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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.

What Are Star Ratings?

This supplement has been used in connection with the following health conditions:

Used for Why
2 Stars
High Cholesterol
4 to 32 grams per day
Activated charcoal can bind to cholesterol and cholesterol-containing bile acids in the intestine, preventing their absorption.
Activated has the ability to adsorb, or bind to, cholesterol and cholesterol-rich bile acids present in the intestine, preventing their absorption. Reducing the absorption of bile acids results in increased cholesterol use in new bile acid synthesis by the liver. In a set of controlled trials lasting three weeks, activated charcoal reduced total- and LDL-cholesterol levels when given in amounts from 4 to 32 grams per day. The greatest effect (29% reduction in total cholesterol and 41% reduction in LDL-cholesterol levels) was seen in those given 32 grams daily and was comparable to that of cholestyramine (Questran), a bile acid-binding medication. Similar results were reported in another controlled trial using 40 grams per day for three weeks and an uncontrolled trial using 32 grams per day for four weeks. However, one small placebo-controlled trial found no effect of either 15 or 30 grams per day in patients with high cholesterol levels. Activated charcoal can cause black stools, digestive upset, and constipation, limiting its usefulness.
2 Stars
Indigestion, Heartburn, and Low Stomach Acidity
Refer to label instructions
Supplementing with charcoal may help relieve gas.

Activated has the ability to adsorb (attach to) many substances, including gases produced in the intestine. 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. 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.

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.1 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.

Possible Deficiencies

There is no human requirement for charcoal.


Interactions with Supplements, Foods, & Other Compounds

At the time of writing, there were no well-known supplement or food interactions with this supplement.

Interactions with Medicines

Certain medicines interact with this supplement.

Types of interactions: Beneficial Adverse Check

Replenish Depleted Nutrients

  • none

Reduce Side Effects

  • none

Support Medicine

  • none

Reduces Effectiveness

  • Ipecac

    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. However, controlled studies have shown that activated charcoal may not completely block the effects of ipecac, and that the combination is effective when activated charcoal is given ten minutes after ipecac treatment. Until more information is available, individuals should probably wait to give activated charcoal until after the ipecac-induced vomiting stops.

Potential Negative Interaction

  • none

Explanation Required

  • none

The Drug-Nutrient Interactions table may not include every possible interaction. Taking medicines with meals, on an empty stomach, or with alcohol may influence their effects. For details, refer to the manufacturers’ package information as these are not covered in this table. If you take medications, always discuss the potential risks and benefits of adding a supplement with your doctor or pharmacist.

Side Effects

Side Effects

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.2 Until more research is available, people with variegate porphyria should not take activated charcoal.


1. 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.

2. 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.

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How It Works

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