As early as 1926 researchers noted that activated charcoal (at that time still a relatively new product) had an amazing ability to adsorb cholesterol. But it was another 50 years before more extensive testing was done to determine just how effective activated charcoal was in lowering blood lipids (fats).
In 1976 Friedman and fellow researchers reported a striking finding: four uremic patients who had been daily given large amounts of oral charcoal and oxidized starch (35gm of each) in an attempt to bind urea and other uremic metabolites (uric acid, creatinine) showed a decrease in blood cholesterol from an average of 200mg/dL to an average of 166mg/dL within one week. All the patients tolerated the charcoal and oxystarch without complaint. A year later in a subsequent study, the researchers gave 3 uremic patients 35gm/day of oral activated charcoal by itself, for two weeks. The charcoal reduced all blood fats and reduced cholesterol by 18.4%
(D. Cooney PhD Chemistry, University Wyoming, Activated Charcoal in Medical Applications, Dekker, 1995, pp. 456-460)
More studies followed over the next ten years confirming that activated charcoal does lower serum cholesterol as well as triglycerides. But a Finnish study in 1989 saw that the reduction of lipids by activated charcoal was indirect. The authors of the study concluded from their results that in fact the reduction of cholesterol was due to the adsorption of bile acids by the activated charcoal. These bile acids play a leading role in lipid metabolism and absorption in the intestines. In essence, no bile acids/salts no cholesterol absorption, resulting in a decrease in blood cholesterol levels.
There is however one other mechanism thought to play a major role in fat adsorption by activated charcoal. Activated charcoals are not all created alike. Besides the internal surface area of the particles there is the pore structure – the hallways that lead into the internal matrix. These pores range in size from very small to even smaller (from 50nm in diameter down to less than 2nm). These have been conveniently subdivided into macropores (largest), mesopores (midrange), and micropores (the smallest). Color bodies are generally large molecules and so charcoals with macropores are generally used for their removal from liquids. On the other hand gases are relatively small molecules and the microporous charcoals work best for them.
So, in the adsorption of fat molecules it has been suggested that the mesoporous charcoals have a pore structure large enough to accommodate fat molecules with a correspondingly large internal cage structure to hold a significant amount of them.
Capitalizing on these two features of activated charcoal (the adsorption of bile acids/salts and pore structure), pharmacist and creator, Todd McFarland is marketing a charcoal capsule to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides, and, as a side benefit, claims it helps people lose weight. These claims are supported by testimonies from customers reporting they lost: six pounds in two weeks; sixteen pounds in two months post-pregnancy; seven pounds in ten days without any lifestyle changes; as well as lowering cholesterol and triglycerides.
McFarland claims his activated charcoal has a unique mesopore structure that actually targets those bile salts that emulsify fats. No bile salts, no emulsification of fat, and thus no absorption of fat can take place. In other words, charcoal adsorbs the bile salts, less fat is absorbed from the food, and people lose weight.
McFarland rightly notes that most popular fat blockers on the market today (including Orlistat) are nothing more than stimulants with all their attending harsh side effects. On the other hand, activated charcoal is not a drug and has no known adverse side effects. A plus plus.
While the success stories testify that his product is doing what he claims it will, does McFarland’s activated charcoal actually have a unique pore structure? Perhaps. But the activated charcoals used in the research trials were common USP grade charcoals and they also exhibited a significant ability to adsorb certain lipid fats. As recent as 1986, the prestigious health journal The Lancet reported that “two tablespoons (8 gms) of activated charcoal taken three times a day for four weeks, lowered total cholesterol 25%, lowered LDL cholesterol 41%, and doubled their HDL/LDL (high-density lipoprotein/low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol ratio. (P. Kuusisto, et al., Effect of activated charcoal on hypercholesterolemia, The Lancet, 16: 366-67, August 1986)
So, what is one to make of all this? Simply, activated charcoal has been scientifically proven to lower cholesterol and triglycerides, improve the LDL/HDL ratio, and, for some individuals, help to lose weight.
We would very much like to hear from any of our readers who have had personal experience with this aspect of charcoal therapy – whether it did or did not help you. It would be most helpful if you could document before and after levels of serum cholesterol/triglycerides and or body weight.
In the meantime, once again we want to promote our book CharcoalRemedies.com The Complete Handbook of Medicinal Charcoal & Its Applications. Not only does it include 150 unique stories from healthcare workers around the world, but it is also salted with history and scientific research, such as that above, to demonstrate just how qualified charcoal is to work in hospitals and in homes around the world, including yours.