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Top 10 Activated Charcoal Uses, Plus Potential Side Effects

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Activated charcoal - Dr. Axe

Have you heard about the health benefits of activated charcoal? Although there is some confusion and skepticism out there about its safety and efficacy, activated charcoal that comes from a natural source is not only safe, but effective for promoting detoxification.

Activated charcoal is a potent natural treatment used to trap toxins and chemicals in the body, allowing them to be flushed out so that the body doesn’t reabsorb them. It can be made from a variety of sources, like coconut shells. It’s also important to note that activated charcoal is not charcoal used in your barbecue grill!

What is the difference between charcoal and activated charcoal? Well, for one thing, barbecue charcoal contains many toxins and chemicals, which is why it should never be consumed. Activated charcoal is made from natural sources and it’s used medicinally for major conditions, like poisoning and overdoses. It’s also a natural way to cleanse the body of chemicals that build up over time and deplete your health.


What Is Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal is created by the controlled decomposition of carbon-based compounds, such as coconut shells or peat (vegetable matter). To make activated charcoal these natural sources are “activated” with gases at high temperatures, which expands its surface. This results in a very porous final product, which allows for the adsorption of drugs and toxins.

What is activated charcoal used for? One of the most popular activated charcoal uses is for the safe and effective treatment of poisoning and drug overdoses. In fact, emergency trauma centers across the world use it.

In addition, it’s used to reduce bloating and gas, lower cholesterol, treat bile flow problems safely during pregnancy (intrahepatic cholestasis) and even prevent hangovers. Research even shows that activated charcoal works better than stomach pumping (called gastric lavage) in some situations.

So, how does activated charcoal work? It works by trapping toxins and chemicals in its millions of tiny pores. However, it’s not typically a remedy for the ingestion of corrosive poisons like petroleum, alcohol, lye or acids.

It doesn’t absorb the toxins. Instead, it works through the chemical process of adsorption. In the body, absorption is the reaction of elements, including nutrients, chemicals and toxins, soaked up and assimilated into the bloodstream. Adsorption is the chemical reaction where elements bind to a surface.

The porous surface of activated charcoal has a negative electric charge that causes positive-charged toxins and gas to bond with it. These nooks and crannies that enhance toxin elimination inside the body are the result of a heating process, which is what allows the charcoal’s “activation.”


Top 10 Activated Charcoal Benefits

Whenever you take activated charcoal, it’s imperative to drink 12–16 glasses of water per day. It’s very important to consume adequate amounts of water in tandem with activated charcoal to prevent dehydration. In addition, this helps to flush out the toxins quickly and prevents constipation experienced by some individuals.

In addition to being a safe and effective treatment for the removal of toxins and poison from the system, additional activated charcoal uses include deodorizing and disinfecting, and it’s an important step to treat Lyme disease.

Here are the top 10 activated charcoal benefits:

1. Whitens Teeth

Have your teeth become stained from coffee, tea, wine or berries? For the many people wondering if activated charcoal whitens teeth, they’re in luck. Activated charcoal helps whiten teeth while promoting good oral health. It does this by changing the pH balance in the mouth, thereby helping to prevent cavities, bad breath and gum disease.

It  also works to whiten your teeth by absorbing plaque and microscopic tidbits that stain teeth. This activated charcoal use is cost-effective and an all-natural solution for a bright smile.

According to research done by a professor of dentistry at King’s College London, “charcoal toothpastes may be found to help remove external (extrinsic) staining on teeth without negative abrasive effects.” She adds that toothpastes containing charcoal may be most effective when used to delay the recurrence of surface staining on intact teeth after a professional cleaning and polishing.

But when you are using charcoal toothpastes, make sure to check the ingredients for unwanted additives. It’s also important to know that activated charcoal will only work on surface stains that its able to bind to, allowing it to pull the stains from your teeth.

2. Alleviates Gas and Bloating

Activated charcoal pills or powders can be used to alleviate uncomfortable gas and bloating. It works by binding the gas-causing byproducts in foods that cause discomfort. A study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that activated charcoal prevents intestinal gas following a typical gas-producing meal.

And research published in UCLA Health indicates that when charcoal is combined with simethicone, a medicine that’s used to break apart gas bubbles, it’s even more effective for reducing gas and bloating.

Some people find that activated charcoal for diarrhea is also effective, especially when the diarrhea is caused by toxic overload.

3. Treats Alcohol Poisoning (and Helps Prevent Hangovers)

While activated charcoal does not adsorb alcohol, it does help quickly remove other toxins from the body that contribute to poisoning. Consumption of alcohol in its pure form is rare; mixers that include artificial sweeteners and chemicals are common. Activated charcoal treats poisoning by removing these toxins.

