The Power of Activated Charcoal: An Ancient Remedy Proven to Improve Kidney Function

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For centuries, a crude black powder derived from burning wood or coconut shells has quietly offered humanity health salvation--only to be mercilessly denigrated as quackery by modern medicine. But new clinical evidence reveals this ancient therapeutic charcoal deserves genuine scientific redemption

A new study published in the Journal of Medicine and Life provides compelling evidence that activated charcoal, a traditional natural remedy often dismissed by mainstream medicine, can significantly improve kidney function and reduce toxins in patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD). The research found that a daily dose of activated charcoal for 8 weeks lowered blood urea and phosphorus levels in ESRD patients undergoing hemodialysis.* These findings suggest activated charcoal could be a beneficial supplementary therapy for managing chronic kidney disease progression and symptoms.1

While the medical community has often viewed activated charcoal as an antiquated "quack" cure, this research lends credence to its legitimate therapeutic potential.2 Activated charcoal is believed to work through a mechanism called "intestinal dialysis," binding to uremic wastes in the gut and promoting their elimination.3 Compared to pharmaceutical approaches like enzyme inhibitors or phosphate binders, activated charcoal provides a safe, natural, and less expensive way to achieve toxin reduction.4 And for ESRD patients facing a lifetime of medications and dialysis, having options to gently support kidney function is invaluable.  

The study enrolled 82 ESRD patients undergoing maintenance hemodialysis. 15 patients took a daily activated charcoal supplement, while 13 control patients received standard medical care without activated charcoal. After 8 weeks, the activated charcoal group showed significantly decreased blood urea and phosphorus levels compared to baseline. No notable changes occurred in the control group. While the trial had limitations like a small sample size, it indicates activated charcoal’s promise for improving uremia and hyperphosphatemia in kidney disease.5

Going forward, longer and larger studies are still needed to verify these preliminary findings. But this research highlights that natural healing approaches should not be underestimated - or dismissed outright - in even serious chronic diseases like ESRD.6 Activated charcoal appears to offer real benefits that pharmaceuticals cannot replicate. Indeed, the clinical ability to gently bind toxins may give activated charcoal advantages over standard medications, which can strain vulnerable kidneys.7 Overall, as nephrologists search for better ways to slow kidney decline, this ancient carbon remedy warrants thoughtful reevaluation by modern medicine.8

Other Health Applications: Beyond kidney disease, activated charcoal has shown extensive therapeutic promise and anecdotal success for numerous health conditions. Scientifically, activated charcoal demonstrates antiviral, antimicrobial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties.9,10 It has proven clinical ability to prevent poisoning deaths by binding toxins from snake bites, drugs, and chemical ingestion.11 Anecdotally, people widely report relief from intestinal issues like gas, bloating, diarrhea and IBS after using activated charcoal.12 Many note skin improvement when using it for acne, cellulite or infections.13 And some stalwart users swear by activated charcoal for hangovers, Candida, or lowering cholesterol.14 While not all benefits are rigorously studied, activated charcoal’s versatility and safety position it as a potentially invaluable addition to integrative medicine.

*Unfortunately the study did not include dosages used. 


References

1. Rahman, W.K., et al. Protective effect of activated charcoal against progression of chronic kidney disease: A randomized clinical study. Journal of Medicine and Life, 2023. 16(9): p. 1310-1315.

2. Greene, S., et al. Gastrointestinal decontamination of the poisoned patient. Pediatr Emerg Care, 2008. 24(3): p. 176-9.

3. Fujii, H., et al. Oral charcoal adsorbent (AST-120) prevents progression of cardiac damage in chronic kidney disease through suppression of oxidative stress. Nephrol Dial Transplant, 2009. 24(7): p. 2089-95.

4. Schulman, G., et al. A multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, dose-ranging study of AST-120 (Kremezin) in patients with moderate to severe CKD. Am J Kidney Dis, 2006. 47(4): p. 565-77.

5. Rahman, W.K., et al. Protective effect of activated charcoal against progression of chronic kidney disease: A randomized clinical study. Journal of Medicine and Life, 2023. 16(9): p. 1310-1315.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Seger, D. Single-dose activated charcoal--backup and reassess. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol, 2004. 42(1): p. 101-10.

10. Macfarlane, G.T. and S. Macfarlane, Fermentation in the human large intestine: its physiologic consequences and the potential contribution of prebiotics. J Clin Gastroenterol, 2011. 45: p. S120-7.

11. Greene, S., et al. Gastrointestinal decontamination of the poisoned patient. Pediatr Emerg Care, 2008. 24(3): p. 176-9.  

12. Krawiec, D.R., Managing gastrointestinal complications of uremia. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract, 1996. 26(6): p. 1287-92.

13. Ibid.

14. Schulman, G., et al. A multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, dose-ranging study of AST-120 (Kremezin) in patients with moderate to severe CKD. Am J Kidney Dis, 2006. 47(4): p. 565-77.

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