Activated Charcoal

Activated Charcoal: Benefits, Side Effects & Dosage

What Is Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal is a powder that easily binds to a number of molecules, including toxins. Historically, people have used it to absorb toxins in the body and treat overdoses. Charcoal becomes activated after exposure to extreme temperatures. Heat increases the charcoal’s total surface area, giving it more room to absorb molecules.

In addition to its detoxification abilities, activated charcoal offers a vast range of other health benefits, such as the potential to lower cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of kidney damage and improve dental health. It may also improve gastrointestinal health, facilitate nutrient absorption and prevent diarrhea. It may also be able to absorb gas and reduce odors. Furthermore, it can help protect the skin by opening pores, helping to expel dirt and bacteria.

Benefits of Activated Charcoal

Gastrointestinal Health

Activated charcoal is a viable supplement for improving gastrointestinal health. It may reduce bloating and discomfort in the digestive tract after meals (x). In addition, various studies demonstrate that it may reduce flatulence after meals, as well as reduce odor (x).


Activated charcoal is a common treatment for overdoses and toxin exposure since it binds to harmful substances in the digestive tract, keeping them from absorbing into the bloodstream (x). Besides, it may stifle alcohol absorption into the bloodstream. It may decrease feelings of intoxication and possibly also reduce the severity of hangovers.

Teeth Whitening

Activated charcoal is one of the most popular alternatives to peroxide teeth whiteners. Research indicates that it may be an effective way to remove surface stains and whiten teeth (x). However, it may not be effective for removing deeper and more severe stains. Activated charcoal does not penetrate beneath the enamel, so it does not reach long-lasting stains.


Since activated charcoal absorbs bacteria, it is also praised for neutralizing odors. For example, fish odor syndrome develops when a compound called trimethylamine (TMA) accumulates in the body. When the compound builds up, it produces an odor similar to rotting fish. Patients with this condition do not have the enzyme that converts the compound to one that does not cause odor. But studies show that activated charcoal may be able to reduce TMA concentrations in patients’ urine (x).

Skin Care

Activated charcoal is an excellent natural exfoliator to lift dirt and bacteria from the pores in the skin. It may result in smoother skin and help fight acne (x). Furthermore, some research also states that it may be effective for mild skin infections. Charcoal’s antibacterial properties may help cleanse cuts and scrapes to prevent infections (x).

Kidney Health

The kidneys are responsible for filtering waste products from the blood. High levels of toxic compounds can damage the kidneys over time, so they have to work harder to process harmful chemicals. Activated charcoal may be able to protect the kidneys by filtering toxic molecules from the gut, stopping them from absorbing into the blood and lowering the risk of long term damage (x). Furthermore, researchers also link activated charcoal to kidney function in some patients with chronic kidney disease (x). Although it may help, patients should not use it as a primary treatment option for chronic kidney disease.


High cholesterol levels elevates the risk for a wide range of cardiovascular problems, such as heart disease or heart attack. Some studies illustrate that activated charcoal may have the potential to lower cholesterol levels. However, researchers have not come to a definite conclusion on whether it is effective (x). Although activated charcoal may help manage cholesterol levels, patients should not use it as a replacement for standard medication. Speak to a doctor about any other possible interactions with cholesterol medications.

Activated Charcoal Benefits

Side Effects of Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal is generally considered safe, with few major side effects. However, some users may experience some mild or moderate side effects, including dark colored stools and constipation. Since it interacts directly with the stomach and the intestines, some patients may experience gastrointestinal symptoms. In rare cases, it may also cause dehydration or acid reflux. It may also cause blockages that slow down the intestinal tract (x).


There is little research on its effects on pregnancy. Although it may be safe, it could potentially interfere with nutrient absorption. Pregnant patients should speak to a doctor first if they plan on using activated charcoal (x).

Medication Interactions

Activated charcoal may change the rate at which the body absorbs medications. Patients should speak to a doctor before taking it. It may interact with certain medications and cause moderate symptoms. The most frequent moderate symptoms develop from interactions with aspirin, ibuprofen, honey, atropine and probiotic formula. However, research indicates that there are 76 medications that cause moderate interactions in total (x). Medication that causes mild interactions include acarbose, leflunomide and miglitol, for example (x).

Enamel Wear

For patients who use activated charcoal for oral health or teeth whitening, there is a small risk of enamel erosion. These products are often gritty, which can sometimes wear down the surface of enamel after repeated use (x). To lower the risk of enamel damage, use it only a few times per week. Also, choose products with a lower charcoal concentration because it may help protect the enamel.

Why Take Activated Charcoal

There are a number of health benefits of using activated charcoal.  It may be able to detoxify the body, preventing toxins from entering the bloodstream and even reducing the severity of hangovers. It can also improve digestion by reducing gas and bloating after large meals. Activated charcoal may improve diarrhea, as well as neutralize odors. In addition, it may improve the skin by opening pores and eliminating bacteria. It can also absorb excess oil and lower the risk of developing acne. It may also help with kidney problems, as well as lower cholesterol and maintain energy levels by clearing toxins. It may also help whiten teeth. It can cause less sensitivity than peroxide whiteners, making it an option for those with sensitive teeth.

Bottom Line

Activated charcoal is a substance that absorbs toxins in the gut and stops them from entering the bloodstream. It may be a suitable treatment for patients who overdose or consume toxic compounds. Activated charcoal has a number of health benefits as a supplement. It may regulate cholesterol levels by binding to cholesterol in the gut, which may potentially lower the risk for a wide range of cardiovascular problems.

In addition, activated charcoal can improve the skin’s texture and appearance by exfoliating and removing bacteria from the pores, potentially alleviating acne. Recently, it has become a popular oral health supplement. It may be able to whiten teeth and improve overall dental health.

Activated charcoal is generally considered safe, with some potential side effects. It may cause gastrointestinal discomfort for some users, as well as constipation and dark colored stools. It may also interact with a list of supplements and medications. Make sure to consult a doctor before adding activated charcoal to a supplement regimen.

Author: James D