In addition, when activated charcoal is taken at the same time as alcohol, some studies show it can significantly reduce blood alcohol concentrations. Princeton University’s First Aider’s Guide to Alcohol indicates that activated charcoal is administered in some situations related to alcohol. This includes if the individual is unconscious or showing signs of acute alcohol poisoning.

4. Mold Cleansing

Most people don’t think about mold living in their bodies, but it can. Toxic mold causes depression, kidney and liver failure, decreased brain function, heart disease, eye irritation, headaches, vomiting, impaired immune system function and severe respiratory distress.

Homes that have flooded, or even those with small leaks under a sub-floor or in the walls, can create an environment where mold can thrive. Poor ventilation contributes to the problem, and bathrooms, basements and laundry rooms are particularly prone to mold growth.

Using activated charcoal can help to mitigate areas of mold overgrowth in your home. Studies have found that activated carbons, or charcoal, has effective binding capacity and is able to produce a significant reduction in mold absorption. Charcoal has also proven to be an effective agent for removing 90 percent of mold in a tested solution.

Be sure to keep a look out for symptoms of mold exposure like wheezing, rashes, watery eyes, coughing or headaches, especially when they can’t be linked to other health issues. If you notice these signs, your home should be evaluated for mold spore levels, even if no visible mold is detected. It can thrive behind drywall, under floors and in ventilation ducts and you may not even realize the levels are high until you have testing done.

5. Water Filtration

It effectively traps impurities in water including solvents, pesticides, industrial waste and other chemicals, which is why activated charcoal filter systems are used throughout the world. However, these filtration systems are not able to trap viruses, bacteria and hard-water minerals.

According to a study published in the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association, activated carbon filters (activated charcoal), removes some fluoride. Avoiding fluoride and detoxing from it is important for oral health, proper immune system functioning, and healthy kidneys and liver.

Drinking water is essential to good health; however, typical tap water is toxic and laden with chemicals, toxins and fluoride. It’s a good idea to limit ingestion whenever possible and use an activated charcoal water filter.

6. Emergency Toxin Removal

One of the most common activated charcoal uses is to remove toxins and chemicals in the event of ingestion. Most organic compounds, pesticides, mercury, fertilizer and bleach bind to activated charcoal’s surface, allowing for quicker elimination, while preventing their absorption in the body.

Activated charcoal can also be used as an antidote in the event of an accidental, or purposeful, overdose of many pharmaceutical drugs and over-the-counter medications. It’s effective for aspirin, opium, cocaine, morphine and acetaminophen overdose. Research published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology indicates that a growing body of observational data demonstrates that single-dose activated charcoal can elicit substantial reductions in drug absorption in acutely poisoned patients.

It’s important that the proper amount is administered as quickly as possible — definitely within an hour of ingestion. In addition, activated charcoal can be used in cases of food poisoning when nausea and diarrhea are present.

In the event of an emergency when ingestion of a drug, toxin or chemical has taken place, it’s imperative to call 911 immediately. If you have activated charcoal on hand, be sure to tell the operator, who may advise to administer it prior to the first responder’s arrival. Depending on the amount of a drug, toxins or chemicals ingested and types of toxins, multiple doses may be required. At the hospital, physicians are able to administer more as needed.

Top 10 Activated Charcoal Uses - Dr.Axe

7. Skin and Body Health

Activated charcoal uses extend beyond internal applications. For external treatments, it’s effective at treating body odor and acne, and relieving discomfort from insect bites, rashes from poison ivy or poison oak, and snake bites.

Just like it works inside the body, when applied topically as an activated charcoal mask or mixed with other ingredients like aloe vera, it’s able to bind to poison, toxins or dirt that contribute to skin issues or bite reactions.

In addition to these skin benefits, activated charcoal has also been shown to help reduce foul odors that are associated with blistering disorders and extensive skin loss. It can be used to reduce odor when combined with baking soda.

8. Digestive Cleanse

Activated charcoal uses help promote a healthy digestive tract by removing toxins that cause allergic reactions, oxidative damage and poor immune system function. By removing the toxins from your system, you can reduce joint pain, increase energy and increase mental function.

Environmental factors, including pesticides on food, chemicals in the water we drink and exposure to mold, create a toxic burden in our bodies. It’s important to routinely cleanse the GI tract to support overall health and wellness.

And it may turn out that activated charcoal doesn’t destroy the good bacteria along with the bad bacteria in your gut. Remember that charcoal is adsorbent rather than absorbent. At least one study published in The Journal of Veterinary Medical Science demonstrates that activated charcoal may be able to somewhat differentiate between what it should and should not adsorb.

