Counseling Sheet

Charcoal Uses

Calvin Thrash, M.D.

Many old-fashioned remedies have fallen by the wayside, because close scrutiny has revealed them to be no more than old wives tales, or worse, even harmful to the body. Witness "a little whisky for a cold," or using cigarette smoke to control babies' coughs. However, in the mad scientific rush to abandon non-pharmaceutical therapies, some remedies that had a basis in physiology were also deserted, being too time-consuming (or simply too unsophisticated) to continue their practice.

Charcoal seems to fit in this category. In bygone days, people understood that cleansing the body systems assisted in prevention and treatment of disease. Now we have come full circle to realize the importance of the elimination of toxins and polluting chemicals in regaining of normal health. The secret of charcoal's power is adsorption. Through an electrostatic charge, the charcoal granule draws poisons to it, attaching them to its surface - bound, as it were - so they can be safely removed. Thus the body can proceed with the healing process uninhibited by noxious chemicals or drugs. Since the action of charcoal is to adsorb, and it adds no "drug" to the blood, it is ideal for use as a poison control agent. In fact, most hospital emergency rooms use a charcoal solution for overdoses and accidental poisonings. The F.D.A. has found charcoal effective in adsorbing many poisons, gases, and drugs. In fact, it has been called "The Universal Antidote."

Since charcoal works by adsorption (as opposed to absorption) a discussion of just what the term means is merited. The definition of adsorption is the attachment of a substance to the surface of another. This "binding" prevents the subsequent release of the toxin at a later time, which could occur if the material were simply "soaked up," or absorbed. Of course, activated charcoal is not the only adsorbent material in the world, it simply is one of the most powerful - certainly for the money. Most other adsorbents available have a price tag at least a third more, if not double the cost of activated charcoal. Because charcoal is nearly pure carbon, the risks in using it are practically non-existent. Numerous studies both with animals and results in humans have shown that regular ingestion of even large quantities of charcoal have produced no detectable side effects. Equally important, studies of toxicity regarding skin contact and inhalation also have shown no side effects. This means, then, that the possibilities for "detox," poison control, clearing intestinal problems, and allergic reactions are enormous. It is also possible, as a Soviet study suggests, that the reduction of pollutants and toxins, as well as cholesterol-reducing tendency by activated charcoal, may be a factor toward anti-aging and life extension. While no one is suggesting that activated charcoal is a "cure-all," it has certainly proven amazing in its results with certain problems with which we have come in contact. Here are some anecdotal accounts of remarkable experiences we have encountered.

The Bee Sting

One patient was known to be highly allergic to bee stings, with production of enormous swelling. Since her father was a beekeeper, she had encountered bees and had numerous stings throughout childhood, with progressively worsening reactions. Finally, her last sting had produced severe swelling and trouble breathing. The physician in the case warned that future stings could be fatal. She was able to avoid stings for several years, but finally received another sting on the hand, which immediately started the reaction of sweating, swelling, and a severe headache. Fortunately, she consulted a friend who applied a charcoal poultice to the area. Within minutes, the general allergic reactions and pain had disappeared, leading the woman to theorize that everything was back to normal. She removed the poultice, but within 10 minutes the sweating, pain, and headache returned. The poultice was reapplied, and left in place for four hours. No further allergic symptoms were noted.

Gas Guzzling Encouraged

Raymond Hall, PhD., from Loma Linda University School of Medicine, selected 30 volunteers to study the effectiveness of activated charcoal against intestinal gas. Intestinal gas was measured after a low-gas producing meal, and then the group was given a meal high in gas producing foods. 15 were given activated charcoal, and 15 a placebo. The charcoal group had no more measurable gas than after the low-gas meal, whereas the placebo group produced large amounts of gas. Dr. Hall explains that "activated charcoal reduces the amount of gas either by adsorbing the gas itself, or adsorbing the intestinal bacteria that cause the gas." He contends that "if a person has a gas problem, it's worth trying."

