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Charcoal is a fine, black powder made from wood or other natural materials by heating them in an airless environment. Charcoal used for health conditions is usually “activated” to make it a very fine powder, which increases its effectiveness. Activated charcoal can chemically attach, or adsorb, to a variety of particles and gases, which makes it ideal for removing potentially toxic substances from the digestive tract. Activated charcoal is not absorbed into the body, so it carries adsorbed substances out of the body in the feces.
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3 Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2 Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1 Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
This supplement has been used in connection with the following health conditions:
4 to 32 grams per day
Activated charcoal has the ability to attach (adsorb) cholesterol and bile acids present in the intestine, preventing their absorption.
Activated charcoal has the ability to adsorb (attach to) cholesterol and bile acids present in the intestine, preventing their absorption.1 , 2 Reducing the absorption of bile acids results in increased cholesterol breakdown by the liver. In controlled studies of people with high cholesterol, activated charcoal reduced total- and LDL-cholesterol levels, when given in amounts from 4 to 32 grams per day. Larger amounts were more effective: reductions in total and LDL cholesterol were 23% and 29%, respectively, with 16 grams daily, and 29% and 41% with 32 grams daily.3 Similar results were reported in other controlled4 and preliminary5 studies using 16 to 24 grams per day, but one small double-blind trial found no effect of either 15 or 30 grams per day in patients with high cholesterol.6
Indigestion, Heartburn, and Low Stomach Acidity
Refer to label instructions
Supplementing with charcoal may help relieve gas.
Activated charcoal has the ability to adsorb (attach to) many substances, including gases produced in the intestine.7 , 8 In a small, controlled trial, people were given a meal of gas-producing foods along with capsules containing 584 mg of activated charcoal, followed by another 584 mg of activated charcoal two hours later. Using activated charcoal prevented the five-fold increase in flatulence that occurred in the placebo group. Another, small controlled study found that taking 388 mg of activated charcoal two hours after a gas-producing meal normalized flatulence by the fourth hour.9 However, a preliminary human study found no effect on flatulence or abdominal symptoms when healthy volunteers took 520 mg of activated charcoal four times per day for one week.10
How It Works
How to Use It
In cases of poisoning, 50 to 100 grams is given to adults, while children receive lower doses of 10 to 25 grams.11 However, since some poisons are not effectively adsorbed by activated charcoal, consult with local poison control centers or emergency services to determine whether charcoal should be used. Amounts used for other conditions range from 500 to 1,000 mg per day for preventing intestinal gas to 4 to 32 grams per day for lowering blood cholesterol.
Where to Find It
Charcoal used for health conditions is pure carbon made from wood, bamboo, coconut shells, or other organic material.
There is no human requirement for charcoal.
Interactions with Supplements, Foods, & Other Compounds
Interactions with Medicines
Certain medicines interact with this supplement.
Replenish Depleted Nutrients
Reduce Side Effects
In the treatment of certain poisonings, activated charcoal is used to reduce the amount of poison absorbed into the body. Some references have suggested that people avoid giving ipecac and activated charcoal together.12 However, controlled studies have shown that activated charcoal may not completely block the effects of ipecac,13 and that the combination is effective when activated charcoal is given ten minutes after ipecac treatment.14 Until more information is available, individuals should probably wait to give activated charcoal until after the ipecac-induced vomiting stops.
Potential Negative Interaction
Charcoal will turn the stools black, and may lead to diarrhea or constipation in some people. No other adverse effects have been reported.
People with a rare disease called variegate porphyria who were given activated charcoal experienced a worsening of their condition.15 Until more research is available, people with variegate porphyria should not take activated charcoal.
1. Krasopoulos JC, De Bari VA, Needle MA. The adsorption of bile salts on activated carbon. Lipids 1980;15:365-70.
2. Tishler PV, Winston SH, Bell SM. Correlative studies of the hypocholesterolemic effect of a highly activated charcoal. Methods Find Exp Clin Pharmacol 1987;9:799-806.
3. Neuvonen PJ, 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;37:225-30.
4. Park GD, Spector R, Kitt TM. Superactivated charcoal versus cholestyramine for cholesterol lowering: a randomized cross-over trial. J Clin Pharmacol 1988;28:416-9.
5. Neuvonen PJ, Kuusisto P, Manninen V, et al. The mechanism of the hypocholesterolaemic effect of activated charcoal. Eur J Clin Invest 1989;19:251-4.
6. Hoekstra JB, Erkelens DW. No effect of activated charcoal on hyperlipidaemia. A double-blind prospective trial. Neth J Med 1988;33:209-16.
7. Ohge H, Furne JK, Springfield J, et al. Effectiveness of devices purported to reduce flatus odor. Am J Gastroenterol 2005;100:397-400.
8. Suarez FL, Springfield J, Levitt MD. Identification of gases responsible for the odour of human flatus and evaluation of a device purported to reduce this odour. Gut 1998;43:100-4.
9. Hall RG Jr, Thompson H, Strother A. Effects of orally administered activated charcoal on intestinal gas. Am J Gastroenterol 1981;75:192-6.
10. Suarez FL, Furne J, Springfield J, Levitt MD. Failure of activated charcoal to reduce the release of gases produced by the colonic flora. Am J Gastroenterol 1999;94:208-12.
11. Position statement and practice guidelines on the use of multi-dose activated charcoal in the treatment of acute poisoning. American Academy of Clinical Toxicology; European Association of Poisons Centres and Clinical Toxicologists. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol 1999;37:731-51.
12. Olin BR, ed. Miscellaneous Products, Antidotes. In Drug Facts and Comparisons. St. Louis, MO: Facts and Comparisons, 1993, 2695.
13. Krenzelok EP, Freeman GE, Pasternak S. Preserving the emetic effect of syrup of ipecac with concurrent activated charcoal administration: a preliminary study. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol 1986;24:159-66.
14. Freeman GE, Pasternak S, Krezelok EP. A clinical trial using syrup of ipecac and activated charcoal concurrently. Ann Emerg Med 1987;16:164-6.
15. Hift RJ, Todd G, Meissner PN, Kirsch RE. Administration of oral activated charcoal in variegate porphyria results in a paradoxical clinical and biochemical deterioration. Br J Dermatol 2003;149:1266-9.
Last Review: 10-14-2014
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2015.