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Activated Charcoal

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Updated July 29, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Definition: Activated charcoal is a supplement that is sold over-the-counter to treat several conditions including excess gas, high cholesterol, and preventing hangovers. Medicinal activated charcoal is also used in emergency medicine to treat certain types of poisoning. Activated charcoal is designed for medicinal use, and is not the same as the charcoal that is used in products that remove pet odors and used in fish tank filters.

Activated charcoal works to treat poisoning because it binds with some poisonous agents and helps them pass through the body without being absorbed. When activated charcoal is prescribed by a physician in this way it may be taken in several doses.

However, as a supplement, activated charcoal has not been shown to be effective in treating other conditions such as excess gas, cholesterol or hangovers. The side effects from activated charcoal include constipation and black stools. Activated charcoal may also prevent some drugs from being absorbed by the body, therefore it should not be taken at the same time as other medications.

Pronunciation: AK-tuh-vay-ted CHAR-kohl

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