A Reclusive Predicament

A man was bitten by a brown recluse spider while doing some cleaning. Since there is no known antidote for the venom, the only treatment is surgical removal of the destroyed tissue, and grafting, which has little chance of success because of the continued inflammation and infection of the skin. To give some idea of the severity of this condition, many bites cause necrosis which leads to gangrene, with months of agony. The patient says, "It looked like someone threw battery acid all over that part of the leg... the leg was ugly with ulcers." Charcoal therapy was begun eight days after the bite (it takes sometimes as much as five days to see symptoms), a poultice that was changed every six hours. Considering the severity of the damage caused by this venom, treatment had to be continued for four months. However, complete healing has taken place, without the need for steroids or grafts. "We don't know where we would have been if we hadn't had your book."

An Unbelievable Comeback

This story is so profound that it borders on the unbelievable, and if we had not been involved in the events, we would have been skeptical. Helen Yuh, M.D., from Lakeview Hospital in Chicago, contacted Dr. Agatha Thrash regarding a patient that had taken an intentional overdose of 80 tablets of Tylenol (a fatal dose). She had been treated with the usual antidote, but it was becoming increasingly clear that even though she was alive, her liver had been severely damaged. Liver enzymes were rising at an alarming rate, and preparations had already been made for an emergency liver transplant, since it appeared the liver was essentially "dead." Dr. Thrash recommended that as much activated charcoal as possible be used both internally and externally. A charcoal and water mixture was applied to the back, abdomen and chest, and also introduced orally. At the same time, she was transferred to St. Luke Hospital for the liver transplant, but just before the operation, another liver profile was taken. To the surprise of the physicians, the poison levels had decreased, and there was some liver function again. The decision was made to hold off on the transplant until further observation could be made. This patient had increased liver function daily, and at last report had completely normal processes, without even any indication of cirrhosis.

A Bath for the Pox

It began slowly. Then the rash. Finally it was obvious - the chicken pox. The pox appeared first on the four year old on Friday. He was covered - 75 on his face alone! His mother was acquainted with some of the uses of charcoal, and decided drastic action was merited. She drew a bath, put half a cup of activated charcoal in it, then put the miserable youngster in. The itching eased almost immediately. He was given one "charcoal bath" that night, three the next day, two on Sunday, and one on Monday and Tuesday. By then the lesions were nearly gone, and he had very little scarring. And how did he like the baths? His comment was, "I don't itch anymore!"

These stories are just a sampling of our many experiences with charcoal. Needless to say, the time to look for where to get charcoal is not when an emergency arises. It must be on hand so problems can be handled quickly and effectively.

What about activation?

Charcoal has been subjected to high pressure steam that opens up more of the surface area available for the charcoal to use in adsorbing poisons. The charcoal remains just as safe as it always has been, but for most applications, it simply takes less of the charcoal to achieve the desired result. However, to be a truly all-purpose charcoal, it doesn't require super activation. This is great for adsorption of gasses, but larger molecules plug the pores, making whatever surface area is underneath unavailable.

Charcoal and Cholesterol: Activated charcoal has been found to lower the concentration of total lipids, cholesterol, and triglycerides in the blood serum, liver, heart, and brain. A study reported by the British journal Lancet, found that patients with high blood cholesterol levels were able to reduce total cholesterol 25%. Not only that, but while LDL (the "bad" cholesterol) was lowered as much as 41%, HDL (the "good" kind)/LDL cholesterol ratio was doubled! The patients took the equivalent of roughly one quarter ounce (approximately one tablespoon) of activated charcoal three times daily. Another study conducted by the National Institute of Public Health in England, suggested that activated charcoal was as effective in reducing high cholesterol levels as the drug, lovastatin. More studies are needed in this area, but even if charcoal therapy is not as effective, it certainly would be less expensive, while possessing none of the dangerous side effects of the drug. Our own experience has been that charcoal is a valuable part of a total cholesterol reducing program but that long-term lifestyle changes must be maintained to permanently reduce high cholesterol.

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Uchee Pines Lifestyle Center
30 Uchee Pines Road #75
Seale, Alabama 36875