The researchers conducting this study found that “activated charcoal showed lower binding capacity to the normal bacterial flora tested than that to E. coli O157:H7 strains.” So it appears as though toxin-producing strains of E. coli were more likely to be adsorbed by the activated charcoal while normal bacterial flora in the intestine including Enterococcus faecium, Bifidobacterium thermophilum and Lactobacillus acidophilus were more likely to be left alone.

9. Anti-Aging

Activated charcoal uses include helping prevent cellular damage to the kidneys and liver, as well as supporting healthy adrenal glands. It’s imperative to cleanse toxins and chemicals routinely from the body. Activated charcoal benefits major organs by helping the body flush out the toxins and chemicals that cause the internal damage. Studies show that it’s able to remove organic and inorganic compounds from the body, and it tightly binds with metallic compounds.

Aging is a natural part of life, but due to the toxic load we are exposed to through food, our homes and workplaces, and our environment, to prevent premature aging we must get rid of them.

10. Reduces High Cholesterol

Studies around the world show that activated charcoal reduces bad cholesterol and increases good cholesterol as much as some prescription medications. In one study, total cholesterol decreased by 25 percent, LDL cholesterol decreased by 41 percent, while HDL increased by 8 percent — in just four weeks. Study participants took three doses of eight grams each for the period of the study.

Related: How to Use a Konjac Sponge (+ the Benefits for Skin)


11 Activated Charcoal Uses

If you don’t know how to use activated charcoal for specific conditions or situations, follow these recommendations:

1. Dental Health

For teeth whitening with activated charcoal, wet a toothbrush and dip it into activated charcoal powder. Then brush your teeth as you would normally, but pay special attention to the areas that show the most staining. Sip a bit of water, swish it through your mouth thoroughly and spit. Then rinse your mouth well until your spit is clear. For best results, brush your teeth with activated charcoal powder 2–3 times per week. If your teeth become sensitive to activated charcoal use, then stop using it.

2. Reduce Gassiness

The activated charcoal dose for alleviating gas is about 500 milligrams one hour prior to a typical gas-producing meal, with a full glass of water. Follow this with an additional glass of water immediately thereafter to help get the charcoal into your system, where it can bind with gas-producing elements.

3. Mold Cleaning

If there is visible mold in your home, it must be mitigated properly. It’s important to wear gloves and a protective mask to keep from inhaling toxic mold during cleanup. You can use a mixture of activated charcoal, baking soda, apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil and borax to clean mold off hard surfaces and prevent mold from growing in the future.

4. Water Filtering

Activated charcoal water filters are available for whole-home systems, as well as countertop models. Drink 8–10 glasses of pure water per day to help soothe the digestive tract, fight fatigue, keep organs operating, and provide lubrication for joints and tissues.

5. Toxic Overload or Overdose

Adults take 25 grams at onset of diarrhea and nausea symptoms or when food poisoning is suspected, and children should be given 10 grams. Increase dosage as necessary. Remember, it’s essential that adequate water is consumed when activated charcoal is taken. In the event of poisoning, call 911 immediately.

Proper dosing is imperative. According to the University of Michigan Health System, 50 to 100 grams (not milligrams!) is used in cases of poisoning in adults and 10 to 25 grams for children. Activated charcoal for dogs is sometimes given to absorb poison under the care of your veterinarian.

6. Bug Bites

After a mosquito bite or bee sting, mix one capsule of activated charcoal with ½ tablespoon of coconut oil, and dab on affected area. Reapply every 30 minutes until itching and discomfort are gone. As activated charcoal stains nearly everything it touches, wrap the area with a bandage.

7. Snake and Spider Bites

To treat bites from snakes and spiders, including the brown recluse or black widow, you want to cover a larger area than just a small bandage, as the bacteria and viruses that lead to tissue damage need to be mitigated quickly.

Create a wrap out of fabric that’s big enough to go around the affected area twice. Dab the mixture of coconut oil and activated charcoal on the fabric, and wrap. Secure the area with bandages. Reapply every two to three hours, rinsing well between applications.

8. Acne

To treat acne, mix one activated charcoal capsule with two teaspoons of aloe vera gel, and smooth the combination over your face. Let it dry and then rinse it off completely. The activated charcoal binds with environmental toxins and dirt that contribute to acne. It’s also good for spot treatments.

9. Digestive Cleanse

To promote an activated charcoal detox of your digestive system, take 10 grams 90 minutes prior to each meal, for two days. You can use activated charcoal tablets or use powder to make an activated charcoal drink.

During the cleanse, eat only organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed meat and wild fish. If during the cleanse you experience constipation, this is a sure sign you’re not consuming enough water! Drink a glass of warm water with a slice of lemon and a touch of honey every half hour until constipation is relieved.

