our vices and that’s okay. For many people, myself included, the vice of choice is delicious, gut-wrenching food. Luckily, activated charcoal can help negate the downsides of a meal lacking in nutritional value.

Since our early agricultural days 10,000 years ago, fine dining has been humanity’s outlet to enjoy the company of others and foods that make us feel good.

Unless you have a serious illness, there will be a time in your life when eating an unhealthy meal is appealing and activated charcoal can help you do that without (all) the downsides.

Enjoy Junk Food (Without the Downsides)

As nice as it sounds to use activated charcoal as a “magic pill” to eat whatever you want, that isn’t entirely true. The activated charcoal is filled with small pores, which bind to toxins in your system through a process called “adsorption”.

It’s slightly different than absorbing, but the end result is the same: toxins in your intestinal tract are removed.

Research has established there is evidence that gluten is unhealthy for mental performance with side effects like brain fog and degenerative cognitive function [1]. The same can be said for sugar and dairy, which can destroy focus, concentration, and numerous other mental (and physical) capabilities [2][3].

With such limitations on our diet (no sugar, dairy, or gluten), it’s challenging to enjoy traveling or eating some of the finer cuisines. That’s where activated charcoal comes in.

Using activated charcoal, we can avoid many of the performance problems that come with unhealthy food. Not only can it reduce the toxins from food, but it can help avoid bloating, digestive issues, and a host of others.

That doesn’t mean you’ll be symptom free. Unfortunately, as useful as activated charcoal can be, it will not solve all of your problems, but it can blunt their effects substantially.

Anti-Aging and Detox Benefits of Activated Charcoal

While many self-experimenters and biohackers utilize activated charcoal for acute purposes (such as eating out at restaurants), there seem to be other benefits stemming from old traditions. In fact, Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine have been using activated charcoal for thousands of years. In the modern era, doctors were using activated charcoal in the 1830s to treat poisoned patients [4]. As odd as consuming charcoal might sound, it’s an ancient practice.

These ancestors believed activated charcoal could increase longevity and modern science is suggesting some of the same results. Activated charcoal can aid in adrenal and kidney function, which deteriorates over time [5]. In one study, gerontologists found activated charcoal could increase the lifespan of animals by 34% [6].

As the brain grows more sensitive to toxins with age, the ability to adsorb toxins can reduce cognitive decline and hopefully prevent some of the neurodegenerative diseases that plague civilization.

This suggests there could be an argument for consuming activated charcoal on a regular basis as opposed to simply as needed.

While I have never done this, there are many other professed benefits of consuming activated charcoal on a regular basis (but not all the time as I’ll explain below):

  • Reduces body odor and bad breath
  • Increases liver and kidney function after alcohol consumption
  • Can increase heart health
  • Useful to avoid gut toxins from jet lag
  • Illness (like food poisoning)
  • Increased mood (killing bad bacteria causing depressive moods) [7]

What Are the Risks of Activated Charcoal?

As with any nootropic or supplement, activated charcoal does come with risks. First of all, as powerful as this can be, it will NOT handle excess heavy metals. Many people believe activated charcoal can remove dangerous heavy metals from the system, but this simply isn’t true.

The main way to reliably get rid of heavy metals is chelation therapy, which requires you visit a doctor (if you think you have high heavy metals, do that right away).

Aside from the risk of using activated charcoal for something it cannot solve, the supplement will adsorb and remove many positive things from your gastrointestinal tract as well.

This means activated charcoal will remove good gut bacteria, nutrients vital for optimal performance, probiotics, and even other nootropics that you’re using.

Knowing that activated charcoal will remove all of these things indiscriminately prevents me from taking the supplement more often. This is the main reason why taking it daily is not a good idea.

Use As Needed: Where to Buy Activated Charcoal

Just because there is a use for activated charcoal doesn’t mean you should use just anything that you find. Any charcoal besides the “activated” kind (which you can find for consumption), is not safe to ingest. This includes barbeque coals and any other charcoal that you find.

A local health food store will probably have activated charcoal for sale, but the cheapest way to purchase is through Amazon. A simple product, such as Nature’s Way activated charcoal, can be an effective tool to have with you when traveling to restaurants to preserve cognitive function and still enjoy your life.

References (Click to Expand)
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  5. Reduction of Human Organchalide Burdens, Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education, Los Angeles,California, 1983.
  6. Krenzelok EP, Heller MB. In vivo comparative effectiveness of five commercial activated charcoal products. Vet HumToxicol. 1986;28:498–506
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