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Is Activated Charcoal Really That Great

It seems like every season has its fads.  A couple years ago activated charcoal was re-introduced to the world via Instagram thanks to black ice cream. I say re-introduced because it has actually been in use for the last 150 years; though not as a unique food ingredient.  Activated charcoal is used medicinally to treat poisoning or overdose.  This fact is why people are turning to it as a “cure all” in the natural health field.  But is it really all it’s cracked up to be? 

Emergency Medicine

For the last 150 years activated charcoal has been used as a second line of defense.  When poisoning occurs gastric emptying is followed by charcoal administration.  The charcoal binds to poisons preventing absorption into the system.  In general 1-4 grams of charcoal is administered to 1 kilogram of body mass.

Research is currently underway demonstrating that activated charcoal could be better used as a first line of defense.  Exciting experiments show that charcoal can reduce serum half-life of intravenously administered substances such as phenobarbital, theophylline II and digoxin. This is good news for those patients that come into the ER conscious, as past protocol called for gastric emptying first; not a very pleasant experience!

From a medical standpoint charcoal is not going anywhere, rather its use is being kicked up, but what about home use?

Activated Charcoal Detox

Detoxification is a loaded word; controversial to say the least.  A quick google search will bring up a plethora of sales sites wanting to convince you that your body is full of nasty toxins.  They say these toxins MUST be removed NOW in order for you to obtain any level of health!

In reality if you consume whole foods, exercise regularly and consume water daily then your body is likely doing a great job of naturally detoxing.  On the flip side artificial food additives (colour, preservatives, sucrose) can upset your ph. balance and create free radicals.  For those that consume this stuff on the daily a “detox” could be called for, though not by purchasing pharmaceuticals.  Go back to the first line of this paragraph: whole food, exercise and water!

So is activated charcoal needed?  Yes and no.  If you consume whole, nutrient rich foods adding charcoal to the meal could bind to nutrients making it impossible for the system to absorb them.  If however you are consuming a guilty pleasure meal full of sugars, preservatives and artificial ingredients then activated charcoal will bind to the “bad” stuff and help remove it from the system.  What it cannot do is bind to toxins already trapped in your cells.

With the giant boom in activated charcoal sales research is in full swing for a wide variety of health applications.  Something we do know?  Activated charcoal can help reduce intestinal gas; however it takes a lot!  We’re talking 450 mg 3 times a day, every day.  Remembering that it also binds to nutrients…

Other areas of interest

  1. Skin Care – Proven fact activated charcoal binds and holds onto that to which it has become bound allowing for easy removal. In the cosmetics industry some have found that topical application of activated charcoal to the skin has reduced inflammation and acne by removing surface bacteria and toxins.

  2. Oral Health – Charcoal binds to bacteria and can help with odour but there is no evidence that activated charcoal whitens and brightens.

  3. Body Odour – the addition of activated charcoal to natural deodorants can help reduce the amount of body odour by binding to and trapping the bacteria that cause odour.


While activated charcoal has been around for what seems like forever further research needs to be and is being done on uses outside of the emergency room.  Not a harmful substance and in many cases extremely beneficial, charcoal can have its place in the health and healing industry.  Just don’t fall for the gimmicks, many store purchased products don’t contain enough activated charcoal to complete the task that the product claims. 

If you decide to use the raw form (available at many health stores) for a medical condition or detox, talk to a trusted health practitioner first.

In the meantime go out and enjoy that black ice cream, baked good or tasty drink.  There is not enough charcoal to harm or aid you, just enough to create a super cool looking, Instagram worthy food.    

Check out NUDL Artisan Pasta in Breslau Ontario for delicious gluten free pasta made with activated charcoal.  

Resources and Useful Links

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