Activated charcoal is charcoal that has been treated with oxygen, which makes it more porous and increases its surface area. This also increases its capacity to absorb gases and liquids, which works by chemically binding the impurities to the carbon surface. Activated charcoal is most typically utilised to remove odorous substances from the atmosphere. Wood, peat, coconut shells, coal and sawdust are the most common materials used for making activated charcoal. Activated charcoal is most commonly found in aquarium filters, drinking-water filters and air filters; and has a role in the treatment of ingested poisons for humans.
What is charcoal?
Charcoal is produced from the combustion of plant material, most typically wood, and closely resembles coal. It is extensively produced in the developing world, where it is used as a fuel for cooking and heating requirements. It is produced by heating wood at a low temperature in the absence of oxygen. All that remains after this process is the black carboniferous material know as charcoal.
Activated charcoal for human health
Activated charcoal is utilised in human health, particularly in the treatment of poisoning, where it is ingested to counter the effects of a chemical. It is generally produced in a powdered form, which can be mixed with water and consumed as a suspension, or as a food supplement for where it comes in small, readily digested tablets or capsules. This form of activated charcoal is believed to neutralise flatulence and stomach ailments associated with gas, and is typically taken with a generous amount of water. A warm, moist activated charcoal poultice has also been demonstrated to be effective at drawing out bacteria from a skin infection.
Benefits of activated charcoal
Activated charcoal is beneficial for a range of conditions and scenarios, including:
- odour control
- water filtration
- air filtration; and
- eliminating bad breath
Side effects of activated charcoal
Charcoal can have implications for your health, particularly if you are taking prescription medicines or dietary supplements. This is because of the natural absorption and attraction properties of charcoal which will often draw the chemicals, and limit their assimilation by the body. The side effects of ingesting charcoal include: diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pain and constipation. Activated charcoal will also not be effective for countering poisoning if non-carbon based drugs and substances including alcohols and acids are involved. Charcoal filters also require regular cleaning or replacement as their surfaces become clogged, and therefore less efficient.
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