The Health Benefits of Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal mixed with water in a cup


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Activated charcoal is a substance available in supplement form. Sometimes used as an emergency treatment for certain types of poisoning, activated charcoal is also purported to promote detox and treat a variety of health problems.

To create activated charcoal, organic materials such as wood are burned at extremely high temperatures in environments lacking in oxygen. This process causes the materials to develop a large number of pores. Because of its porous quality, activated charcoal is said to help absorb toxins and clear the body of unwanted substances.


In alternative medicine, activated charcoal is touted as a natural remedy for the following health problems:

Activated charcoal is also used in air and water filters. In addition, it's sometimes included as an ingredient in beauty products said to clear the skin of environmental toxins.

Health Benefits

Despite its popularity as a natural remedy, activated charcoal and its health effects have been tested in very few scientific studies. Although there's a lack of recent research into the potential benefits of activated charcoal, several older studies indicate that this product may help with certain health issues.

In a small study published in the European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology in 1989, for instance, researchers found that activated charcoal may help keep cut cholesterol.

For the study, seven people with high cholesterol were treated with activated charcoal for three weeks. During that time, the study members experienced a decrease in total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels.

In the next phase of the study, ten patients with severely elevated cholesterol levels were treated with activated charcoal, cholestyramine (a medication used to treat high cholesterol), a combination of activated charcoal and cholestyramine, or bran. After three weeks of treatment, researchers observed that those given activated charcoal, cholestyramine, or the activated charcoal/cholestyramine combination had a reduction in total and LDL cholesterol levels as well as an increase in their levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol.

Furthermore, a small study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology in 1986 suggests that activated charcoal may help alleviate intestinal gas. In the study, a clinical trial involving 99 participants demonstrated that treatment with activated charcoal helped reduce symptoms of bloating and abdominal cramps associated with intestinal gas.


Side effects of activated charcoal include black stools, nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, and diarrhea.

In order to avoid intestinal obstruction or constipation, it's important to take activated charcoal with plenty of water.


For help in keeping your cholesterol in check, make sure to follow a balanced diet high in antioxidant-rich foods. Getting your fill of omega-3 fatty acids, including soy and/or plant sterols in your diet, boosting your intake of probiotics, maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D, and sipping green tea on a regular basis may also help regulate your cholesterol.

Additionally, some research shows that natural remedies like garlic, grape seed extract, guggul, and glucomannan may help lower your cholesterol levels.

To ease intestinal gas, learn how to stimulate your digestive system with everyday practices. Herbs like peppermint and caraway may also be of some benefit in treating gas and bloating.

Where to Find Activated Charcoal

Dietary supplements containing activated charcoal are sold in many natural-foods stores and other stores specializing in natural products. You can also purchase activated charcoal online.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstance or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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Article Sources

  • Jain NK, Patel VP, Pitchumoni CS. "Efficacy of activated charcoal in reducing intestinal gas: a double-blind clinical trial." Am J Gastroenterol. 1986 Jul;81(7):532-5.
  • Neuvonen PJ1, Kuusisto P, Vapaatalo H, Manninen V. "Activated charcoal in the treatment of hypercholesterolaemia: dose-response relationships and comparison with cholestyramine." Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 1989;37(3):225-30.