activated charcoal

What is It?
Health Benefits
Dosage Information
Guidelines for Use
General Interaction
Possible Side Effects
Evidence Based Rating Scale


What Is It?

When organic substances such as sugar, wood pulp or bone char, are heated in the absence of oxygen, a blackish carbon residue called charcoal is produced. Although the charcoal – with a large surface area – is already highly absorptive, further chemical treatment can enhance its absorptive powers. This chemically treated charcoal is called activated charcoal.

Poison control centers often recommend activated charcoal to treat accidental poisonings, making it a useful supplement to keep in the home. Once ingested, it binds with certain chemicals in the digestive tract, preventing them from being absorbed into your system and causing harm. 

Health Benefits

Activated charcoal has also traditionally been used--in far smaller doses than are recommended for poisoning--to treat digestive complaints and to prevent hangover.

Specifically, activated charcoal may:

Eliminate poisons. The ability of activated charcoal to bind to poisons in the stomach and prevent their absorption make it a potential first-line treatment in drug overdoses. Several studies have shown activated charcoal is effective in absorbing, and thereby eliminating, some drugs taken in life-threatening amounts, particularly when taken within one hour of ingestion of the drugs. (1-3)

Ease intestinal gas (flatulence), diarrhea and stomach ulcer pain. There is good evidence to support some of these uses. A small study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology in 1986, for example, showed that people who took activated charcoal experienced less gas, bloating and abdominal discomfort after eating than they did when they took a Placebo or an over-the-counter flatulence medication. (4) A previous double-blind study also had shown the efficacy of activated charcoal to prevent intestinal gas. (5) One study, however, found no efficacy in reducing intestinal gas. (6)

Lower blood pressure and eliminate toxins. Some nutritionally oriented doctors contend that charcoal's absorption abilities can help prevent fats from entering the bloodstream, thus lowering cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of heart disease. (7, 8) However, conflicting evidence has shown there is no effect of activated charcoal on high blood pressure. (9) There are also claims that activated charcoal can rid the body of environmental toxins. To date, there's little evidence that charcoal is effective or safe for these uses, however.

Prevent hangover. While some hangover remedies include activated charcoal, preliminary in vitro studies have shown that it does not properly absorb the ethanol in alcoholic beverages. (10) More research is needed in this area.


  • Pill 
  • Powder

    Dosage Information    

  • Current evidence does not support recommendations for dosages for activated charcoal at this time. 

  • Guidelines for Use

    Not recommended for self-care. 

  • General Interaction

    Not recommended for self-care.

    Possible Side Effects 

    When taken in large doses, activated charcoal can cause black stools, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and vomiting. Consult your doctor if you have any questions.


  • For suspected poisoning, consult a poison control center expert before taking activated charcoal. Don't use activated charcoal at the same time as syrup of ipecac, another common home remedy for poisoning. Charcoal can be used after ipecac has done its job, which is to induce vomiting.  
  • Avoid activated charcoal if you have any type of bowel obstruction.
  • References 

    1. Anon. 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 Cloincal Toxicologists. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 1999;37:731-51.

    2. Bond GR. The role of activated charcoal and gastric emptying in gastrointestinal decontamination: a state-of-the-art review. Ann Emerg Med. 2002;39:273-86.

    3. de Vries I, van Zoelen GA, van Riel AJ, Meulenbelt J. [Measures to reduce absorption in the treatment of intoications.] Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 2005 Dec 31;149(53):2964-8.

    4. 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.

    5. Hall RG Jr, Thompson H, Strother A. Effects of orally administered activated charcoal on intestinal gas. Am J Gastroenterol. 1981;75:192-6.

    6. 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.

    7. 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.

    8. 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.

    9. Hoekstra JB, Erkelens DW. No effect of activated charcoal on hyperlipidaemia. A double-blind prospective trial. Neth J Med. 1988;33:209-16.

    10. Hoegberg LC, Angelo HR, Christophersen AB, Christensen HR. Effect of ethanol and pH on the absorption of acetaminophen (paracetamol) to high surface activated charcoal, in vitro studies. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 2002;40:59-67.

    Evidence Based Rating Scale 

    The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies with what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice. This tool is meant to simplify which supplements and therapies demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions. This scale does not take into account any possible interactions with any medication/ condition/ or therapy which you may be currently undertaking. It is therefore advisable to ask your doctor before starting any new treatment regimen.


















    Not recommmended for self-care.














    Not recommmended for self-care.












    Not recommmended for self-care.



    High blood pressure


    Date Published: 04/18/2005
    Previous  |  Next
    > Printer-friendly Version Return to Top

    © 2000- 2019 ., LLC. 21251 Ridgetop Circle, Suite 150, Sterling, VA 20166. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. Privacy Policy

    Disclaimer: All material provided in the WholeHealthMD website is provided for educational purposes only. Consult your physician regarding the applicability of any information provided in the WholeHealthMD website to your symptoms or medical condition.