10. Routine Toxin Removal

Take two activated charcoal capsules per day after exposure to nonorganic foods, heavy meals or after contact to other toxins. This supports better cognitive function, a reduction in brain fog, healthier kidney and liver function, and a healthier gastrointestinal tract.

11. Reduced Cholesterol

Take 4–32 grams per day for four weeks. Don’t take activated charcoal within 90 minutes to two hours of taking any prescription medication or supplements as it can prevent proper absorption.

Note of caution: Be careful when using activated charcoal topically or in powered form, for it can (and will) stain grout and fabrics. Protect counters, floors and clothing before using. If you have crowns, caps or porcelain veneers, it’s possible that activated charcoal will stain them.


Is Activated Charcoal Safe? Potential Side Effects

Is it safe to eat activated charcoal or to use it topically? For the activated charcoal uses mentioned here, it’s generally deemed safe for most individuals. According to research published in the International Journal of Science and Research, activated charcoal is safe for most adults when used short-term.

Activated Charcoal Dosage

The proper activated charcoal dosage depends on the condition that’s being treated or improved. According to information offered by the University of Michigan, for poisoning or drug overdose, activated charcoal is given at doses of 50–100 grams initially. This is typically followed by charcoal doses every 2–4 hours at a dose equal to 12.5 grams per hour. Doses for children are generally around 10–25 grams. Because each case is different, it’s important to consult a local poison control center or emergency services in the event of an overdose or poisoning.

For preventing or reducing intestinal gas, doses range from 500 to 1,000 milligrams per day. And for reducing cholesterol levels, 4–32 grams of activated charcoal per day is the most common dosage.

Potential Side Effects

Side effects of activated charcoal may include constipation and black stools, or in serious, but rare cases, slowing or blockage of the intestinal tract, regurgitation into the lungs and dehydration. What does activated charcoal do to your stomach? When used in the appropriate amounts, it should help to detox your digestive tract, but consuming too much may lead to digestives like constipation.

Before taking advantage of the many activated charcoal uses, you must consider how it may react in your body, especially if have certain medical conditions, such as intestinal bleeding or blockages, holes in the intestines, chronic dehydration, slow digestion or a recent abdominal surgery.

Drug Interactions

Activated charcoal can interfere with the absorption of nutrients, vitamins and other supplements. It can also interfere with prescription medicine by decreasing how much medicine your body absorbs, which can reduce the effectiveness of the medication.

Take activated charcoal 90 minutes to two hours prior to meals, supplements and prescription medicine. Potential adverse interactions with the following drugs can occur:

  • Naltrexone (used for alcohol and opioid dependence)
  • Acrivastine
  • Bupropion
  • Carbinoxamine
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Meclizine
  • Methadone
  • Morphine
  • Morphine Sulfate Liposome
  • Mycophenolate Mofetil
  • Mycophenolic Acid
  • Oxycodone
  • Oxymorphone
  • Suvorexant
  • Tapentadol
  • Umeclidinium
  • Acetaminophin
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Theophylline

Activated Charcoal Products and Where to Buy

You can find activated charcoal products at most health food stores and online. When selecting activated charcoal products for any of the uses above, it’s vital that you know the charcoal’s source. Not all activated charcoal pills or supplements are equal.

Look for activated charcoal made from coconut shells or identified wood species that have ultra-fine grains, like activated bamboo charcoal and activated coconut charcoal powder.

In the activated charcoal powdered form, many products have added artificial sweeteners to make them more palatable, but you should avoid these. Artificial sweeteners are loaded with chemicals, and frankly it doesn’t make sense to take activated charcoal to rid your body of chemicals and toxins if it’s loaded with chemicals. Sweeten it naturally if desired with fresh juice or a natural sweetener.


Final Thoughts

  • Activated charcoal is created by heating charcoal from natural sources at high temperatures when combined with a gas or agent that expands its surface. This turns the charcoal into a porous material that sucks in chemicals, toxins or other impurities from its environment.
  • There are many activated charcoal uses, including treating toxic overload or poisoning, reducing gas, cleaning mold, improving skin health and reducing cholesterol levels.
  • Activated charcoal is available in many forms, including as pills, tablets, capsules and powder, toothpaste and face masks.
  • It is safe to eat activated charcoal and to apply it topically, but make sure you are using a high-quality product that doesn’t contain any fillers or additives. Stick to short-term use and consult your healthcare professional if you are taking medications that may interact with activated charcoal.

Read Next: Homemade Detox Drinks: 5 Major Health Benefits, Including Weight Loss


From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system, but in reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma, I’m offering a free webinar on all things leaky gut. Click here to learn more about the webinar.

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